a history of western music

The history of Western pop music is a racist and exclusionary one. Beyoncé’s monumental and incomprehensible loss yesterday is symptomatic of a problem with deep, years-long roots, a problem which continues to this day and in which we are all complicit.

But if we are all complicit in perpetuating music industry racism, we all have the capability and the moral obligation to do what we can to challenge it. None of us individually possess the capacity to fully dismantle the racist structure of the Grammys’ voting system. Together, though, we may be able to bring about inclusion on that scale. The #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign led to material change in AMPAS voting and membership policy, for instance. If a similar campaign were organized around the Grammys, I would be very down to support it.

But racism in this industry goes far deeper than the Grammys, and there are thousands of artists of color who don’t have millions of fans to ride for them when they are wronged, when they are given short shrift, when they are barred from pursuing their dreams and making their art.

So this is what we do: show up for those artists.

Look up your local concert listings. Find artists and bands of color who don’t get a lot of press, who don’t have the backing of a label machine. Go to their shows. Purchase their music. Wear their merch.

If concerts aren’t your thing, seek out up-and-coming artists of color, especially in predominantly white genres. Do what you can to celebrate their music and share it with others. Recognize when these artists are being sidelined by the music press, and do what mainstream music journalism won’t.

If a venue persistently books white artists, ask them why, and hold them accountable. If your favorite band persistently tours with white supporting acts, ask them why, and hold them accountable. If a festival announces a predominantly white lineup, ask them why, and hold them accountable. If they refuse to alter their behavior, refuse to buy tickets. Spend your money supporting artists of color instead.

If you are a white person, you have a responsibility to make musical spaces more welcoming for people of color. If you see someone making racist comments in a forum for music discussion, speak to that person, engage with them, and challenge their assumptions and behavior.

I am saying all of this and making all of these suggestions as a white person, with full recognition of the fact that I have not up to this point done everything I can to combat racism in music spaces. I don’t expect that anyone reading this has a flawless record, either, but that’s not the point - the point is to do better from this point on. As I said at the outset, we’re all complicit in this, and we all have a responsibility to reduce racism in our engagement with music.

G-Dragon Praised by European Scholars

The Hallyu International Conference is being held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for two days, between November 3 and 4. Some 200 scholars around the world analyzed Hallyu, including K-pop and K-dramas, but other scholars researched Korean street fashion, indie music, and non-mainstream movies.

Dr. Ute Fendler of University of Bayreuth started a presentation by showing G-Dragon‘s music video. The professor said, “G-Dragon doesn’t make his video just to look cool. You also need to look at his creativity, or the depth of his understanding in humanities. European music videos cannot compare his.” The professor praised G-Dragon, saying, “You can tell that he understands the mythology and history of Western culture, but his music videos remain oddly Korean.”

The professor also criticized viewers of his music videos and commented, “However, I don’t think many Koreans pick up on the depth of his work.”

How do you think European music videos compare to G-Dragon’s music videos?

Source: Soompi

some #thoughts on finishing the rolling stone 500

last year, on april 13, i embarked on a quest, a quest to listen to every album on rolling stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. i was working on a proposal for the 33 1/3 series at the time (which later got shortlisted, eek!), and reading a bunch of music criticism to kind of brush up my own writing, and i realized that i knew, like… very little about the fundamentals of popular music history? and i felt very out of my depth? so i was like, well, maybe it would be more efficient to actually just… listen to some music?

basically, i wanted to get a comprehensive overview of the most influential stuff in the history of western popular music, and the rolling stone 500 seemed like the most obvious place to get that kind of overview. not a perfect place, obviously. like. there are embarrassingly few women on the list, and while it actually does a decent job of highlighting black contributions to popular music, charting the history of rap and recognizing rock and roll’s origins in chuck berry and little richard, among others, the list is still overwhelmingly white. 

so HERE is what i learned from this experiment:

1. it is a really good way to experience music. i went into this because i wanted to break down my preconceived notions of what constituted “good” music. if the list has one thing going for it, it’s genre diversity. it’s never been easier to access music - vast swaths of it, all kinds - but so much of our listening is packaged and curated and algorithm’d to hell. so to have this kind of experience, to be like, “okay, i’m going to try to deliberately step out of my comfort zone and appreciate this ten-hour merle haggard anthology on its own merits,” i think that’s very valuable. a random cross-section of my list has frank sinatra, smashing pumpkins, the who, eric b. & rakim, the wailers, and bjork ranked side by side. it’s good to try new things! and what place to try new things than this huge smorgasboard of stuff that is, at least on some objective level, regarded as The Greatest?

2. it is a really bad way to experience music. this took me fourteen months and a bit, guys. that’s with listening to every album in full a minimum of one time. making a judgment based on one listen is generally a bad way to go. i mean, a few albums immediately connected with me and struck me as great on the first listen, but others… not so much. and i’m sure that with a few more listens, and some background reading on the album’s history and the artist’s intent, i would have made more of a connection. but… like… 500 albums, guys. whom has the time? yankee hotel foxtrot by wilco is ranked pretty high up the list and upon first listen i dismissed it as generic whitebread indie bullshit. but then i was stranded at work waiting for a ride later that afternoon, and i had no internet, and i had the album downloaded, so i listened again and was like… oops! this is the greatest! my bad! forging real connections to music takes time and this experiment didn’t always do that.

3. it is a great way to learn about music industry racism. to its credit, the list includes a tremendous amount of work by black musicians. but the curation, the way this work is presented in the list, is like, “[black artist] proved to be a huge influence on [white artist]’s work” or “[white artist] was greatly inspired by [black artist].” and it becomes very clear, as you work through the list and kind of build a musical chronology in your head, that words like “influence” and “inspire” don’t begin to cover the sheer extent of white artists’ creative theft of black artists. one of the early beatles albums on the list was nearly half comprised of songs originally written and recorded by black artists - artists who faded into obscurity while paul mccartney and john lennon were immediately lauded as creative visionaries and masterful composers. the elvis albums on the list (and the anthologies of folk music/early blues) paint a picture of an artist who made his name as a white interpreter of black art. and god! phil spector! gets fellated up and down this list when the wall of sound was built by black women! whose labour and talent he exploited! whose lives he made a living hell! the balm here is that the list actually acknowledges the impact of those black artists, gives you an opportunity to hear the best of their work, and allows you a huge, substantial framework to understand this history of cultural appropriation.

4. also a great way to learn about music industry misogyny! let’s start with rolling stone ranking live through this - the definitive rock album by a woman - at #460??? and the long, long history of men writing songs about killing women - from eminem to suicide to willie nelson to this one line, “girl, i’d rather see you dead than with another man,” originally recorded by arthur gunter, later covered by elvis, later interpolated by the beatles. it’s pervasive. it’s inescapable. you can’t even say, “well, why would i choose to listen to that?” because misogyny is the bedrock of western songwriting. i don’t think you can truly appreciate riot grrrl until you know exactly what it was responding to. it makes those moments where women musicians step up and use this historically misogynistic medium to make space for themselves all the more precious to me. loretta lynn’s many songs about the necessity of birth control were a real highlight, actually.

5. i put both eminem albums last on principle but the true loser and worst part of this experience was trout mask replica by captain beefheart & his magic band, holy fucking shit, i feel like the elitist bros who call this a masterpiece and beefheart a visionary and swear “it gets good after six or seven listens” are the same people who say kurt cobain secretly wrote every hole song. a nightmare.


Western music may have been changing the world in the 1950s, but if you happened to be in Russia you were out of luck. State censorship was in full effect in the Soviet Union, and sneaking in, say, an American rock record was close to impossible. 

But a few industrious music fans found a way. It was called “bone music” and it consisted of makeshift LPs etched into used X-rays. British musician Stephen Coates tells this secret history in a new book called X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone.

Bones And Grooves: The Weird Secret History Of Soviet X-Ray Music