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The 50s VS the 90s Music Industry

By Sarah Steinberg.



Music has been around almost as long as human beings. We hear it everyday, it motivates us, it makes us cry, and it will always be present in our lives. Music trends change almost every day, and in this essay I am going to be comparing the 1950s music industry and a more modern decade of music, the 1990s.

Many might recognize the 1950s music because of superstars like Elvis Presley, but another important note is the technical advances. Radio and television spread the music and exposed nations (especially the US) to a greater variety of artists and styles. Some of the styles that got popular during the 50s are Rock 'n' Roll, R&B, and traditional pop. This decade was a time of innovation that helped to influence everything that we listen to on the radio today.

The music industry changed a lot after the 50s, partly because of the rapid advances in technologies, such as computers. This meant that music during the 90s could be much more diverse and it could also spread faster. The 1990s was a decade of extremes with many grunge bands and gangster rappers succeeding in the music industry. It is also recognized for the powerful singers that rose to fame, like Mariah Carey and Whitney Huston.

Music genres like techno and hip-hop became popular during the early nineties and was later joined on the billboard by a new style of rock music. But as teens got tired of the grungy and sad rock a new form of rock emerged, Happy Rock. This genre helped pave the way for the last music style of this decade, the Bubblegum Pop, with artists like Britney Spears, among the traditional boy bands that would hang on in the following eras.

Comparing the two decades, my first thought is that they are very different. The current events of the eras are very different which reflects the music of the decades. Music in the 1950s shows the beginnings of major social changes in the world. The world was just recovering from the bloody world war two and the US was now one of the superpowers. The music of this decade reflects the cultural changes that were occuring in society while still holding on to society's norms of the past. There was a lot of racial tension in the 50s. Rhythm & Blues and Rock 'n' Roll popularized "black" music and many African-American musicians succeeded in the music industry. But while some were able to benefit from their work, many others were forgotten or denied access to audiences through segregation. I, among many others, believe that during this time period many of the white artists stole music from African-Americans and capitalized on it for their own benefit in a way that the original artists could not. Others believe that the popularization of R&B and Rock 'n' Roll only helped to bridge the gap between blacks and whites and further the civil rights movement.

The 90s era of music is not as colored by segregation, but it was more the beginning of the music era for teens, where teens were the main consumers of music. Therefore, the music of this decade often tackled problems that teens struggle with, unlike in the 50s where music was supposed to be more likable for all generations. Music genres like techno and hip-hop became popular during the early nineties and was later joined on the billboard by a new style of rock music. It was especially appealing for teenagers as the catchy lyrics often included teenage problems and worries of the time. According to thepeoplehistory.com “These songs also seemed to send a message about the status quo of society and the helplessness that was felt among the teens and early adults of the era. Songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” spoke about a teen revolution in a seemingly meaningless world. The song also marked the beginning of the grunge and alternative rock phase that remained popular throughout the mid-1990s.”

The concept of spreading awareness through music and singing about current events and struggles is one of the new concepts in the 90s. I find this very important. Not only does it show teens that they are not alone in their struggles and it can help them find a community. But it also shows teens the value of their opinion, which in my view is important because the teens are our future world leaders and should be taken seriously.

Among that, this was also an era where the artists personal problems, like drug abuse, started to show in the mainstream media. It showed a not so perfect portrait of these big artists that so many looked up to. Some people might say that it would be harmful for teenagers to see their idols with problems like drug abuse and it might lead them on the same path. But the way I see it is that the teenagers were allowed to see a true picture of the world, which helped them form their own opinions and grow with a true picture of what the world looked like.

This differed a lot from the 50s music decade. During this decade the audience was more diverse and not as focused on the teenagers. Because of that, artists and producers choose more socially acceptable lyrics and style of their music. As I see it, this resulted in the music being milder. It did not tackle current problems and it did not include elements that might not have been liked by older generations.

Personally, I like both of the decades, but for different reasons. I like the 90s because of the modern approach and the diversity in the music industry. I like the 50s because the music is enjoyable in many different situations and with different people. Both of the decades were filled with change and they helped us get to where we are today in the music industry. But if we go down to my personal preference, I prefer the music from the 50s way more than the music from the 90s. I think since the 50s, almost everything in the music industry (except the technology of course) has downgraded. In today's world it's acceptable for artists to use autotune and many artists don't write their own songs. It feels like people don't make it because of talent, but because of money. Maybe, the music industry should be treated more like a community than a industry.