Modern Pop Music: No Guitar? No Drums, Either.

Listening To More Modern Pop

My kid has gotten to the age where he’s started to get interested in popular music. This has led us to listen to a lot of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” and “Grammy 20xx” CDs over the last few months. Even though pop music isn’t really my thing, I have enjoyed it quite a bit. It was funny to have heard so many of these songs over the years in the bathrooms and common areas of office buildings, but not really knowing the artists. I remember hearing a few songs like Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho” and Imagine Dragon’s “Thunder” literally 5 times a day. It seemed like every time I went to the restroom, one of them was on. It’s been a while, so fresh ears are a good thing. There are some, like Thunder, that have grown on me. Others, like “Sweet But Psycho” I’d be happy to never hear again. It’s also been an interesting listen as a musician and writer…

I’ve started to identify what I actually don’t like about modern pop music. As primarily a guitar player, and with guitar being the foremost instrument in most of the music I love, I sort of assumed that modern pop music not having much guitar is a big factor. I was surprised how much guitar was featured in the 2021 Grammy Awards show. Anyways, it turns out that’s not really the issue. It’s the lack of real drums, played by a real human being, with variation and feeling that is what I actively dislike.

Rhythm

A lot of modern pop music sounds like basically one 4:4 loop repeated for the entire song. Drag and drop the bar of midi, and drag across the song for the whole 3 minutes. I keep saying it, but it’s not the chords, it’s not the notes, it’s the rhythm that defines a genre. With a lot of modern pop, the rhythm is simply… boring. There are no fills to lead from section to section. There is no sense of dynamics.

Tone

On top of that, tonally, I just don’t like the generic low end thump used instead of a kick drum and the white noise crack used instead of a snare. Real drums have such a great tone, and such a great variety of sound contributing to the music Kick, snare, hi hat, crash, splash, a million toms. That’s interesting to me! So much modern pop music has that chopped, compressed, generic kick sound and either a finger snap sample, or the generic white noise snare … and that’s it. I’ve noticed over the last year that pop artists who use real drums appeal to me a lot more.

Like anything, there are exceptions to every rule. This isn’t a big, revelatory piece, but it’s been really interesting to examine what it is that appeals to me and not, and why it works or doesn’t work. What do you think? Does it bother you? Do you like that style?

Of course, no matter whether you like a piece of music or genre or not, there’s always something to learn. At least listen with open ears and maybe you’ll get something out of it.

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