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Saturday, July 17, 2004

Quote of the Post: "When men are pure, laws are useless; when men are corrupt, laws are broken." - Benjamin Disraeli

Random Playlist Song: Gilbert and Sullivan - HMS Pinafore - Things Are Seldom What They Seem, Incomprehensible As Her Utterances Are


Latest project to be unveiled:

Why I Dislike Modern Music (complete with soundclips and pictures)

I know that most visitors will not bother to click on the link above to visit said page, so I shall mirror it (largely) here, sans the pictures.

Why I Dislike Modern Music

Please note that the title of this page is "Why I Dislike Modern Music", and not "Why anyone who likes modern music is a crass idiot who deserves to be shot". Few may agree with my intensely subjective opinions, but I retain the opinions anyway. Also, the following points do not all apply to all genres of modern music.

Non-modern music is by no means immune to all of these, but it suffers from the symptoms below to a much lesser extent.


Some singers (usually female ones) seem to take pride in breathing (loudly) as much as they can in between notes, anywhere they want. Whether this is due to:

1) a lack of talent
2) stylistic flair
3) a genuine lack of breath because when they're supposed to be breathing, they choose instead of mutter or shout random words (heavy metal bands are especially fond of this)

is unknown, but either way it sounds horrible.

Case in point: Whitney Houston singing in an extract from "When You Believe". The bolded asterisks represent each loud breath taken by Whitney.

Listen to the WMA file (30s: 83kb, 20kbps, 22khz)

Transcription: Many nights * we prayed * with no proof * anyone could hear * in our hearts a hope * ful song * we barely * understood * now we are not (short, quick breath) afraid * although we know there's much to fear * we were moving mountains long * before we * knew we could (30 seconds, 12 loud breaths)

Compare this to the movie version (the asterisks here represent a soft, sometimes barely audible breath): Many nights we prayed * with no proof anyone could hear * in our hearts a hopeful song * we barely understood * now we are not afraid * although we know there's much to fear * we were moving mountains * long before we knew we could (35 seconds, 7 soft breaths)

Gesticulation and screwing up of eyes
A popular action among singers of modern music is to close their eyes (often screwing them so tightly shut that you can see their wrinkles), so they don't have to see their audience's reaction (and possibly to counter stage fright) and singers gesticulating with one hand (or both hands if they are not holding a mic) in a general forward direction, sometimes with clenched fists.



Similar-sounding songs

Perhaps it is just me, but for some reason I think that the Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life" and "I Want It That Way" sound very similar, and for some time I had difficulty distinguishing between the two. Moving to more objective measures of similarity, 'Quit playing games' and 'I want it that way' use the same drum machine, and have practically the same beat programming.

Other artistes with similar sounding songs: Michael learns to rock and Britney Spears.

Sleepy/stoned sounding singers

Some singers, especially in dreamy-atmosphered songs, sound like they are either half-asleep, lazy to sing their notes out properly or stoned.

Case in point: In Sarah McLachlan's Angel, at parts of the song, her voice is so light that, in combination with her grace notes and occasional hoarseness, you feel like slipping into a marijuana-induced daze. All in all, she "does the waif-like wailing thingy a bit too much".

Listen to the WMA file (24s: 67kb, 20kbps, 22khz)

Airy/throaty singing

Some singers have singing which is so airy, it's scary.

Case in point: In this extract from "When You Believe", Mariah Carey's singing is so airy, you almost think that there is a hole in her
voice box.

Listen to the WMA file (7s: 26kb, 20kbps, 22khz)

Others sing so throatily, they sound like they have sore throats.

Case in point: Extract from Macy Gray's "I Try"

Listen to the WMA file (9s: 31kb, 20kbps, 22khz)


Not content with selling a song once, modern music artistes like to make countless remixes of the same tired tune to fleece consumers. For example, "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic has the following dance remixes:

Tony Moran Mix
Richie Jones Mix
Soul Solution Mix
Richie Jones Club Mix
Matt & Vito's Epic Mix

I don't want to consider how many non-dance remixes there might be.

If you thought that was bad, think of how many remixes there are of William Hung's "She Bangs" :)

Prevalence of Love, Sex, Violence and Drugs as themes

See any rock band, eg Red Hot Chilli Peppers or the Smashing Pumpkins. Also see such songs as "Fuck Her Gently" by "Tenacious D" and "Fuck It" by "Eamon".

Even if the none of the above mentioned topics are themes of the song, obscenities and vulgarities are often inserted into the songs so they are offensive for the sake of being offensive. Examples: Limp Bizkit, zheng zhen yue, Eminem

Case in point: The chorus to Eamon's "Fuck It" which goes:

Fuck what I said it dont mean shit now
Fuck the presents might as well throw em out
Fuck all those kisses, they didn't mean jack
Fuck you, you hoe, I dont want you back

Listen to the WMA file (14s: 41kb, 20kbps, 22khz)

If that isn't enough for you, just look for any gangsta rap song.

Lazy singing and slurring

Jay Chou mutters and mumbles his way through his songs, so you can hardly hear what he is singing.

As for slurring, My Bloody Valentine is guilty of this sin, as the following clip from "Only Shallow" makes clear:

Listen to the WMA file (19s: 56kb, 20kbps, 22khz)

If you couldn't make that out, you're not alone. Even fans of 10 years are sometimes hardpressed to make out what they are singing. Some theorise the slurring is deliberate so if they're on drugs and forget the lyrics, no one will know the difference.

For the sake of completeness, the lyrics were supposed to be:

Like a pillow
She won't care

Looks over talent

There is a tendency to feature only good looking people, perhaps to distract the audience from the lousy singing of the performers. The emphasis is more on the performer than on the music, and you often see cults of personality forming. In fact, most modern music artistes are good looking - good looks seem to be a necessary but not sufficient pre-requisite to make it big (except for the odd person like Marilyn Manson, whose lack of good looks is arguably - conversely - a draw factor)

Prime example: F4. See also the horde of lookalike Taiwanese sweet young things: Xiao Xiao and others whose names I can't remember, who last a few months each and then disappear


When record producers have hit upon a successful formula, they try to repeat it. This is why groups and artistes who are essentially identical clones of each other appear.

Taiwanese Boybands: 5566, F4, Energy





Synthesised music

As will be apparent to all, using instruments which do not produce tones, but rather synthesise them, is not a wise move if one wishes to inject subtleties and nuances into one's music.

Music Videos and fans' short attention span

Invented to counter the increasingly short attention spans of pop music fans, people in music videos prance around, stare at the camera and generally act like idiots. Especially bad are the music videos by Britney "Big Fake Boobs" Spears.

*Picture* *Picture*
Frames from Gunther and the Sunshine Girls' "Ding Dong Song". What lesbians necking and groping each other's breasts has to do with touching Gunther's Tralala, I don't know. Maybe it makes them more hot for him.

During live performances, the ever-changing images present in music videos are not available to sate the audience's cravings for action and movement, so to compensate for this partially, artistes sometimes hire dancers to prance around in the background, dazzle audiences with frequent changes between various glitzy and impractical costumes (see Chinese pop concerts by female artistes), smash guitars or otherwise liven up the atmosphere.

Assorted miscellaneous gimmicks

Since most modern music makers are entertainers (in the holistic sense of the word) rather than musicians first and foremost, they incorporate various gimmicks, attention-grabbing stunts and publicity-garnering actions into their lives both onstage and off it.

A by no means exhaustive list of examples:
Onstage: Flashing/strobe lights, loud noises, glitzy costumes, Michael Jackson's crotch grabbing, Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction"
Offstage: Various sexual misdemeanours, S.H.E obviously contrived name (what are the odds of 3 girls who just happen to be named Selina, Hebe and Ella forming a Chinese pop trio anyway?)

Strobe/fancy lighting

"S.H.E". No, I still haven't figured out which is which. One day, I swear I will bankroll a group called H.E.R or H.I.M

Repetitive, meaningless lyrics and sounds

Many song writers endow their songs with simplistic and meaningless lyrics. Some are overly fond of certain words: "heart", "apart", "fire", "desire" and "dream", while others do not even bother to take that effort and instead write in an abundance of "ooo"s, "yeah yeah yeah"s and other such noises.

Case in point: The starting of Fantasia Barrino's "I believe", where she goes: "Oh... Ohhhhhh... Oh..."

Listen to the WMA file (16s: 48kb, 20kbps, 22khz)

Another example: The refrain in Eamon's "Fuck It" where he goes:

Oh oh
Uh huh yeah
Oh oh
Uh huh yeah
Oh oh
Uh huh yeah
Oh oh
Uh huh yeah

Listen to the WMA file (14s: 43kb, 20kbps, 22khz)


People say that modern music groups need drums to keep time because they don't have a conductor. That may be so, but surely it is not so hard to co-ordinate music making in a small group of 3-6? Chamber music ensembles do that all the time, as do acapella groups. A totally unscientific survey reveals the extent to which modern music depends on drums: 95% of the songs have constant drumming, 3% are sentimental piano ballads and 1% are sentimental guitar tunes (both of which only have 1 performer, so drums aren't that important)

Besides the lack of talent of many modern music makers, the fetish for drums can also be explained by fans' addiction to them: most are used to hearing a beat to nod along to, and many cannot keep the beat without a drummer playing it out for them to hear. Additionally, drums are sometimes used to drown out bad 'singing' and tuneless 'tunes', and to keep up an underlying mind-numbing rhythm to dull the audiences' wits and either stupefy them or work them into a frenzy.

Case in point: New Order's Blue Monday, where the mind-numbing beat heard in the following sound clip is repeated for all 4 minutes of the song

Listen to the WMA file (14s: 43kb, 20kbps, 22khz)

But there is worse -St. Germain's Thank U Mum (4 Everything You Did), the even more mind-numbing beat and bass riff of which is repeated for all 12 minutes of the song!

Listen to the WMA file (7s: 24kb, 20kbps, 22khz)


Some music-makers like to encourage their audiences to clap along to their songs, spoiling the enjoyment of those who want to actually listen to the songs. Some justify this travesty by saying that it lets the audience participate in the music making, but my view is that this not only dulls potential enjoyment of the song (if any), it also mocks the performers' abilities to keep time (if they have, in fact, any)

Miscellaneous gripes

- Noise, rather than music: My Bloody Valentine has the "Wall of noise" concept, which results in songs painful to the ear
- Sliding: Some singers are fond of glissando (sliding their notes), which isn't bad in and of itself, except that they do it badly

Conclusion: Essentially, to make it big in modern music, you must break most (if not all) of the rules of good singing.

Credits: This page would not be possible without my various friends and acquaintances, with extensive knowledge of modern music that I do not possess

Feedback is welcome: gabrielseah(at)hotmail(dot)com or with the feedback form (or leave a comment on this post)


Most productive composers

Composer Composing
Total Hours
of Music
Average Hours
per Year
Franz Schubert 18 134 7.4
Henry Purcell 16 116 7.3
Wolfgang Mozart 29 202 7.0
Franz Hayden 54 340 6.3
George Handel 54 303 5.6
J S Bach 47 175 3.7
L v Beethoven 35 120 3.4
Robert Schumann 26 72 2.8
Pëtr Illich Tchaikovsky 30 76 2.5
Felix Mendelssohn 27 57 2.1
Anton Dvorák 45 79 1.8
Johannes Brahms 45 71 1.6
Franz Listz 51 76 1.5
Giueseppe Verdi 63 87 1.4
Richard Wagner 53 61 1.2
Béla Bartok 45 48 1.1
Hugo Wolf 28 28 1.0
Richard Strauss 68 67 1.0
Frédéric Chopin 26 21 0.8

Source: Random True Facts
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