Pop Music in the Cyber Age

Today’s Glitz Overshadows Past Artistic Messages


Each individual brings a unique perspective to this world, shaped by genes, experiences and passions. My perspective is primarily shaped by music which has literally been my abiding passion for more than 70 years. Because of its constancy, it has become the “lens” through which I primarily view the world. The last 30 or so years have witnessed the most fundamental change I’ve experienced – we’ve moved from the Industrial Age to the Cyber Age which has, and will continue to, radically affect the nature of human existence in fundamental ways we haven’t even begun to acknowledge, let alone fully understand.

Consumers of popular music now primarily acquire it through downloads from “The Cloud” as opposed to tangible sources (CDs). Stated another way, in three-minute doses as opposed to 30- or 40-minute ones. While this might represent “progress” in terms of ease of access; in fact, it has turned the clock back to the late 1940s/early 1950s before “long playing” recordings came along and commercial success was achieved when a song created by a record label reached No.1 on the Hit Parade. Those hits were the products of large corporations utilizing multiple persons to create, produce and market their product. Those corporations also conceived of the marriage of music to image with the advent of MTV, another marketing ploy which vastly expanded the audience for popular music while at the same time reducing its scope and meaning by imposing a specific narrative on the viewer/listener.

In 1964 Marshall McLuhan told us “the medium is the message” – a phrase that has reverberated ever since to which multiple meanings have been attributed. The message of both “mediums” boils down to convenience over quality. Current generations appear fixated on distraction rather than content. Nothing seems to invite deeper understandings gleaned from the expenditure of time and effort to seek meanings beneath the surface when all that seems to matter is “what’s new” or “what’s next.”

The creation of the long playing record afforded musical artists a larger “canvas” and with it the opportunity for more complex and meaningful creations – it opened the door to a Golden Age of popular music created by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Who, The Velvet Underground and countless others, most notably Bob Dylan. That age has past and now that magical world of popular music is more about costumes, dance moves, light shows, videos and pyrotechnics and we are all poorer for it.

Bill Shapiro

Bill Shapiro is the creator and host of "Cyprus Avenue" which premiered on KCUR-FM in October of 1978. The weekly radio show has aired on over 50 stations in the United States. He is the author of "The CD Rock and Roll Library," 1988, and "The Rock and Roll Review" 1991, both published by Andrews & McMeel. Bill is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, and a tax and estate planner since 1962. He received his law degree from the University of Michigan.

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