Wagner on the decline of Melody
“Music has taken a bad turn; these young people have no idea how to write a melody, they just give us shavings, which they dress up to look like a lion’s mane and shake at us… It’s as if they avoid melodies, for fear of having perhaps stolen them from someone else.”
Wagner walks into a CD store as Taylor Swift’s new hit “Look what you made me do” was blasting out of the speakers. Wagner’s face instantly turned into a frown. However, he proceeded to the clerk for assistance, “Hello, do you have anything around here that has melody?” Wagner asked the clerk.
The clerk looked at Wagner in shock and replied: “Have you not heard that the melody is dead?!”
Wagner kneeled to the ground in defeat with a tear in his eye. Then a customer walks in and sees Wagner kneeling, so he asks the clerk: “What happened? What is this all about?”
The clerk answers the customer: “This old man has not heard that the melody is dead!”
The customer with a confused look on his face, said: “Melody? What the hell does that even mean? Anyway do you have the new Justin Bieber album?”
Wagner, still kneeling in defeat, turns his head to the customer and retorts: “You don’t know what a melody is?! What nightmare this has become!” And Wagner continued to talk on and on and this is what he said:
“Music is forged out of four central components: Melody, harmony, rhythm, and tone color. Melody on its own encompasses all the other three things on this list. The melody on its own can and does suggest harmony. Any melody intrinsically has a rhythmic character, even if that rhythmic character is simply free-flowing. The melody is such a wonderful and characteristic part of music which can even on its own encompass all the other building blocks that are central to music. So why then is melody dying?”
In which the store clerk interrupts him: “Dead, not dying. It’s like super dead.”
Wagner continues with a tear in his eye: “The absence of melody today has unfortunately become a huge trend, take Pop music for example: The Weekend’s songs which are based on one note which is the supertonic note, or this Taylor Swift song which consists of a three note verse and no notes whatsoever on the chorus. And surely you have noticed that these types of songs are number one hits in at least one major country in the world. This is not to say that these are bad songs, but they would be described as lacking melody. Now this style of music clearly does not depend on having a melody, but that is exactly my point, melody has gone out of fashion. People nowadays only want to listen to a beat that is good for twerking. Moreover, having a melody that spans one to three notes makes it extremely easy to sing along with.
It’s also important to mention that Pop music didn’t always lack melody, take the example of The Beatles’ early Pop Rock songs and Queen’s glorious melodies, but at some point Pop music discovered the power of a strong hook, and how catchy a repetitive hook could be. It’s called a hook for obvious reasons, it’s a set of notes or a rhythm which a bit like an advertising jingle is bite-sized and easily memorable and I think that this idea of a catchy hook took over at some point, until songs more and more have become just hook with not much else going on. In addition, we were given Techno music with the rise of electronic music which reflects a real lack of melodiousness in favor of other qualities.
Perhaps this loss of melody even relates to the digital age of texting, Tweeting, and the bite-sized thought. Perhaps the public doesn’t want longer streams of thought anymore, they just want something bite-sized immediately digestible which can both satiate and numb them immediately. It’s hard to say why something would go out of fashion but I do think that these trends and ideas in recent music history might give us some idea to why melody now seems to be one of the least engaging elements in modern music. I think this age today marks a point where melody isn’t really used as an expressive tool anymore, it still exists as in there are still notes that you can follow and sing along with but it no longer has the expressive quality of the melodies of the past.”
The clerk stood listening to Wagner’s never-ending lecture about the melody and responded with: “The melody is dead old man, would you be interested in buying Cardi B’s new album?”
Wagner was heartbroken, bought the album, and walked away…