Trying To Stay Relevant: My Experiment with Apple Music

Pandora. Spotify. Amazon Prime. Streaming music services are nothing new to the industry. Each a little different but trying to be the exact same thing. Maybe it was the ads, the interface, or the selection but I managed to never really get into any specific streaming service. So I was surprised when Apple Music came out and it actually intrigued me. I have an iPhone and my music collection has gone exclusively through iTunes for nearly a decade so the concept alone was in line with my comfort zone. But while that iTunes collection has evolved over the years, it's been more or less along the same path. Jack White, Nirvana, Eminem, Pink Floyd,  The Beatles, Gorillaz, with things branching off from there. Sure, there's an oddity here or there but I don't really deter from what I like. Unfortunately it's gotten to the point where I don't even have an opinion on current music culture because of it. I know who Ariana Grande, Ed Shereen, and Iggy Izalea are, but I couldn't pick their music out of a lineup. I'm becoming ignorant. And that just simply won't do.

So what better way to experiment with Apple Music than to listen to some albums that I would have never listened to otherwise. The idea came to me upon looking through the popular music section realizing that I really haven't listened to much of anything outside of my musical bubble for a couple years now. So I decided to take a look at some of the most popular albums from recent years. The only parameter I have is that it's something I'd be embarrassed to have in my iTunes. Otherwise what's the point?

I'm mainly doing this in order to properly form an opinion on the state of music. That's why I'll be going after top billboard charters and Grammy winners. It just makes it easier to sort everything out. Especially since the popular at the moment type of stuff always seems to be one hit wonders with literally just that one song worth listening to. So I figured whole albums that have been praised/sold well would be my best bet. Since it's supposed to be stuff I wouldn't listen to otherwise, I'll be sticking to bands/genre's I don't particularly like. So prep yourself for a lot of shitty pop music.

In fact, here's a list of the artists/albums I'll be looking into, just in case you're curious about a certain one and don't feel like reading about the others.

Taylor Swift - "1989"
Iggy Azalea - "The New Classic"
Nickelback - "No Fixed Address"
Sia - "1000 Forms of Fears"
Ariana Grande - "My Everything"
Ed Sheeran - "x" 

Yeah. Jesus Christ that list is depressing me all over again. Well, let's get started with the album that inspired this post…

Taylor Swift - "1989"

This is one that I've heard ridiculous praise for. I had a buddy, who I know exclusively due to our mutual love of horror movies, call this one of the greatest albums of all time. On Facebook. You know, in a public place. Where people can see. That's how much this album apparently affects people. 

It makes them lose their fucking mind.

I like Taylor Swift in the short snippets I've heard of her so I went into this not expecting to hate it. I know that's not the greatest approach to a CD, but hey, baby steps here. Plus, I had to listen to "Shake It Off" about a million times while editing a gymnastics video and it did the impossible and didn't become obnoxious, so it had that going for it. But the real question is did 1989 hold up to someone who hasn't listened to a T-Swift album ever?


Were you maybe expecting a more solid response either way? Okay, I get why Swift is ridiculously popular. Her voice is nice but it's the goddamn catchiness of all her songs. She knows who to work with to provide a lot of catchy tunes. I get that and can appreciate it and therefore can see the broad appeal of the album. That doesn't change the fact that I don't like pop music but I can see the appeal to kids. I just don't connect with most of the album's material, being a twenty-four-year-old male.

That's the music video for Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" and is the main thing that inspired me to do this article. I kept seeing it all over Facebook and decided to actually watch it. Right from the start I was intrigued by the beat, which was both upbeat and catchy. Then Swift started in and started tearing apart what the media presents her as. I liked what this represented and the fact that she was saying she doesn't let it get to her, and that no one else should succumb either. It's a well made song with a great message for the impressionable youths that flock to Swift. She knows she has an important role in these kid's lives and is doing something positive with it. Other artists take note. It's easily my favorite song on the album.

I can't say I fully get the "best album of the year" praise. It's a serviceable pop album but that's about it. Swift's voice is really nice and there are moments of great songwriting but there's also a lot of lowest common denominator stuff like over repeating and terrible choruses like "Are we out of the woods yet?" That's to be expected from a pop album so I don't really hold it against Swift for that. And since apparently she was categorized as "country" earlier in her career, I can be grateful that this CD didn't take any on any hints of her past self. I don't see myself listening to the album in its entirety again but I can see a certain song getting added to my "Ultimate Happy" playlist.

Seriously, "Shake It Off" is fucking catchy.

Iggy Azalea - "The New Classic"

This is one I was looking forward to probably the least out of every album. I just dislike Iggy Azalea. The few songs I've been exposed to prior usually enter my "worst song I've heard in years" list in my head. Even her small cameo in Furious 7 annoyed me to no end just for the fact that it was giving her work. So when the idea of this article came up, I knew a prime candidate. Unfortunately that meant I actually had to listen to her CD.

Kill me now.

Let me start off by saying that, holy shit do I hate Iggy's voice. The tough girl gangster persona she puts on during her songs is cringe worthy and takes me out of the music completely. And it happens almost immediately as the album starts up. It's just comes off as trying too hard. Gwen Stefani is a more believable gangster than Azalea.

The most popular song on the album is "Fancy" which I immediately recognized because of Weird Al Yankovich's "Handy" which I know like the back of my hand (in fact, go here and listen to all of that CD rather than any of this crap. It's great). How is this supposed to be relatable? She wants to be fancy? You know people have actual problems right?

Is this where the term "basic bitch" is being shepherded? I didn't even know this was a thing until recently. God dammit, I really am getting old.

Some of the beats are catchy and the hooks can pull you in, but as soon as Iggy decides to nasally spit some rhymes, everything goes downhill. I'll admit, she impressed me during one of the first tracks where she had a quick pace and hit it to the beat precisely. But that disappears throughout the rest of the album. Instead her tempo is on the slow side and she gets shown up by anyone else that decides to sing on the track with her. TI shows up to show what real rapping is for a featured role, which when that's the case you know the album itself is in for some trouble. I'm glad no one really talented got sucked into this black hole.

Everything seems to be about Iggy shoving her success in people's faces particularly her boyfriends, past girl friends and exes. Yeah, this seems like someone I want to listen to for an entire album. The poetry that Iggy displays really is magical, what with the line "I'm his new bitch." I'm sure this has been repeated at high school pool parties time and time again. Little gems like that and more are what you find when you give someone that doesn't understand rap, a rap career. But don't worry, "she's working her sheeeeiit."

How is this seriously popular?

Nickelback - "No Fixed Address"

This was more an act of reacquainting myself with why I hate this band. For the past decade or so, no band on the planet has been as universally hated as Nickelback. And I get it. They have discovered the formula for radio play and just release songs that all sound the same and are equally about nothing important. Yet they still remain afloat. Hell, these guys fucking headline all over the world. And how? To everyone I know, they are nothing but a joke -- a bad punchline. Yet still they persist! It's almost like some cruel prank from the music industry to get us back for torrenting all of their music.

I honestly can't remember the last time I even listened to a Nickelback song. So you can call it a morbid curiosity, wanting to see what exactly the band is up to nowadays. I remember seeing a parody worthy music video this year that summed up everything wrong with the band, but actually sitting down and listening to a CD? That's something only a mad man would do.

Let's get started…

I'm not sure what the point of adding a weird effect to Chad Kroeger's voice during half the songs but thank god they did because you really get a lesson right off the bat of: expect the unexpectedly expected. Seriously, they just try new things that they've seen other people do

Nickelback has been around for 20 years and yet their songs are still about partying hard, banging chicks, and going fast. Seriously, they haven't evolved at all during that time. The first song on this CD is called "A Million Miles An Hour" and it's literally about all of those things. It's not quite as good as these beautiful words so eloquently placed in a chorus:
"Coca-Cola Rollercoaster."
I just... yeah, what else did you expect? Everything, as usual, feels hollow and soulless. I honestly feel like I've already heard this album before. It was the first Nickelback CD. Back when I was a young impressionable minor. I've grown a lot since then. How the fuck have Nickelback managed to stay the exact fucking same!

Although it was pretty hilarious to hear them do what was essentially an R&B song before they went full Nickelback and brought in the surplus of power chords and Kroeger yelling loudly singing at full volume. Just wait until someone starts rapping out of nowhere on one of the tracks, and everything goes hip hop for 30 seconds. It is both weird and nauseating. Classic Nickelback.

I honestly started feeling sick by the end of this CD. It's everything that I hate about music rolled up into one terrible looking/sounding package. If I could break up any band on the planet, it would be Nickelback. Then I'd put them on trial for the death of the music industry and this album would be my main evidence.

Maybe I'm being over dramatic.

*note: at this point, I needed a break. So I popped on Intro to Serj Tankian and cleansed myself before continuing with the rest.

Sia - "1000 Forms of Fear"

To be fair, I've heard of Sia before and enjoyed whatever songs I heard at the time so I figured if any of the albums could be appealing to me, it'd be this one. I didn't even realize how popular she was until doing research for this article where I found out she's exploded in recent years. See, I'm always staying up to date with pop culture stuff. Yep.

Sia is good. This is how poppy music should be: someone with a great voice singing to creative beats that transport you. I, like I'm sure many of you, had seen the Shia LaBeouf starring music video for Elastic Heart. Don't know why I'm talking about? Check it out below:

Put me in the category of seeing interpretive dance with a great backing track but controversy is controversy for a reason. That was my first real introduction to that voice and the simplest way to describe it is hypnotic. And that's a tone that most of the album takes on.

There's a song called "Eye of the Needle" that show just how dark the lyrics can go. Maybe that's why I ended up liking the album. It actually had some balls and wasn't afraid to talk about real life stuff.

And god dammit that voice. I honestly can't think of any female in music whose voice I like more. Bold statement right? Yeah, that's what I said when I thought it halfway through listening to 1000 Forms.  I had liked her from the featured tracks I had heard her on but still being shock to have said realization. There's a little Norah Jones but not as overt, with a real handle on any note she wants to hit.

Ariana Grande - "My Everything"

I almost didn't want to do this one for the pure fact that I like Grande and don't want that ruined by listening to any of her stupid music. Let me rephrase that, I think she's ridiculously hot, and pay attention when she's on my television for her Scream Queen promos. But the part about her music is still true. If there was any artist I had hope for, it would be her based solely on some half time performance I saw last year. She seemed like she could produce good music.

I was wrong.

The CD has a lot of problems but the biggest comes from Ariana herself. I was surprised at what a weak voice Grande has. She often needs to be supported by backing vocals and even then, very little pulls through in the performance. She has potential once she grows a little and tries some new things but safe seems to be her main motif. "Just a Little Bit Of Your Heart" shows potential both in material and vocal work, but is often just rinse and repeat arrangements.

This is more of the pop music I was expecting from this experiment: no real direction, over produced and lacking vocal range. It's funny, I say overproduced yet at the same time it manages to sound like it came right out of Garage Band. It's very disjointed and could easily be listened to on shuffle because there's no balance given to the placement of the songs. It all feels rather thrown together.

I had heard one song of hers prior and it was because the music video was directed by someone I admire, Max Landis. The video itself is good, utilizing a continuous take camera dynamic, but I also think that the song fully encompasses Grande as a musician. Nothing really strays too far from this type of song and I would consider it her "music mean." Check out the video and see what I mean.

I can see Grande pulling off a featured role with the right performer but otherwise, her own album is a tad weak. Again, I'm not the audience that this type of music is targeted towards, but just as a fan of the art of music, I see this as a very shallow album.

Im convinced that Grande is currently filling that role of "pop artist without true singing talent who is also ridiculously hot." Don't get me wrong, her profession still requires some modicum of talent but to pretend that voice would be anywhere on its own is silly. Otherwise, I'm not sure I can explain how she's gained the success she has so far. With so many roles coming up for her in Hollywood, let's hope she goes that route instead.

In related news, I now have an appreciation for Taylor Swift.

Ed Sheeran - "x"

I've heard a lot about Ed Sheeran in recent years. I know that he has a pretty voice and writes songs. That is the extent of my knowledge of him. Oh and that he plays piano. I'm pretty sure I've seen that.

Call me a cynical asshole but I really don't need to hear about a guy pining over some girl. Vice versa applied too. I just don't see the appeal in an entire album of that. I can deal with a song or two about that when it's implemented within the overall flow of the album. But one after another gets tiring quickly.

Don't get me wrong though, Ed Sheeran is ridiculously talented. Great voice, that never goes whiney -- a downfall for many males in this genre. The usually-accompanying guitar compliments his singing well and never gets too punchy. People don't seem to understand that the Unplugged style doesn't work for professional studio albums and thankfully it's avoided here.

And as with every Rick Rubin produced album, everything feels like it's in its correct place. The mix is never unbalanced -- something I've grown to appreciate after going through these other albums.

I suddenly "understood" him when Justin Timberlake-lite kicked in. I figured he was just a respectable mission until I got to that point. It only took a few tracks to get to that point but it had me rolling my eyes hardcore. I guess that's just the style for this style of music but all I hear is Timberlake spazzing out.

Does he dance like JT? Is that a thing he does during his concerts? Does he have backup dancers and the band itself is just there for window dressing? This is really showing off my ignorance to popular trends but dammit if I don't know. It's just what the music tells me. For some reason I was expecting a John Mayer type but instead got hit with another pop star.

He's good though. If anyone had to fill this role, I'd probably pick him as well. He's a lyricist with a great voice at the very least and a future superstar at the most.

I encourage you to go out and try something similar with whatever music service you so choose. It's a fun way to reacquaint yourself with pop culture and try out a lot of different music. No matter what the outcome, you'll have tried something new. Bam, life goals.

When all is said done, I'm glad I listened to the albums. While I highly doubt I'll ever venture onto most (Sia may be added into a playlist or two. Dat voice.) of them again in my lifetime (go fuck yourself Iggy and Nickelback), I'm glad that I gave them a chance. Because otherwise, how do you know what you dislike if you don't try new things out. An optimist may have phrased that differently…
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About zombievictim

I'd like my writing to further represent me as a person by providing different insights into the things currently on my mind. Whether it's writing about a movie, TV show, album, book, wrestling event, experience, or life lesson. I don't plan on making this a personal blog where I treat it like a diary. This is just supposed to represent… Me.
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