The mainstream sucks, try U2 or R.E.M. for a change

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bonoI switch on iHeart Radio, and after a few days of listening to mainstream pop, I’ve lost more brain cells than I lose while watching a rom-com and my soul is starving for decent music. Blind desperation catches hold of me and I grab the first three CDs on my shelf, thumb tapping through my phone’s Spotify playlists as I stagger out the door, twist the ignition, start the engine, kill the radio.

Need. Good. Music.

Of course, everyone has his own set of tunes to rock to, but for me, good music means rock ‘n’ roll. “Good music” means R.E.M. and U2 and Whitesnake and Muse and Goo Goo Dolls and Lifehouse and Radiohead and of course The Beatles and maybe John Mayer and I’ve gotta have some Green Day or at least The Ramones in there too.

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Most of the bands I’ve just listed have been around for a while, at least 10 years if not more, and in a time when singles released two years ago are considered “old” and U2 is no longer “cool” for teens and twenty-somethings (I mean, Bono is 55), listening to “old” music, even if it has proven the test of time, is usually something only old people do.

So why do I — a twenty-something — listen to “old” music? Honestly, because a lot of music written in the 21st century sucks, especially mainstream pop. If you tap into iHeart Radio this afternoon, you taste vanilla, not chocolate. Mainstream pop is bland — like a banana — and pungent — like a banana. I can’t even tell the difference between Taylor Swift and Rachel Platten and Katy Perry anymore.

Take Billboard Top 10 single “I Can’t Feel My Face,” by The Weeknd, for example. Lyrics be all like “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you / But I love it, but I love it, oh” on repeat, for almost the entire three and a half minute song. (He sure knows how to flatter a girl.)

And then there’s Walk the Moon, a new “rock” band with a catchy hit called “Shut Up and Dance.” Most of the song repeats the chorus, “Don’t you dare look back / Just keep your eyes on me / I said, ‘You’re holdin’ back,’ / She said, ‘Shut up and dance with me.'” The song, which incorporates a dance beat and somehow got labeled “rock,” preoccupies itself with love-at-first-sight infatuation and fantasy. There are about fifty other songs just like it circulating the charts as we speak.

Now let’s take a look at U2’s “Beautiful Day”: “The heart is a bloom / Shoots up through the stony ground … You love this town / Even if that doesn’t ring true / You’ve been all over / And it’s been all over you / It’s a beautiful day / Don’t let it get away.”

While a more modern artist focuses solely on how a woman makes him feel or how obsessed he is about dancing with some chick, an older artist encourages the listener to let go of weariness and regret and revel in the beauty of the world around her (or him) and let herself love again (and, presumably, fall in love with the songwriter).

The lyrics argue for themselves. You decide who’s the better artist. Would you really rather listen to the mainstream when there are decades of good music out there, even if it was written fifteen or twenty or even fifty years ago?

Here’s the guiding principle: if a band has been around for 30 years, they’re probably worth checking out. U2 is always a great place to start. If you’re listening to the radio, for heaven’s sake, turn it off.

Photo credit: By The original uploader was Wikipedia brown at English Wikipedia [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

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