Let’s start this off with a music video of a bad whose commercial success is limited by – what? The fact they particularly appeal to white fols between 25 and 50? I have no idea.
That’s Train, and they’ve been around a while. And they’re not exactly hurting – the song in question is No. 13 on the current Billboard chart, so obviously you can’t exactly gripe about the level of their success. But people gripe about Train, and you’d think the band is the worst thing under the sun.
When I was growing up there were two music networks, MTV and VH1, that played two distinctly different types of music. MTV played rock and rap videos. VH1 played music that sucked dick. You could immediately listen to a band and designate which channel their music videos would be played on. If a band was edgy and featured a parental advisory sticker on their CD they were an MTV band. If a band sounded like Hootie and the Blowfish or something from the Lilith Fair lineup they belonged on VH1. Then of course music all blended together into being one big melting pot of suck. Bands that were “cool” disappeared. A bunch bands decided they were gonna make the same brand of shitty pussified soft VH1 rock. Today, almost half the popular bands out are “VH1 bands” led of course by This Week’s Band That Sucks Balls: TRAIN.
Train is a piece of shit. First of all, look at these losers. They could be the poster child for a new picture website called “bands that dress like dickheads” They’re like “hey we’re a bunch of conservative, mature middle aged guys, we should probably have our wardrobe supplied by Lands End’s winter catalog.” Nice fitted gray v-neck sweater. Pea coat. A nice casual train conductor hat. We could fit right in with a crowd of yuppie douchebags on their laptops at Starbucks. Wait…but…we’re rock stars. We have to look…edgy. I’ve got it. The lead singer will wear leather pants with his v-neck. One guy will have stylish but slightly torn jeans. And douche #3 will be the one member with sunglasses. SWEET. Now we look badass! No you don’t. You guys look like a couple of newly divorced middle aged losers hitting up the club on a Friday night. You should change the name of your band from Train to “Home Depot” because you are a massive collection of tools.
That’s pretty much the expectation of the music business these days.
Look, you can have a different opinion of a band. That’s what life’s about. We happen to think Train puts out some solid music. What we notice is that you’ll struggle – mightily – to find lyrics or videos within their body of work that are questionable, objectionable, vulgar or otherwise injurious to the culture.
And Train’s stuff gets criticized pretty viciously.
Compare what Train is doing to…let’s say, Kirko Bangz, who has the No. 6 Hip-Hop song this week and No. 44 on the overall chart. Because this is terrific stuff that nobody ought to criticize…
The name of the song is Drank In My Cup, which in case you’re not hip to what’s going on in the hood refers to Purple Drank – the concoction built off codeine-based cough syrup which took down Jamarcus Russell’s NFL career, among others it’s victimized.
Of course, that all by itself can’t be criticized – the message of the music is irrelevant, right? You can’t expect to be inspired or refreshed or gratified from music, after all; that’s an antiquated notion.
Or if you think that’s an example pulled out of the chart to make a point and it really isn’t representative of what’s out there, here’s a song a lot higher up the chart nobody seems to be criticizing, either…
So what we get drunk
So what we don’t sleep (smoke weed)
We’re just having fun
We don’t care who sees
So what we go out
That’s how its supposed to be
Living young and wild and free
Uh, Uh huh
So what I keep ’em rolled up
Saggin’ my pants not caring what I show
Keep it real with my niggas
Keep it player for these hoes
It look clean don’t it
Washed it the other day, watch how you lean on it
Give me some 501 jeans on and roll joints bigger than King Kong’s fingers
And smoke them hoes down ’till they stingers
You a class clown and if I skip for the day I’m with you chick (b*tch) smokin’ grade A
Fantastic. Surely, every parent in America is breathing a sigh of relief at the support they’re getting from popular culture.
Meanwhile, a song like this is more or less completely unknown to the general public…
That’s a band called Abandon, which is a Christian rock group, and within that little bucket they’re in they do fine. But can you really tell me they should stick in that bucket rather than be on a larger stage?
Is the melody of New Year’s Day worse than that of Drank In My Cup? Sure, apples and oranges, but are we really talking about one song that puts you to sleep and another you can’t live without?
Am I completely out to lunch here?
Frankly, it’s gotten past ridiculous when bands like Train which aren’t even preachy Christian rock bands along the lines of Abandon have to put up with the kinds of ugly assaults from “cool” critics while nobody has a complaint about the Drank In My Cups and Young and Wild and Frees, where illicit drug use and other social pathologies are celebrated.
Because it’s all the same.
Look, I’m not a big bible-beater. I tell people I’m Catholic, but I suck at it, and I mean that. I’m anything but holier than thou, and I don’t aspire to be anytime soon. But this isn’t mapping the human genome here; you can pretty much take it for granted that songs which inspire human achievement, chronicle the quest for true love or identify the joy of living are worth more to us as a society than songs about getting high.
And somehow it makes you a square to recognize that? Really? You’re not supposed to evaluate these things according to their message?
Where did we go so wrong?
At this point it’s well worth noting that while what we have by way of comparison is two songs by white bands vs. two songs by black artists, this isn’t a racial thing. It’s a cultural thing.
Because predominantly black music moved to the forefront of American music 40-50 years ago based on some completely different cultural values. Remember Motown?
Was there anything objectionable in any of those songs? No. Sure, the artists who sang them may have done drugs, drank, even had sex outside of marriage. Nobody’s perfect. But one reason black music made its way into the forefront of American culture – besides the fact that Motown was absolutely GREAT stuff – was that it spoke to the human experience, it was generally uplifting and it couldn’t be said to encourage bad behavior. When Motown came along, even the most hard-core racists out there had to admit that it was damn good music.
Who can say that about Kirko Bangz?
Sure, Train might not be the Beatles. They’re a run-of-the-mill rock band out of San Francisco. But it’s hard to find anything in their music which actually hurts people. Compare that to what’s “cool” out there, like this, which checks in at No. 21 on this week’s Billboard chart…
Is it not time for those of us who actually pay attention to popular culture to start demanding that it not be crap? Or has that ship sailed?
Don’t try to tell me we don’t have a problem with cultural standards in this country. We have a big problem. And not only aren’t you supposed to have