Over the past year, I've been thinking about how aging effects my pop music interests. I listen to a lot of pop music, but I'm finding it more challenging to keep up with the Top 40. There are many factors at play here: my job takes up more of my time than before; I no longer live in a city where I drive a car and listen to the radio; and I find myself drawn to artists working on the cusp of the Top 40, as well as "legacy" artists such as Madonna, Cher, and Carole King. However, I know all of these factors center around aging. I am not old, but I am no longer in the target pop demographic and haven't been for a while.
Here are some observations I've made about being an aging pop fan:
1. Pop cycles remain the same, and it's easier to lose interest in those cycles. When I was a teenager, it was big news when Christina Aguilera moved to a grittier, more mature image with "Dirty" and "Beautiful." The Disney princess wanted to stake out more adult territory. Miley Cyrus is making the exact same move (though with a "hippie" bent) and it is harder to care this time around. Perhaps this is because Miley's music has fewer pop smarts than Aguilera's (Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz is a lyrical and sonic mess), but it's mostly due to the repetition of the pop machine.
2. Nostalgia is more important. I'm not just talking about revisiting artists from the past (which I do a lot with Alanis Morissette, Jewel, Britney Spears, Cher, and Madonna, all of whom released landmark albums during my preteens), but I'm also talking about newer artists who favor old-school sounds. It's the reason Carly Rae Jepsen's 80s-drenched Emotion has clicked with me and why Kacey Musgraves old school country and folk melodies on Pageant Material helps me recall my small-town childhood.
3. Pop stars growing up and becoming individuals is more interesting. One of 2015's most compelling narratives has been Justin Bieber's return to pop, which he has accomplished with surprising grace and skill. "Where Are U Now" and "What Do You Mean" are the best songs of his career, in part because he has started to place emphasis on his craft rather than just being a teenage heart-throb.
4. Harassing older pop starts for their age is more annoying than ever. I have less patience for agism. Older pop stars make great music. Cher's Closer to the Truth (2013) is her crowning artistic achievement, and Madonna's Rebel Heart (2015) is a restless, diverse, and complicated album. Both of these records are rich and interesting because the stars making them have more to say as they have gotten older.
5. Pop culture fatigue happens. I have had a big case of pop culture fatigue this year. There are so many options (music, film, and TV) and the pressure to keep up has made it difficult for me to want to try. Lately, I have been waxing poetic for the days when I owned a handful of CDs, and if I wanted to watch a new film, I had to ride my bike to the video store and pick out a VHS. I know my parents had their own version of this narrative, and they simply don't "keep up" in the same way; they seek out what interests them, and the rest falls away.
6. It's never good to take a "get off my lawn" attitude. While I am less captivated by the Top 40, it still yields new projects I enjoy. It does no good to be closed off to a whole genre of art just because it's harder to connect with the mainstream. Take Demi Lovato's new single, "Confident." Sure, its the kind of strident self-assured anthem that Britney, Christina, Janet, and Madonna have already made, but some trends are fun to revisit, especially when the new iteration is so sharp.