When a press release came in to the girls are inbox extolling the virtues of NOW That’s What I Call 21st Century, I couldn’t help wonder how relevant NOW’s releases actually are. Don’t get me wrong – we love our NOW 16 in the TGA office (Tears for Fears, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Technotronic, Shakepeare’s Sister), but the calibre of artists, and arguably, the taste level, has drastically diminished in the last decade.
NOW! is ‘celebrating’ a decade of digital’ – but does it really deliver? It’s certainly not representative of many people’s music experience over the last ten years, including mine. It includes the big hits, the ones we’ve all heard over and over, in every pub, at every backyard BBQ, and at wedding receptions across the country. And as it spans a decade, you’d think there would be less room for the duds that appear on every compilation. You might also think that there might be some equality in terms of type of music and who’s making it.
And yet, out of 64 songs, just 14 of the artists are women. And frankly, they’re as dull and as packaged as the dudes included. CD 1 gives us the big hits like Robin Thicke’s sexist spewings, Maroon 5, The Black Eyed Peas and Rihanna. Nothing very shocking there. CD2’s big hitters are Gotye feat. Kimbra, Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys and Journey (really?) and more X Factor flops. CD3 curiously has many of the same artists on as the first two discs. In TEN YEARS’ worth of music, you couldn’t find enough artists to fill 3 cds?
And worst of all, it’s mostly the kind of stuff my ten year old niece loves. That’s my barometer, if she likes it, it’s generally terrible. (No offence Zoe. With my help you’ll be a totally awesome teenager when your music taste begins to kick in.)
GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS
If you wanted to swim solely in the waters of women musicians and insulate yourself from the total whitewash of ‘men doing stuff’, you can. Nowadays it’s not so unusual to see women not just singing, but producing, remixing, and Djing. People like JD Samson, Kim Ann Foxman, Maya Jane Coles and Lauren Flax are holding the fort. It’s not difficult at all to make great playlists which contain only kick ass women if that’s something you wanted to do. And yet, so much music media unconsciously leaves out women artists that sometimes I just like to even the score a bit out of pure bloody mindedness.
But there is a definite deficit on NOW’s supposed 21st Century celebration – and not just in terms of numbers. MCs have also been ignored. According to NOW, that scene just hasn’t happened – FKA Twigs, Iggy Azeala, Angel Haze? All just figments of our imaginations.
RADIO KILLED THE VIDEO STAR
Rather than encapsulate a true idea of what the music listening public is really digging, the new NOW! is a sanitised radio friendly offering – business as usual. The kind of stuff advertisers like because most people won’t turn the radio off when it comes on. In the last ten years our ability to access music has grown exponentially. The interweb can make stars overnight without a record deal being signed. The tools to produce music are in the hands of the people now, and it is relatively easy and cheap to distribute via things like bandcamp, soundcloud, podcasts, music blogs, and all the other clever methods. Artists from all over the world are sharing and collaborating and this is offering opportunities to people not traditionally allowed in. Women, young people, shy nerds and working class kids. This can only make for a richer more fulfilling experience for everyone.
Recent news in the LA times told us that women artists killed it at Coachella this year – citing Solange, Haim, Warpaint, Kate Nash, Dum Dum Girls and Lorde. Music permeates our world and we now don’t have to wait for some A&R douche to ‘discover’ for us, repackage it to make it ‘palatable’ and serve it to us at a profit. We’re perfectly capable of discovering it all ourselves and buying it directly from artists.
So surely NOW! could have done a better job in opening up the mainstream a little. Couldn’t we have had some of the phenomenally successful musicians like the XX alongside the usual suspects?
Commercially available compilations reflecting the last ten years of music are never going to please everyone, and in general compilations certainly never please me. But then I’m a fussy cow and a huge consumer of music from everywhere. I’m not a music snob, I’m a music Casanova. It’s not hard, finding tons of great music. It just takes dedication and time, and you have to really want to. Not everyone does, and so that’s why the compilation was invented. But if it no longer reflects a snapshot of the music industry, and in itself has become a type of genre, what’s the point? So just pop that NOW compilation back on the rack, and go and make your own.
I couldn’t help but come up with an alternative playlist that more encapsulates what’s actually been going on in the music industry. And just because I can, I thought I’d make it all-woman. Why not, since most of the other blogs I read are written by dudes and contain 99% of music produced by…um. Dudes.