Top 10 Reasons Why Most Of Today’s Pop Music Is Irrelevant

Reposted by popular demand, our most controversial article ever.

In a recent issue of Maclean’s Magazine, two-hit wonder Dan Hill (“Sometimes When We Touch” and “Can’t We Try”)) made a heartfelt claim that today’s pop music is better than ever. “Forget the Beatles and Stones” screams the headline.

Dan goes on to elaborate that thanks to the likes of Macklemore, Miley, Kanye, Bruno, Adele and Beyonce, we are awash in great singles. He compares “Taylor Swift’s deliciously biting singles” to be reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, who mined her own love affairs for songs. Mitchell also did much more than write about her lovers- her swooping soprano, her open tunings, her poetic imagery, her explorations of jazz place her in the top pantheon of singer-songwriters. If anyone thinks Taylor’s work is “deliciously biting”, they don’t have much of an appetite for real fare.

Dan Hill further states that Kanye West is the new Dylan, and that “Kanye’s best lyrics match Dylan’s prescience, highly inventive wordplay and genius for storytelling”. Seems Dan never quite got around to listening to Dylan’s” Subterranean Homesick Blues” – it’s the model for all that hip hop aspires to be, and hasn’t yet quite accomplished.

All of these statements from us and from him are arguable, of course, but perhaps Hill is at his most obtuse when he claims that black music is finally getting its due, that finally it’s front and centre. Has the guy never heard of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Solomon Burke, The Drifters, Ruby and the Romantics and James Brown???? All of these were front and centre for quite some time, and they were worshipped by white and black music fans alike. Hill claims that Canadian radio missed out on black music in the ’60s, but I grew up in Winnipeg and can tell you it wasn’t so – local stations such as CKY and CKRC played it all. Dan, you need to take your meds. Or you need to stop hanging around your grandchildren. Because there is no new golden age of pop music.

Pop music today is auto-tuned pablum, served up by those who should know better, and who, in fact, probably do know better. The record company guys I’ve been privileged to meet are remarkably astute about their product. Oops, did I say product? Of course I meant music… There are exceptions. We didn’t love Neil Diamond in the ’60s and we don’t hate all the new stuff. However, we do know the difference between mediocrity and talent. And to us, Taylor is one well-produced mediocrity. The shocker? – she’s now worth $400 million and earning close to $100 million a year.

Which reminds us, Mozart never made much of a living from music while he was alive. History, though, has treated him well.

Here are ten great purveyors of pop music whose works are going to last decades longer while the likes of Miley and Bruno are long forgotten. It can’t happen soon enough.

1. The Everly Brothers – best pop singers ever. Every duo who ever tried close harmony singing will admit this. Ask Paul Simon or Macca or The Secret Sisters or Waddy Wachtel.

2. Sam Cooke – the ultimate soul singer, pop singer, and a great writer whose song “Change Is Gonna Come” changed everything and made pop music relevant.

3. Carole King– the longest-charting female songwriter of all time, and one of the best ever. Taylor Swift is no Joni Mitchell, and she is definitely no Carole King.

4. Felice and Boudleaux Bryant – a songwriter team supreme – you know their songs – “Bye Bye Love”, “Love Hurts” and dozens more.

5. Lennon/McCartney – the Gilbert & Sullivan of modern times. And Mr. Hill, these guys are the masters of the pop song. But you knew that, didn’t you?

6. Chuck Berry -where would the Stones be without black music? – their veneration of Chuck Berry, their imitation and exaltation of American black music was a key factor in differentiating them from the Beatles. And Chuck invented some very cool language, way beyond the limited linguistic skills of Kanye.

7. Phil Spector – he may have gone to jail for dirty deeds but he was the sharpest pop producer ever. “Be My Baby” and The Righteous Brothers, and Ben E. King and Gene Pitney – Spector produced them all and more.

8. Steely Dan – the famed team of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker brought a sophistication undreamt before or since – their mid ’70s album Aja is the apex of pop complexity. Yes, they brought the jazz of Horace Silver into the pop equation – and it was brilliant!

9. Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime”, “Take Me To The River”, “Psycho Killer” – powerful art rock, world music, and rock and roll all in one.

10. Dusty Springfield – Elton John called her the best white female singer ever. We’ll take her over Adele every time, always. “Son of A Preacher Man” and “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life” trump anything Adele will ever record.

Gosh, I haven’t yet mentioned Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry, Elvis, or The Animals or The Yardbirds or The Kinks or Buddy Holly or Rodriguez or Tim Hardin or Roy Orbison or Del Shannon or Tom Petty or Paul Simon…. And then there’s Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone and Rickie Lee Jones and Lucinda Williams and Richard Thompson – all great pop/rock/folk artists. You see, Dan, that’s the problem I have with your article. You sound as though you’re struggling to come up with half a dozen contemporary artists you think are worthy, but my own struggle is something a little more pleasant – I’ve just mentioned thirty or more and I can readily think of another fifty to one hundred truly great pop figures. Confining myself to a Top 10 is really a stretch.

Dan, I understand, believe me, that some of this music got overplayed and that anyone under 30 wants his or her own new icons. Music is a coded language and each generation has a genuine need to define itself without reference to the past. However, there’s nothing wrong with upholding standards. And standards, when it comes to pop music, include the use of image, metaphor, poetic allusion and irony – all curiously missing in the one-note writing prevalent today.

Just because Rod McKuen got popular as a poet doesn’t mean he produced anything that approached the work of Lorca or Rilke. Just because Jackie Collins sold more books than Mavis Gallant doesn’t mean the Collins books weren’t trash. And by the way, your argument that each generation despises the music of the next doesn’t hold water. In the ’60s and ’70s, ardent music fans listened to everything – from Jimmy Smith to Maria Callas to Frank Sinatra to Leadbelly to Muddy Waters and more.

These days, though, there’s an unbelievable stratification going on – people have confined themselves to a narrow band on the music scale. This started, I believe, with the rise of rap and hip hop and continues in full strength today. It’s a mistake, one that perhaps will take another generation or two to erase. And aren’t you boxing yourself into a corner in a pathetic attempt to seem relevant?

Brian Miller

Brian Miller is the Publisher and Editor of Vivascene, which he founded in 2010. A former record store owner, business executive and business writer, he is devoted to vinyl records, classical guitar, and b&w photography.


  1. I just want to state that I share this article to others on Quora and Facebook because it helps to explain the rationale why others do find the popular music scene lacking. Yes there will always be passionate debates as to what is and isn’t good popular music but I think if people do take the time and think about the reasons here they will find that we have a point. I think people deep down know that this music isn’t that good but they like to be seen as being “in” or popular.

    1. There should be a follow-up to the article featuring more of the musicians who influenced pop music. When people complain that critics like us are a bunch of haters we can give examples of just good popular music can be:

  2. Great article. It sums up pretty much the discontent and feelings that most people have for the popular music scene. I think a lot of people say that we are dissing the young peoples’ music but I can tell that I have met young people who work at CJSW who hate this music as much as the old guys like me. It isn’t that music is about sex and partying because a lot of great songs are about those two subjects, it is the fact that the music isn’t that great. There is a Spanish study that explains the technical reasons for why the music is so bad but I think it is the fact there is more pressure to make money and these techniques like auto tune are what helps to do the selling. There isn’t left any space for artists who want to write about spiritual, political, or other issues either. I also think that a lot of people who say that there is good music out there are partly right if they talk about the music that is found on the community or campus radio but when you look at the pop scene it is a wasteland. Dan needs to go on a retreat in the mountains and clear his head and then listen to this music again and ask himself is this really that good? I think if aliens were to examine this music scene they might ask is this the best that humans can create?

  3. How typical. Critique a black pop star, along with taylor swift and multiple white ones, without the mention of race and the racist label comes out. Of course, the article’s author’s favorable mention of more than a few black artists from the previous generations that he compared todays pop stars ( notice that I didnt call THEM artists?) completely went right over your head. go get somebody smart to read this article to you….and then have them explain it in simpler terms. Hopefully by then, youll have a clue.

  4. There is more money in working at mc donalds than playing music. Early skill and education isn’t the key to top talent. It’s in the love of the art of creating not regurgitating. Music was stale for generations. High tech music requires a larger work force. It all hasn’t been done before. Sex drugs and stupidity ruined music. Now low pay and theft left it in ruins. Music has been bad before, now it’s godawful.

    1. You’re absolutely right about how hard a time musicians are having making a living, particularly from the sale of recorded music. They used to account for almost 60% of income – but presently it’s around 6%. Musicians need to be performing live constantly, or selling merchandise, to make it. Very few releases sell even 100,000 copies these days.

  5. the reason today’s pop music sucks azz is because it lacks creativity!!! this generation has no creative talent they just copy mismosh crap from the past throw it at you and expect people to dig it mommy needs to take away stupid video games, phones and all other non creative distractions and had them a mic, guitar, piano legos ,books art and crafts etc and for god sakes stay away from kim k and kayne west they are the worst role models ever!

  6. whoever wrote this article knows his music. I’m a 16 year old who fucking loves old music. I tried to get into new music but found little, or close to no results. The thrill is gone in today’s music. Also, can’t believe an old guy talks so highly about new music.

  7. Alex,

    Thanks for your response. We weren’t aware of “Can’t We Try”, but we’re not sure that weakens our argument. We’d be happy to refer to Dan from now on as “a two hit wonder”.

    btw, I owned a record store when Dan’s first big song came out (the saccharine ‘Sometimes When We Touch’) and we sold a ton of that album. Paid the bills, for which I remain grateful. Record sales have never in my mind equalled quality. I’ll take Richard Thompson, Tim Hardin, Townes Van Zandt, Ray Davies, Mose Allison, and even Burton Cummings over the writings of Mr. Hill any day. And then there are the likes of Leiber-Stoller, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Jimmy Webb, Jagger-Richards, Robert Johnson and Hal David-Burt Bacharach. The truly great.

    We can’t blame Dan for trying to work his songwriting magic one more time by teaming up with some of today’s young “artists”. We suspect he knows better though – the current crop of musicians needs something not even he can give them. Hyping such phonies as Kanye and Taylor does his own work a disservice – and that’s the point we were trying to make. Kanye thinks he’s one of the greats and he is – he is without doubt one of the great BS artists of all time. Taylor seems infatuated with herself, her two chords on the guitar and her one octave vocal range. This is music??? Let’s call it for what it is, and call out anyone (including Dan) who promotes such drivel and names it “talent”.

    1. Dan, like so many people, might very say this because he wants to be seen as being in on the scene or they don’t want to be criticized for dissing young peoples’ music. When you press them as to why they think that these artists are worth listening to they really don’t have a concrete reason as to why this music is worth listening to. They then turn to you and say that you are a hater or a rockist(which is a very theory that justifies worshipping pop stars). While evaluating music is subjective, you have to really work hard to find a something that is of value to today’s popular music. Fortunately, we know what great popular music sounds like so future generations can use as models to create better music.

    2. I wouldn’t be too quick to call them artists in fact I wouldn’t even call what exists today music, I think a better interpretation would be a broadcasted version of reality TV… basically reality broadcasting because it’s all scripted, auto tuned, and just pressing buttons with no actual talent needed to play instruments. That’s why I call it scripted even when there’s a supposed “live” performance it’s actually recorded on tape while they are lip singing. Everything is about image nowadays it’s not about the music or the art and that’s why it’s failed and getting worse. It always makes me think about the song American Pie… I know they were talking about the death of Buddy Holly in that song but whenever the lyrics say “the day the music died” to me this is the day that the first rap song came out.

  8. While I agree today’s pop music sucks, your commentary loses credibility in the first paragraph when you call Dan Hill a one hit wonder. He had a top ten hit in ’87 with “Can’t We Try,” which is also a better song than 99.9% of today’s top 40 music

  9. Thanks, J Cam, for a thought-provoking response to our article. It gives us hope that we’re not the only ones who believe that the current music scene leaves much to be desired.

    And thanks too for that mention of The Beach Boys’ ‘Feel Flows’ – we’ve been meaning to write about the album ‘Surf’s Up’ for some time. That 1971 album is proof that The Beach Boys are under-appreciated by serious music fans.

  10. Entirely and wholeheartedly agree.For anyone to claim that pop music of today is or has a drop of inspiration to compare with the political movement that Dylan inspired, or the groundbreaking imagination of Dark Side of the Moon, or the lyricism of Beach Boy’s ‘Feel Flows’, the mysticism and power of ‘Stairway to Heaven’, the angst and wit of Kurt Cobain, or the ingenious creations of The Beatles…. Is smoking something I’ve never heard of. While you can give a measure of credit to pretty faces, sexy bodies, some strong vocals and eye-candy videos, the top 40 of the last 6 years has been an anomaly of blind acceptance by the consumers. When all there is on the menu is McDonald’s, well… You get the idea.

    Another thing i get tired of is when defenders of shitty acts like Kanye and Beyonce try to tell people they’re tired of hearing them complain about how music sucks, but it isn’t just to be heard. It’s called supply and demand. The music of the 50s, 60s 70s, even 80s and, surely, the 90’s created passionate movements across the globe because the music was unprecedented and it came from the darkest corners, the deepest recesses, the desperation of addiction, the depression of war, the despair of broken homes, love as a knife in the chest, and the nostalgic scenes of the working class men that pioneered the world we live in today. Melting pots and renaissances, hippies and protests, movements, social politics and the mysticism of folk, blues, and the country of old. In every genre, these people still live and breathe, and are still undeniably passionate about the music that channeled their perspectives so acutely that as they cried, sang, danced and listened in amazement and wonder. They knew their lives would never be quite the same again.

    And rightfully so, these people from generations past have demanded that the corporate assholes, the ones with dollar signs in their eyes, quit with their stupid bullshit and allow people to hear real music on the way to work. New artists that aren’t just pretty faces, preppies from upper class America, boy bands dressed in emo pretty boy hybrid get-ups, so called rappers that got deals through connections and have no lyrical skill whatsoever. So called songs constructed with a hook so that producers for big companies can tell artists to say anything catchy, throw it in there, doesn’t matter because the music will sell the record.

    People have had enough of this shit. Record companies love misinformed fools like Dan Hill. They like their listeners to be simple minded and easily moved. Easily amused and easily inspired. A lot of us know better than Dan Hill, though. And we shouldn’t waste our time on him. We should instead find the corporate greed mongers who are the root of the problem and demand their resignations. That’s just my humble opinion, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.