Friday, April 21, 2023

Was music in 2022 good? Is every year good?

"There's no such thing as a bad year for music."

We've heard this many times. Is it true? Is every year good?

After sifting through mountains of research, we think we have it figured out.

The answer is "no."

There's some good years. There's some bad years. There's some amazing years, and there are horrible years.

How is this possible? What makes a great year for music? What makes a horrible year for music?

Let's consider 3 key factors, using 1994 as our example since it's perhaps the greatest of all time:

Evaluating 1994: The GOAT

Factor #1: Qual
Here's what our stats say:

- The 500 Most Fire Jams (2022 version) playlist has 34 songs from 1994, more than any other year. This includes 8 in the top 100, also more than any other year.

This indicates Abundance of the Highest Quality.

- Our top albums list has been unfinished for a while. But our top 10 is solid and good to roll. This is where we noted a glaring anamoly: Albums #7, #8, and #9 have the same calendar year in common. Can you guess which one? (Spoiler alert: The albums are Illmatic, Superunknown, and Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2, respectively).

No need to browse further. This one stat on its own indicates Unprecedented Unmatched High Qual for 1994.

Factor #2: Quan
- We have an exhaustive playlist collection titled Every Hot Mix Ever with one playlist per year since 1960, typically including music from all levels of qual but primarily focusing on the upper ranges, between 6 and 10 (from ok to GOAT). As of today, only two of these playlists approach or surpass the 24 hour mark: 1994 and 1997.

This stat indiates Abundant Quantities of Higher Quality.

Factor #3: Variety
A "value bonus," variety does not apply to those with only 2 or 3 genres of focus, especially those who apply rockist perspectives (including those who apply rockism to their focus of pop, rap, country, etc). Variety rewards the most open minded listeners.

It's a sad irony that 1994 just happened to rest within one of the most staunchly rigid eras of "stay in your lane" adherence. Not all, but many listeners applied their favorite bands to aspects of their personal identity, largely resulting in widespread dismissals of the pop landscape's truly vast panorama. The year's high qual or high quan or (more often) both applied to a multitude of genres and styles ranging wider than almost every other year on record: Chart pop, r&b, turntable/hiphop, rap, punk, hardcore, metal, britpop, adult oriented, both radio-country and alt-country, and several subgenres of indie/college, techno/EDM/electronica, loud/modern rock, alternative, singer-songwriter, and (if you can call it a genre) classic aging dinosaur "comebacks" all would flourish all at once.

No self-respecting Megadeth t-shirt fella would've been caught dead pumping Real McCoy's "Another Night" from their diesel truck, whereas today's equivalent is more common, pending the shirt-wearer has ever heard any of Megadeth's music. In 1994, it was hugely disrespectful to wear a band's t-shirt without a musical familiarity that surpassed that of casual norms. (This concept died slowly and painfully, receiving its final nail in the coffin right around February 14, 2005 when Ellen Degeneres wore an Iggy And The Stooges shirt to the Grammy Awards.)

It's hard to quickly evaluate the music of 1994 without sounding hyperbolic, and especially since it's all so much clearer in hindsight. By today's standards, its overwhelming breadth might seem absorbingly colassal. How could any listener be expected to chip away at more than one or two genres of both high qual and high quan with fresh singles and albums dropping at such a breakneck pace? It's actually harder to imagine how this era's value wouldn't appreciate in hindsight. 

Adding to the enormity, '94 falls in center of an especially heavy Buzz Clip era, when artists with dauntingly large back catalogs finally achieved their breakthrough song. (Do you like that new hit song "Feel The Pain?" Great, because now you have to locate Dinosaur Jr's 75 other songs spread across their prior 6 albums and 3 EPs. Pearl Jam only has 2 albums, but don't forget to check out the other 5 bands those guys used to play in.)

Every 2 months, another 90 minute mixtape's worth of great new songs were available, not just in general, but in almost every one of the aforementioned individual genres. So many people stayed in their lanes because the landscape made it way too easy to take it all for granted. You didn't really need to dig for buried dopeness. If you wanted to find hot jams from any genre, simply turn on the radio and leave it on. If your preference rejects the mainstream, a trove of riches rested under pretty much every layer of terrain. If you didn't purposely or accidentally experience a musically rich 1994, you were probably doing something very wrong.

But enough about 1994. Let's now apply these same factors to years that suck.

Evaluating 2008: It sucked

Factor #1: Qual
When we say "2007 and 2008 sucked" and someone comes back with "But what about 'International Player's Anthem?' What about Nouns and Tha Carter 3?" We're not claiming that these years lacked any high quality jams or albums. In fact, our 500 Fire Jams includes 5 entries from 2007 and 3 from 2008. 

These are not especially high numbers, but it still indicates Traces of the Highest Quality, which is a higher qual factor than any year from the 2020s so far.

Factor #2: Quan
- The Every Hot Mix Ever collection shows the years 2005 through 2010 all dipping below the 10 hour mark (while 1994 surpassed 24 hours). Observing playlist lengths between 1978 and the present, the shortest playlist length is 2008 at 7 hours and 26 minutes. 

This indicates "a dearth of stuff that's at least ok."

Its these sadly empty years that most glaringly emphasize a sad but true fact about the entire history of pop music: No matter what, a super-abundance of garbage and mediocre bullshit from every calender year has always surpassed the quantity of "ok to good" stuff by a number that's at least 100 times greater (plus, this garbage-quan has grown A LOT over the past decade). So when the quan drops like it did in 2008, there's gonna be some after effects:

1. Less quan emphasizes the abundance of garbage more than a lack of qual. You can no longer simply turn on the radio and find what you're seeking. You're now stuck with digging indefinitely.
2. The avenues that used to easily provide access to a reasonable level of qual and quan have become much more complicated to navigate.
3. Casual listeners become more likely to settle on mediocre bullshit.
4. Music writers and music critics consider this a sign of the times and become more likely to hyperbolize the importance of shit music, while rejecting traces of qual that are actually out there. 
5. This is when waves of boring indie sub-genres sprout in abundance, colorfully described today as "landfill indie."

These after effects also tend to generate a widespread renewed interest in older music and a heightened nostalgic longing for the stuff that isn't around anymore. If it weren't for the bad years, we wouldn't have as much space to go back and explore what we missed from the overwhelming years.

Evaluating 2022: It was ok

Here are the value factors noted while compiling our 2022 Waffle Party:

Factor #1: Qual
2022's highest qual levels were great, about the same as its been since about 2019: Very little from this 4-year span has a shot of placing on any future "all time" lists, although anything's possible. Turnstile's Glow On from 2021 has the most bangers per capita since Rihanna's Anti with a very strong shot of placing pretty well in our all time top 100. (Both 2016's and 2022's 500 Fire Jams include 3 songs from Anti, an album that had only been out in the world for about 10 weeks prior to the 2016 version.)

Overall, the state of qual in 2022 is good. Not great. It was ok.

Factor #2: Quan
Quantity within the "ok to GOAT" range was pretty good in 2022. We continued programming our FM block throughout the year rarely unable to dig up a reasonably sized dump of new music adds from the worlds of loud rock, metal, 90s sounding stuff, rap/hiphop, non-radio pop, and electronic. As for the Waffle Party, the playlist includes our 103 song playlist (98 of them on Spotify) plus more from our albums list, building it to a decent 10.5 hours. 

The issue wasn't necessarily a dearth of "ok to GOAT," but the bummer that so much of it leaned closer to the "ok to good" area. This indicates Satisfactory Quanities in the handful of genres we most attentively observed. 

However, the "highest quality" stuff was absent. "Kill Bill" might come closest to an all time banger. 

For this reason (and also because we're exhausted and burnt out), 2022 is the first time since 2008 (just before the move away from geocities) when the big list gets anticlimactically posted as simple text with no big fanfare.

This blog is technically dead anyway so it's fine. Good songs though. 

It was ok. 

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