I’ve been thinking of the “Semi-New Song Sunday” experiment as a failure, because it hasn’t been turning up a non-stop stream of My New Favorite Bands. But really, it’s been an unexpected success. Pushing myself to find new (to me) music every week has meant I’m seeing more of what’s out there, and I’m learning more about what exactly I like.
For instance: I’d much rather watch a good video for a middling song, than listen to a good song with no video.
I like the band HAIM just fine, but I rarely go out of my way to listen to them, and I’m not sure I’d be able to recognize any of their songs apart from “The Wire.” But this performance of their song “3AM” from Late Night With Seth Meyers has a video call from Robert Pattinson driving them to become a pop band made up of vampire brides, which is just objectively cool and memorable.
When it became clear that COVID lockdowns were going to make it impossible for shows to have live audiences, I expected everything to go the telecommuting route, like NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts or those episodes of SNL. It’s been neat to see more people taking advantage of it, with stuff like the Apple presentations that are so much slicker and more interesting than their old keynotes, and these concerts that give musicians (or more likely, their labels) more freedom to be creative than a simple live setup on a talk show stage. I hope it’s one of those things that they keep doing going forward, realizing that the only reason they’ve been doing the exact same thing since the Ed Sullivan show is that they were never forced to come up with an alternative.
“Black Rain” by Rhye is an even stronger example, though, because this “80s version of disco” is so forgettable on its own that it passes right through me like bran flakes. But put a preternaturally ripped actor out there dancing like nobody but his wife who directed the video is watching, and you’ve got my attention.
This video has more 2020 energy behind it, if you can ignore the fact that people who aren’t in super-hero movies don’t have bodies like that. It feels like that One Guy who’s there early at every single concert, alone on the dance floor just losing his shit to the opening act. And because all the concerts have been shut down, he’s got no recourse but to go out to his deck every night, take his shirt and shoes off, and rock his body to music that only he can hear.
The other reason I’d call this experiment a success is because learning what I like also means learning what I don’t like. For instance: “Pure Water” by Mustard and Migos. I watched every video by Mustard that I could find, because I was desperate to make a Dad Joke in the title of this post, and none of it is for me at all. I just think it’s all repetitive, auto-tuned to hell, and astoundingly dull. This collaboration with Migos was the most tolerable one I could find, and I’m still not a fan.
I always knew that by the time I hit 50, I’d hate all the music that was popular. Even when I was a teenager, there was only a window of a couple of months in the early 80s that I did like popular music. But I imagined I’d be like the middle-aged, white, TV writers at Hanna-Barbera, trying to skewer The Beatles with “Bug Music” in The Flintstones. I thought I’d find the music-the-youths-listen-to-these-days to be too loud, too violent, too dumb, or too harsh for me. I never expected that I’d find it so god-awful boring.
I’m not interested in wasting time talking about stuff I don’t like, because taste is subjective, and it’s time better spent amplifying the things I love. But this was a great example for the “Semi-New Song” experiment. I went in assuming that there was all this great music out there that I just wasn’t cool enough to be aware of. It’s nice to be reminded that my verifiable lack of coolness doesn’t have much of anything to do with what music I like.