by Douglas Romanow, Producer/Engineer
Most of us have noticed a recent trend in pants, namely so-called “low-rise jeans.” These are pants cut so low as to reveal the upper inch or so of a person’s butt separation. This style was derived from the sagging pants worn by urban youth and hip hop artists in the 1990s, and originally attributed to prison pants, where belts are prohibited. I wonder if this trend is a new low in men’s fashion? Perhaps a cheeky new kind of feminism? In my household [consisting of me and three women], they are called “plumber-butt or roadie pants.”
I’d like to draw a parallel in contemporary radio, namely Autotune, made popular first by Cher, Kanye West and T Pain. Some have dubbed the phenomenom “Vocoder Pop,” although this isn’t an entirely accurate descriptor, since the sonic effect is created using pitch correction software, not the classic synth filtering technology that was made popular by Kraftwerk, ELO and the Cylons from 1970’s Battlestar Galactica.
Both these trends will come to an end. I predict that in no less than fifteen years, when 2010 enters the “vintage” era [yes, kids, your favourite music will eventually be termed “retro”], we’ll be making fun of fads like these. Movies will have a field day with low-rise jeans, with scenes underscored by vocoder pop songs. They will be added to the growing laughingstock of ridiculed trends, like mullets, tamagotchis and wearing curlers to bed.
Art has a basic function, to entertain and enlighten, and, essentially, fads that fail this basic functionality test cannot sustain themselves. Vocoder pop music meets about half of the requirements in the functionality department. While it entertains for a short time [as much derivative, sensationalistic forms do], it fails to enlighten. Beyond, “we all want to get laid,” what more does it say? The writing is appallingly repetitive, the themes are monotone and the formula has become tired beyond belief [cut to Caribbean rapper]. While some listeners on the dance floor don’t care, we can see why this kind of music lacks appeal to writers concerned with craft and singers compelled by authenticity.
There are plenty of reasons why the Autotune trend has continued. Producers need to deliver tracks that draw attention to their artists, and Autotune has been successful in launching a number of new artists while driving the careers of established ones. Vocoder Pop is relatively cheap to produce, since the tracks are created entirely inside a computer workstation. If writers get lazy and deliver mediocre songs, producers are sometimes obligated to use gimmicks to keep audiences listening.
This trend will pass, and songwriters should continue to focus on the real work of song writing. Melody, harmony, thematic development, moving listeners through the linear journey of the song – these are the building blocks that never go out of vogue. While gimmicks grab our attention for a short while, great songs make a profound cultural contribution.
So when you get up in the morning, put your pants on one leg at a time, and pull them up over the crack in your arse. Then go to work and get song writing!