The Resurgence of Artistry in the Mainstream

Data. Mainstream music, television and movies got really, really bad, carbon copies by talentless hacks for a docile generation. But things have gotten better, in fact recently I dare say we’ve been spoilt. Subjective observations that only my fellow aging nerds may appreciate.

There was a ten year period when mainstream was just sooo bad. I mean it’s always bad, and it always appealed to the lowest common denominator, pop stars who can’t sing, soap opera stars who can’t act etc. But between approximately 2002 and 2012, at least to me it seemed that things had hit an all time low. It was better in the nineties, of that I have little doubt, but it has been getting better again recently.

I mean in the 90s truly rebellious music made it into the mainstream, from Public Enemy to Rage Against the Machine, from NWA to Nirvana. Now I kept that opinion mainly to myself during the noughties because I was just showing my age if I said “music was better before, it’s shit now”. However I feel like piping up because the fact that, in my opinion, mainstream music is getting good again means that’s it’s not just hindsight. It’s still just my subjective opinion, but at least I now know I’m not just blinded by “my era”.

My specialties I shall concentrate on are Hip-Hop, movies, television in general and kids cartooons.

Hip-Hop. I actually hated most Hip-Hop from 2002 – 2012, especially the mainstream. Although Biggie, 2Pac, Jay Z and 50 Cent can all rap the precedent they had set made it seem like you couldn’t be taken seriously as a rapper unless you used to sell crack. So from 2002ish, the start of 50s reign, all the rappers were carbon copy ex crack dealers with either young or lil at the start of their names, all they needed was a turn up beat and they could mumble some crap and people would buy it. Cos, when a culture goes mainstream it is no longer populated by connoiseurs who dictate the direction but the lowest common denominators, now teenage girls buy more Hip-Hop than crate digging DJs your facial hair and your abs are more important than your flows and lyrics (see Joe Budden vs Drake.) BUT with the likes of Joey Bada$$, Kendrick, King Los, and J Cole it is hard to deny the most successful rappers since about 2012 have been true lyricists. Yes, some actual poets, speaking real words over production that took time, not just carbon copy, mass produced drivel for the manipulated masses.

Movies, now Hollywood was getting real lame for a really long time, and while the remakes and reboots haven’t stopped I have been pleasantly surprised by recent quirky risks like The Brothers Bloom, Hotel (EDIT remember the name later) and the nerd in me is SO pleased with the recent run of super-hero movies. I know they’re easy to write off as formulaic and I know I’m a biased Marvel-head but they have genuinely good scripts, great actors and obviously amazing action sequences that get me excited about going to the cinema again in a way I haven’t since the terrible sequels to Die Hard and the Terminator shat on our childhoods and as an appetiser to Michael Bay turning Optimus Prime into a CIA puppet who murders unarmed Decepticons via decapitation (true story.) Yes, some good writers and good actors and good directors teamed up to make good material, not just carbon copy, mass produced drivel for the manipulated masses.

I didn’t own a TV for 10 years. Didn’t live in a house with one for 10 years. Didn’t miss it. Apart from one show. The Sopranos. While the hilarious Friends was teaching a whole generation there are no black people in New York and a million series of Big Brother cemented the tradition of reality TV turning talentless puppets into celebrities for no reason for ten years all I missed was The Sopranos. Since that left us the void has been filled with all sorts of stuff I’ve been recommended, some I’ve watched even, spearheaded by Breaking Bad, and more recently the decidely subversive Mr Robot, but others like Boardwalk Empire, etc. Gritty, believeable dramas with good writing and good actors? Yes, some good writers and good actors and good directors teamed up to make good material, not just carbon copy, mass produced drivel for the manipulated masses. Oh, and Netflix. You magnificent bastards. Do not underestimate Daredevil, and Bojack Horseman is easily one of my favourite shows of all time now.

How bad did kids TV get? Remember Teletubbies? It’s become cult because it was sooo trippy but you are not gonna learn anything from it like Sesame Street or be as entertained and engaged by it like Mysterious Cities of Gold. I remember it was almost catchphrase at one point, “kids TV these days is rubbish, it was much better when I was a kid”. Can’t say that anymore. With Adventure Time leading the race, although some episodes are so dark I’m not sure they’re kids TV, from Steven Universe to… a bunch of kids shows I’m not gonna mention cos I’m embarrassed, even kids TV has improved.

Now all the while there is also crap pop music and crap TV. And even during the darkest ages there was always amazing underground music and I suspect, though I would’t know, possibly some amazing underground shows. That net series about the shotter comes to mind. But basically, in my perception the mainstream was at an all time creative low from about 2000 / 2002 to 2010 / 2012.

It got to a point where nobody was even talking about whether artists had talent anymore, it was just TMZ talk. Nobody discussed whether or not Miley Cyrus can sing. Or dance. Or writes her own lyrics. It was all hype about whether or not she should be allowed to twerk cos she’s either too skinny or too white. It was all hype about whether wrecking ball is sexist (which may depend on whether she chose to ride a wrecking ball, or whether her record label told her she had to, and if it was to sell records was it because she was manipulated by the patriarchy to ride the wrecking ball or is she manipulating the patriarchy by using her sexuality. Confused? Don’t worry, I thought about it for longer than that.) Or why are the Kardashians famous? Didn’t you used to have to have a talent to be famous? Yeah, I know, nothing wrong with watching a bit of trash occasionally (til Bill Hicks isn’t there to squeegee your third eye anymore.) I’ve definitely wasted some hours in front of drivel.

So, what happened? Is it just my perception or does anyone else out there agree? The quality control in mainstream entertainment has improved. I don’t think it’s a coordinated conspiracy, I think a combination of things happened. Studio heads from record companies to Hollywood got lazy after the nineties and just tried to mass produce things that worked in the past. But either the audience got tired of it, or we were teased by inventive art like Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, or Fight Club, or The Sopranos and wanted more. Or maybe the creatives themselves graduated to the point that amazing beings like Rebecca Sugar, previously a writer for Adventure Time and the creator of Steven Universe, ascended the ranks past the lazy money grabbers and got to the top of their industries to make heart blossoming art that makes your fingers tingle.

But yeah, it’s all subjective. Maybe I just started paying attention again

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