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Marco Werman: Now that we're in the final days of the decade, the teens of the 21st century, we've been giving some thought to the musical trends that really stood out over the past 10 years. A lot has changed. You can find some of the trends we spotted at theworld.org, but let's run through a few of them right now.
As the decade began, who'd have thunk that Korean boy bands would conquer the globe? There was a big clue back in 2012. His name was Psy. A surreal video by a cute Korean chap who went to school right here in Boston.
The video is unforgettable. Psy dancing in a stable, pretending to ride a horse through a chorus line of girls, having some fun with the lively upscale neighborhood in Seoul, Gangnam, that most fans outside Korea had never heard of. Four years later, the boy band BTS sells out Madison Square Garden several times.
Sadly, the decade is closing with several deaths among the top acts in K-Pop. But the star-maker machinery of Seoul seems to keep marching on.
Another seismic shift this past decade: How we listen to music. Across the planet, actually owning music away toward downloads, streaming. Essentially, we're tapping into ginormous digital jukeboxes in the Cloud — Spotify, Apple Music and so on. In some parts of the world, street merchants sell SIM cards and thumb drives already loaded with music.
But the big change was in the actual physical product, as they say in the biz: a retro swing back to vinyl. In fact, this year, vinyl sales topped CD sales for the first time in 30 years in the US.
Ayana Contreras is a vinyl devotee. She's a music producer and DJ at WBEZ in Chicago and, for her, the vinyl trend makes perfect sense.
Contreras: The number one thing that I think has changed for folks is we have the luxury to be able to choose our medium in a way that cherishes the experiential aspect of it. Basically, picking up a record, pulling it out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable, being very intentional, is something that holds a lot of romance for younger kids. And for older people, it's very nostalgic. It's that sweet spot between a number of different generations really being attracted to not simply pressing a button in order to hear any song on demand.
Werman: The crackles and pops are just for effect. Vinyl sounds better than ever. Angelique Kidjo released "Celia," her best-selling homage to Celia Cruz, on CD and vinyl.
Which brings us to another trend: the old genre of world music — kind of obsolete at this point. The internet and file sharing mean that artists everywhere no longer toil away in the vacuum of regional culture. Everything around the globe inspires now.
Look specifically at the African continent over the past 10 years. Long the source of many sounds simply called world music, that all-encompassing label gave way to a distinct 21st century genre of pop music. In fact, there's a new sales chart on the continent that didn't exist in 2010 — Charts Africa. Their top 10 albums for 2019? Angelique Kidjo's "Celia" is on it, but with only one other exception, everything else is Millennial music.
At number one on Charts Africa's top albums this year is "African Giant," by arguably Nigeria's biggest star of the moment. Burna Boy. It's a slow jam with heavy Auto-Tune. Definitely not Afropop, even though it is pop from Africa.
You could say that the internet democratized music by helping to eliminate the ghetto of world music, but just because pop music globally appears to be on a more even playing field, it has also not fully employed its bully pulpit. There have been artists like Seun Kuti who warned his fellow Nigerians to not get sucked into a consumer lifestyle in songs like "African Dreams." Or New Zealand's Lorde, in her tune, "Royals," calling out over-the-top bling.
Quart: For Lorde, on "Royals" — "Every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, tripping in the bathroom. Blloodstains, ball gowns, trashing the hotel room."
Werman: That’s writer Alissa Quart, who heads up the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. After the 2008 Great Recession, musicians had a chance to critique socio-economic inequality around the world, but Allissa Quart says artists mostly came up short.
Quart: What does it mean when you don't have music or visual art or other forms that don't, in the last decade, speak to this? I think then you start to lose the cultural claim on being a democratic art. People call out each other, “check your privilege,” but the cultural production is not checking its privilege.
Werman: It's a trend that critic and writer Scott Timberg wrote about last year in an essay in Vox titled "How Music Has Responded to a Decade of Economic Inequality." Scott died unexpectedly this past month.
Quart: Scott Timberg was my friend and my colleague and I edited this piece of his about inequality in music. I think he did really worry about what was going to happen with culture production. But he was always an optimist. Even in his last week, he was posting a Kurt Vile — who's a younger Indie musician — collaboration. He did a video from that. It was really beautiful. And I think he still kept his mind and ear connected to better work that was being made.
Werman: And speaking of better work, we lost great artists in the 2010s. So many that it felt like a trend. Aretha, Bowie, Prince — artists with seemingly limitless talent who stayed true to innovation and boldness, legacies that show us great art requires hard work.
I heard Brazilian singer Seu Jorge sing the David Bowie classic, “Changes,” the day after the 2016 election. I guess in many respects it neatly sums up the past decade in music in many areas.