Dog goes woof, cat goes meow, bird goes tweet…
…and our music goes flop?
College campuses are breeding grounds for wildly popular songs with short shelf lives – last year’s “Gangnam Style” by PSY and now Ylvis’ “What Does the Fox Say?” are prime examples – but why?
Due to college students’ extensive social media use and the rise of YouTube music videos, songs with big beats and little lyrics are taking our generation by storm, said Jenna Johnson, a Higher Education Reporter at the Washington Post.
Johnson said that YouTube’s power lies in its low cost and ease of use.
“It’s just very free and accessible. It’s not that much work – with one click you’re there and you’re watching it,” she said.
Out of 3,000 teenagers surveyed by Nielsen (a company that studies consumers and their world-wide habits), 64% said that YouTube is their first choice for music, according to The Guardian.
In comparison, only 56% of those teenagers said that they listen to public radio, The Guardian said.
Music videos have always been artsy, but artists and producers are moving away from “artsy” to “outlandish” in order to draw in the crowds, according to Johnson.
“It’s something people will talk about: ‘This is hilarious,’ ‘I want to try it myself,’ ‘This is ridiculous,’ ‘This is stupid.’ The videos become bigger than the songs,” she said.
Johnson said that it was Ke$ha’s music video “Blow” in 2011 that made her realize that “this is a new age of music videos.”
Michigan State University packaging junior Amanda Ellis said that it’s through her friends that she shares and receives new music.
“A lot of my friends tell me to look up songs. Usually if I don’t hear it from them, I pick it up from driving in my car or on Pandora,” she said.
Pandora is a popular website which allows listeners to create personalized music stations and boost or skip songs.
Ellis said that music is a good way to bond with people.
According to Ellis, she shares songs she knows her friends will enjoy, but “then you discover the stupid, funny ones” – a nod to the “outlandish” factor that Johnson mentioned earlier.
According to a survey taken by 15 randomly selected students at Michigan State University, 11 of them have heard the song “What Does the Fox Say?” 11 of these 15 students were first introduced to the song by friends who showed or encouraged them to watch the music video on YouTube.
All 15 students have heard “Gangnam Style,” although many heard it for the first time through another media source such as the radio, MTV, a party, the 2012 Olympics, and even at last year’s MSU-CMU football game.
Ten of the 15 students said they believed social media and YouTube are the most influential means of creating song virality.
Music videos have also become interactive, said Johnson. People, often students, want to do their own spoofs and versions of a music video.
Kassandra Nalera, a civil engineering freshman at MSU, said that lyrics are beginning to play the background in how students value music.
“You listen to what you want to hear. And they change over time, depending on what the generation wants to hear,” she said.
Nalera also said that song preference is determined by “what you as a person want to associate with.”
Computer engineering freshman Ryan Siegler agrees that as lyrics become secondary to a song’s popularity, their quality diminishes.
“I think that if you listen to lyrics made [now], they’re not as good as lyrics produced 10 years ago.”
Daniel Cortes, a chemical engineering sophomore, said that song value changes person to person.
“It all depends on who the student is and their background… I’m all about rhythm, others are all about lyrics, others are about popularity.”
This focus on catchiness isn’t a new problem, however; even The Beatles were accused of writing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to sell to teenage girls and not to write good music, according to Johnson.
Kyle Fitton, a chemical engineering sophomore, said that social media creates the main music buzz.
“When I see one or two people talking about something it doesn’t really matter, but if you see a lot of people making a big deal about something I usually go check it out. It’s usually a pretty good gauge of how interesting something is.”
Fitton also said that students might focus more on the artist than the song itself.
“I feel like sometimes they don’t like it for the actual music, just who sings it,“ he said.
MSU Professor of Music John H. Kratus, said, “The way that persons experience music is dramatically different than in the past. Today it’s much more individualistic and much more global.”
According to Kratus, music is far more individualistic because consumers don’t have to go through the “gatekeeper” of label records.
“Now we have the internet for that,” said Kratus.
Likewise, he said that music’s global emphasis comes from musicians’ ability to use the Internet and build a fan base worldwide.
“Compared to, for example 20, 30 years ago, when there were major artists – say, Michael Jackson or the Rolling Stones – we are much more fragmented [with how we enjoy music],” he said.
Interestingly enough, Kratus also said that teenagers and young adults use music as a way of mood regulation. From going for a run, to relaxing and avoiding a hectic day, “music acts almost like a drug,” said Kratus.
“In a way, it’s almost like a drug therapy in which there is a willing want to be put in a different mood,” he said.
Kratus, who teaches a course in song writing at MSU, said that it’s an area music education has completely missed.
“To take what’s going on in students’ lives and transform it into something that others can relate to… it’s something that’s really important for them; to express themselves, and to connect with the world that they live.”