Too Real for the Genre: Why We Should Expect Music to Change with the Artist
By Dominic Causley Todd
The Black-Eyed Peas wrote two songs that appeared on the greatest album of all time, Monkey Business (2005). These songs were “Gone, Going” and “They Don’t Want Music ft. James Brown”. Yes, THE James Brown did a song with the Black-Eyed Peas. It’s almost seven minutes of pure funk, sass and sexy baritone sax. The reason I bring up these songs is because of their lyrics and their following album “The E.N.D” which they released more than four years later. “They Don’t Want Music” features the lyrics, sung by the Godfather of Funk, “They don’t want music, they just want boom, boom, boom”. This is a call-out of pop music being too superficial, the same themes are in the song “Gone, Going”. However, four years later they release one of their most successful songs, “Boom Boom Pow”. This is a complete backtrack on what they had sung on Monkey Business. They departed from the powerful, emotional music about break ups, love and lies to up-beat, fun, albeit commercial, bangers of “Boom Boom Pow” and “I’ve Got A Feeling”.
I loved it. I loved every overly repetitive synthesised drone in those songs because that was who they were. The Black-Eyed Peas collectively and individually had made it. They were at the top of their game. There were no RnB/pop acts close to them in terms of success. Will.I.Am and Fergie had made huge solo careers as well. There was nothing painful for them to sing about anymore, no more trials and tribulations. They had the world at their feet. So why should we expect them to sing about the stuff that was no longer relevant to them?
A month ago Bring Me the Horizon (BMTH) released a new album “AMO”. It was a drastic departure from their sound. “Sempiternal” (2013) was definitely a metal/metalcore album. It was a hard hitting, aggressive resilience aimed at the inner demons and problems facing the band. “That’s the Spirit” (2015) followed it and it seemed much more ‘pop’ than the preceding albums. Songs like “Follow You” and “Drown” achieved huge commercial success but the long-term fans disliked the transition to music more about love and loss than the inner turmoil of “Sempiternal”. If “Sempiternal” to “That’s the Spirit” was a slight watering down of their metal sound and image, “AMO” is like a tsunami. The album features the single “Mantra” which reached 45 on the triple J hottest 100 this year and that song is the closest the album comes to being “metal”. It’s a much more pop/electronic influenced album. The fans reviewing and commenting on the album were livid, and I really don’t know why.
In the three and a half years between “That’s the Spirit” and “AMO” a lot has changed for the band. Much like the Black-Eyed Peas, they got successful, had the time and the money to address their issues and mental health. They weren’t constantly grinding to make a name for themselves and so had time to address their relationships. They sorted their shit out. So why do we expect them to still sing about their past issues? Why do we expect them to create music that is no longer relevant to them? BMTH asked this question themselves with their song “Heavy Metal”. It literally predicts their fans going on rants on social media complaining that the band’s new sound is not heavy metal and that BMTH are fine with that. We loved this band because that they were real, the stuff they sang was powerful. Their performances were raw, passionate and honest. That is what we wanted from them at the start of their careers, that is why we loved them, and that is what they are still doing, and it is unfair to expect them to maintain the same sound now that their lives are completely different.
The same phenomenon applies to bands like The Amity Affliction and The Hilltop Hoods. Their most recent albums have achieved the most commercial success, and the most hate from their long faithful fans. Hilltop aren’t rapping about grinding through the stigma of white Australians trying to rap, they’re not redefining a genre, they’re not dealing with substance abuse, working minimum wage jobs, or growing up with little to no future. They’re hugely successful, outside of their music they made the most successful record label in Australian Hip-Hop, they got married, had kids, they aged twenty years and one of the band members lost an organ in a car crash. That will change people, and we should expect the music to change with them. The same with Amity. Their content stayed the same in terms of what they are addressing with their music, but their sound lacks that original metal-core drive and power. It seems more 80s synth with songs like “Feels Like I’m Dying”. They aged, they’re no longer twenty somethings smashing out powerful metal anthems like “Youngbloods”. That was ten years ago, we should expect that they are going to change.
If you don’t like how the music of artists change, that’s ok. It’s a subjective matter, have your opinion. However, they didn’t sell out, they didn’t lose who they were, they just changed. They are being exactly who they are which is why we loved them in the first place. We loved their honesty, and their passion, and that is what they are still doing. Being honest to themselves and their new, very different lives. If you’re the person who rants on YouTube or Instagram about how bands aren’t who they used to be and why that is a bad thing, then you are naïve and unrealistic. I don’t want the millionaires rapping about how hip hop was their only way out of the shithole they grew up in, I don’t want happy, well balanced, successful people screaming raw powerful metal anthems about how terrible their lives are. Because it wouldn’t ring true. People who get angry about Fall Out Boy, Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Hilltop Hoods, Eminem and Bring Me The Horizon changing their sound are the same as the people who booed Clapton when he first picked up an electric guitar. Times change, so do artists and we should expect their music to change with them.