‘Major Labels’ Wraps Popular Music — All of It — in a Warm Embrace
That’s so un-punk that it almost crosses back over into punk.
Let’s take his genres in order. Rock, Sanneh writes, “seems to have become repertory music, a new great American songbook for Americans who don’t much care for the old great American songbook.” He’s as surprised as anyone that “rock ‘n’ roll never really found rock stars to replace the original bunch.”
His chapter on R&B is a highlight. He zeros in on how Billboard magazine has tried to track this music, under shifting charts for “Race Records” or “Soul Singles” or “Black Singles” or “Disco Action.” He notes the way America’s listening habits are often segregated by race, and occasionally more universal: The great Motown hits, like “My Girl,” he writes, “seem to pre-exist musical taste itself.”
He likes nearly all of it, even the so-called “bro country,” saving his scorn only for alt-country and Americana, which he too often finds “precious.” He argues — and he convinced me — that the Dixie Chicks became less interesting, not more so, when they stopped worrying about “pleasing country fans.”
About the racial politics of country, he writes: “The idea of a predominantly white genre can sound offensive; all-white places in America have historically been restricted places, segregated places. But no genre truly appeals to everyone. Perhaps country music is merely more honest than rock ‘n’ roll about the identity of its audience. Certainly the whiteness of country music has never seemed like a barrier to me.”
In the punk chapter he praises the music’s spirit of sabotage, and rehashes his own punk phase. About hip-hop, he writes, “It may be the quintessential American art form, the country’s greatest cultural contribution to the world.” He worries about sexism in the genre, but the more progressive hip-hop mostly leaves him cold.
About hip-hop artists’ fondness for uttering their own names, he writes, more than winningly, “Calling out your own name can be a way of boasting, but it can also be a courtly gesture, a way of checking in with listeners and putting them at ease, the way any good host would.”