2013: The Year of Smooth

There is a bigger phenomenon behind this trend of happy-go-lucky, almost corporate-friendly pop music that’s dominating the air waves today.

By Ben Reiss

A couple months back I was inspired by what Andy Greenwald from the Grantland blog had to contribute regarding what he called the “Summer of Smooth” and the current musical landscape.  If you look at all the big releases from this past summer, you have Robin Thicke, Katy Perry, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk; all very smooth, slick sounding records with high production value, but lacking any real bite, depth, or controversy.

It’s been a lackluster year for Rock music in general.   Sure, we've had Black Sabbath reunite, Chester Bennington joined Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains released a new album, but these are not bands that belong to the new generation.   Generation Y controls the media landscape, their hands are on the dials, and they collectively shrugged their shoulders and yawned.  On rock radio today, we have Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers, The Neighbourhood, Lorde, Of Monsters and Men, and a whole bumper crop of obscure newcomers that sound as if they are already rehashing the 80’s new-wave revival that began in the earlier part of last decade.  While I love each of those aforementioned artists, none of them really make you want to let your hair down and just go nuts in a mosh pit.   It seems like listeners are no longer interested in getting their dosage of  testosterone, banging their heads, and cranking up the volume for good old-fashioned distorted guitars.  It really does seem like we’re revisiting the 1980s again: when synthesizers were en vogue, and nobody wanted to hear the sound of the guitar.

There is a bigger phenomenon behind this trend of happy-go-lucky, almost corporate-friendly pop music that’s dominating the air waves today.  There is no more money left in hard rock music because it's all about licensing.  Advertisers want to license music that makes consumers feel like they want to buy things, and those emotions behind wanting to buy are feelings of happiness, euphoria and love. This is why the Black-Eyed Peas are one of the most heavily licensed artists, because they’re singing primarily about love and having fun, they have upbeat tempos, and memorable melodies.   Angst-ridden, anxious people generally are not in the mood to buy things.

Maybe we will have to wait until Metallica finally decides to come out of the woodwork with the new album.  Maybe Maynard James Keenan can take some time out of his busy schedule winemaking to help hurry along the new Tool record.  But I doubt either of those scenarios would move the needle very much with bringing back hard-edged music to the scene.  As I mentioned before, both of those bands belong to another generation.

We're going to need a new Nirvana happen, now that the timing is just about right.  Society is in a similar position to the 1990s as we're coming out of an economic downturn, we have a lot of glossy pop records there’s no real dominating scene in music at the present.  We need one clear voice for the new generation that comes with unbelievably catchy songs about rebellion and teenage angst, and the lead singer needs to be incredibly charismatic and good looking.  Then and only then can we turn the corner and close the book on the end of the smooth, soft-edged, feel-good movement that owned 2013.

Published December 8th, 2013


From my beginnings as a skilled musician to managing an indie record label and music marketing firm, I’ve seen the industry change and evolve from all possible perspectives. My hope is that my words will inspire others to become their best, and share their best. Currently living and working as a creative consultant and blogger in Beverly Hills, CA.