Not the Same Old Song and Dance

It’s no secret that the music scene blossoms during the summer months. New artists churn out hit after chart topping hit and highly anticipated concert tours get underway. 2017 seems to be the year for those nearly long forgotten artists to resurface. Bands such as Incubus, Paramore, and Gorillaz, to name a few, have all been out of the limelight for nearly a decade and all recently released new albums.

But something isn’t quite right; something sounds a bit off. These bands and others like them have drastically changed their sound. While their new hits are well received by today’s listeners, they may fail to meet the high expectations of the fans that still rock out to their debut albums. What causes artists to make such drastic changes in tune and just how does it affect their success and fan bases?

Nowadays, some bands may not even realize that they’ve made any change at all, but die-hard fans can hear the difference. Incubus became popular in the mid-90s for their funk metal sound with mellow grunge undertones. With hits like “Wish You Were Here,” “Nice to Know You,” and “Drive,” they’d achieved the perfect balance between fast and slow. With the release of their latest album, simply entitled “8,” that balance is gone. Most of the songs are unnaturally slow and the few that attempt that original funk metal sound shaky and uncertain. All eight tracks sadly lack the qualities that made the band such a cult sensation in the first place.

Other popular rock groups, such as Paramore and Linkin Park, have pulled a complete 180. They’ve abandoned their angry and angsty sound for a shiny synth pop feel, much to the chagrin of their hard rock loving fan base. Like many other artists before them, they’ve gone mainstream, perhaps to the point of no return.

As for the popular animated band Gorillaz, their highly anticipated new album, “Humanz,” manages to keep up their quirky, individual sound that audiences fell in love with, but with one exception. Most of the album’s 20 tracks lack the recognizable leading vocals from the band’s front man and co-creator, Damon Albarn. Instead, the band relies heavily on their collaborating artist to provide the bulk of the vocals of each song, while Albarn and the rest of the group fade into the background.

In all things, change is inevitable for one reason or another. When it comes to the music industry, artists are faced with the challenge of keeping up with the changing times. Bands must assuage an ever-changing audience if they wish to remain successful. They have to adapt to a new generation of listeners and adjust their music to fit that generation’s taste. They must ensure a promising following, even if that means disappointing pre-existing fans.

But is success worth losing what made the band unique in the first place? There are those individuals who lose interest in a favorite artist once they’ve gone mainstream. Some fans just don’t want to listen to a particular band when they sound almost exactly like every other band.  Ultimately, an artist must follow the money. The previous generation of fans is growing up, growing old, and moving on, while a new generation is just discovering the band’s music and is willing to buy every album and go to every concert so long as they like what they hear. To fans, this is considered “selling out,” but to the artist, it’s just business.

Success may not have anything to do with the changing sound. Perhaps it is a change in the life of the artist that brings about a drastic shift in genre. In an interview with the New York Times in April, Paramore’s lead vocalist, Hayley Williams, said that a change was necessary. She, like many other artists, was growing up right alongside her fans. New life experiences, both good and bad, brought about new inspiration that led her down a different path. Sometimes the artist is far less concerned with financial success than they are with escaping a rut and retiring the same old shtick.

But for all that they do, an artist’s future remains out of their hands. It is ultimately the fans that decide the fate of today’s music. While the new generation boasts enough pop lovers to keep bands like Paramore in the spotlight, record sales may plummet for bands like Incubus who fail to find that perfect sound that will appeal to both new and old fans. Music lovers can only look forward to rising stars. A new and unique artist may one day surface with a sound that reminds fans of a band they’d long ago forgotten.

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