A Bad Case of Woes: From 9/11, to Sales
By JON PARELES
In popular music, everybody had a trauma to get over in 2002. Determined young women and sullen young men sang about abuse from parents or lovers. Older musicians confronted the repercussions of the Sept. 11 attacks — their involuntary withdrawal from the pop mainstream and their own sense of mortality. Concertgoers did double-takes at three-digit ticket prices for seats in arenas. And the recording business faced disgruntled musicians (and investigations into its contracts and accounting) on one side and fickle or hostile customers on the other as sales continued to slide.
The aftermath of Sept. 11 resonated across the pop spectrum: not just on Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" but in hip-hop (the Wu-Tang Clan), country (Toby Keith), roots-rock (Steve Earle) and post-punk (Sleater-Kinney), as well as many less specific allusions and reactions.
Mr. Springsteen wasn't the only longtime rocker to make a resurgence in 2002. The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie hit the road; Tom Petty lashed out at rock as big business. Tom Waits released two albums at once, Elvis Costello rediscovered his rocker's ferocity and Sonic Youth recharged itself with "Murray Street." Solomon Burke, the soul singer who was one of Mick Jagger's early models, re-emerged with songs written for him by the likes of Bob Dylan. And of course Ozzy Osbourne became an unlikely television star.
Meanwhile, the cute, puerile pop confections that arrived in the late 1990's suddenly receded in 2002, as unvarnished sincerity — or a decent facsimile of it — came back into vogue. Choreographed boy bands gave way to earnest guitar strummers like John Mayer and to the continuing tales of Eminem, whose album "The Eminem Show" showed less imagination and more self-righteousness (pitched as honesty) than before. An older audience finally accepted him on his own terms after seeing the movie "8 Mile," robbing pop of a high-profile scourge.
High-concept pop teases like Britney Spears were eclipsed by young women who wrote their own songs and seemed to be telling their own stories: Avril Lavigne (who detailed all the insecurities of high-school social life), Pink (who sang about her parents' crumbling marriage and about an abusive boyfriend) and the more cheerful Michelle Branch. Even Christina Aguilera, who aggressively made herself over in 2002 as a barely costumed vamp, sang about her father as a wife-beater.
Guitar-wielding metal bands like Korn and Nickelback reveled in their own suffering, growing more inconsolable with every decibel. But metal had to contend with increasing competition from scruffier styles like the yelping, heartfelt emo that has a hold on collegiate audiences and the garage-rock revival gearing up in New York, Detroit, Stockholm and elsewhere.
Hip-hop, meanwhile, continued to shift its criteria for "keeping it real," exchanging narratives of crime and gunplay for boasts about business savvy and conspicuous consumption, or having rappers trade flirtations with rhythm-and-blues singers. More plausible realism came from rappers expressing their consciences, like Blackalicious, the Roots, Common and Talib Kweli, who were determined to address actual urban problems. A nostalgic streak crept into hip-hop, too, as current rappers declared their loyalty to the low-tech old-school styles from decades ago.
Major labels continued to bemoan decreasing sales of the expensively produced, expensively promoted blockbuster albums they had grown accustomed to marketing. They blame Internet file-sharing and home CD copying; other observers point to a recessionary economy, the phasing out of affordable singles, other entertainment choices (like video games and DVD's), rising CD prices and a glut of disposable music. Mariah Carey got a $28 million severance check from Virgin Records as 2002 began, and had a Top 5 album before the year ended. Plenty of high-gloss, high-stakes projects are still being pushed on listeners. But as music fans develop a taste for realism, sooner or later the recording business might just do the same.
C'MON C'MON THE CLUB IS OPEN