We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,973,574-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: 2010s in music
What it’s about: “Baby Shark,” and all of the other, lesser songs that also came out in the past ten years. This decade appeared to be when people stopped paying for music, all FM radio stations seemed to be owned by one company and programmed by the same computer, and most of us discovered new artists by letting YouTube autoplay to the next video rather than exerting ourselves enough to click a button. Yet, some people still managed to write some terrific songs. Let’s take a listen.
Biggest controversy: This column is more than 300 entries into our 5,973,574-week series, and this might be the worst-written Wikipedia article we’ve yet come across. Granted, much of the text is merely lists of artists, broken up by the occasional list of songs. But attempts at prose include such gems as, “Traditional instruments… have been used more often, especially in indie rock musicians,” “In recent years, the music industry has progress in Ghana,” and one run-on sentence after another. The moral of the story: For readable, informative music writing, stick to your local pop culture website!
Strangest fact: Japanese girl group AKB48 set a record for being the largest pop group in history. The J-pop band at one point had 134 members. The sprawling group opened its own theater so that it could play in one location every day instead of touring, and will rotate members in and out so different factions of the group can play multiple gigs or fan events simultaneously. (Part of the group’s concept is that the members are “idols you can meet”—with so many, it’s much easier for fans to have face-to-face contact with one.) The group is the highest selling musical act in Japan in terms of singles sold. The concept proved sturdy enough that AKB48 now has spinoff groups in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, with an Indian AKB48 in the works.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Hip-hop has gotten its due. Lil Nas X became a star this year by combining hip-hop and country, spurring the latest chapter in the neverending debate over what constitutes “real” country music. The genre also increased its influence around the world, with rappers like Shigga Shay in Singapore, AKA and Emtee in South Africa becoming big stars, and Korean K-Pop spawning a K-hip-hop subgenre.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: The meaningless label “alternative rock” has only become more meaningless with time. Originally coined to separate the post-punk underground acts that broke through to the mainstream in the 1990s with the hard rock and pop acts who dominated the mainstream in the ’80s, the term now appears to encompass mainstream acts like Imagine Dragons, Linkin Park, and Coldplay, somnambulant singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, and funk party band-turned-yacht rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Alternative” used to mean something, maaaaan! Okay, it never meant anything, but it meant slightly more than this, maaaaan!
Also noteworthy: Punk’s decline ended up being a good thing for punk. After a surge in popularity in the 2000s by punk-esque bands like Good Charlotte, My Chemical Romance, and Sum 41, the genre has been largely absent from the pop charts. But that’s led to a resurgence of scrappy garage-influenced punk bands (and one of the bands on the list is called Joanna Gruesome, a definite contender for Year In Band Names.)
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: If you want to read about music in the 2010s without any of the actual music, check out 2010s In the Music Industry. That page covers music business trends, nearly all of which involve how digital media has upended the industry. One of the page headings, “Exclusive Releases As Promotion,” hilariously has two subheadings: “The Beginning Of Exclusive Releases” and “The End Of Exclusive Releases.” The trend was apparently short-lived.
Further down the Wormhole: Included in a very long list of rappers is Chief Keef, a Chicago-born MC who broke out in the 2010s and had an unlikely champion in Lou Reed. Shortly before Reed’s death in 2013, he commented to The Talkhouse about Keef’s featured track on Kanye West’s album Yeezus: “‘Hold My Liquor’ is just heartbreaking… listen to that incredibly poignant hook from a tough guy like Chief Keef, wow.” Reed, the sardonic songwriter who fronted the influential Velvet Underground before releasing 22 solo studio albums, also made an odd contribution to the video game world. The singer had a cameo in Penn & Teller’s Smoke And Mirrors, a 1995 Sega CD game that was never released, but found a cult following in recent years after the game was posted online. We’re taking a week off to enjoy Thanksgiving, but we’ll be back in two weeks to examine one of the most intentionally maddening video games ever created.