Is Pop Music Our Lowest Common Denominator?

“What do you mean, ‘Its all about that base, ’bout that base, – no treble’? I have no idea what you are talking about.”
-George Gershwin

Pop music is often described as our American culture’s lowest common denominator of awareness, especially as our interests pertain to our conscious pursuit of love. Assuming that to be true, if it is, what does that say about where we are going as a culture when we examine the large changes in pop music that have occurred in the last sixty years?

Here are two songs we might use to frame the difference. We could have selected hundreds of other examples, but two will do for a one-column look at the question. Our first selection dates back to a 1957 recorded publication. The other comes straight out of our 2014 timeline back yard. And here are the lyrics of each. If you care to hear both, they are each available at YouTube by performing an artist and song title search:

When I Fall in Love (1957)

Writers: Ming Zhou Huang, Victor Young,

Edward Heyman and Gerald Mosby

Performer: Nat King Cole

When I fall in love, it will be – forever
Or I’ll never fall – in love
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended – before it’s begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool – in the warmth – of the sun

When I give my heart, it will be – completely
Or I’ll never give – my heart
And the moment – I can feel that,

You feel that – way too
Is when I fall in love – with you



Love Me Harder (2014)

Writer: Ariana Grande
Performer: Arianna Grande

Tell me something I need to know
Then take my breath and never let it go
If you just let me invade your space
I’ll take the pleasure, take it with the pain

And if in the moment I bite my lip
Baby, in that moment you’ll know this is
Something bigger than us and beyond bliss
Give me a reason to believe it

‘Cause if you want to keep me, you gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, got to love me harder
And if you really need me, you gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, got to love me harder
Baby, love me harder
Ooh, ooh, ooh, oooh,
Love me, love me, love me,
Ooh, ooh, ooh, oooh,
Harder, harder, harder


Where are we going, indeed? And I don’t mean to simply drop the old “world coming to an end” bomb that older generations tend to drop on anything that appears to be, or is, a radical change from how things were “back in the day”. Heck. Our 1950s generation caught a lot of judgment and dismissal for our new pledge of allegiance beyond Elvis Presley to Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Rock and Roll over Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett all of their beautiful romantic love ballads. In effect, we chose the beat over the sweet.

Today’s music is far more visceral and graphic – and sweet and cute little Ariana Grande, even though she presses all the right tactile buttons on the idea of proving love by appeals to some guy that he should “love her harder”, she still hardly goes anywhere too far down the tract of debasing and objectifying women, love and sex in general, but she’s on that same road – and that’s my take on what most new 21st century song material seems to be about. By not so subtle implication, Ariana is right in there with the “kiss or do something else tactile to find out if you are in love” crowd.

To me, the greatest distractions to true love we can produce are all those ideas that simply combine to profile love as an itch that can be scratched and found through either an Internet dating service, a speed dating program, or a casual roll in the hay.

Fact is, any loneliness itch that can be eliminated with a quick love scratch has about a 99% greater chance of growing as a repetitive compulsion to keep trying the same things that don’t work – and each time expecting a different result. And, if that sounds like that popular contemporary definition of “insanity” we’ve all now heard, it is no coincidence that it appears again here in this article.

Now, if you ask me whether I think today’s pop music is better than say, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, B.B. King, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, or The Four Freshmen, please save yourself the trouble of even bothering to ask.

As for today’s music, I wouldn’t even know for sure what little Ariana was trying to say, had I not the advantage of a Google lyric search.





3 Responses to “Is Pop Music Our Lowest Common Denominator?”

  1. becky Says:

    Bud & I are celebrating our 60th Wedding Anniversary in a couple of months – you’ve been with us ‘along the way’, Dr. Bill. you’re right on -a quick love scratch spells disaster.

  2. bobcopus Says:

    Very true Bill. What I enjoy seeing is the interest in Frank Sinatra and others by todays youth. It is growing. Lady GaGa has teamed up with Tony Bennett and is getting rave reviews. Hopefully this trend continues.

  3. Tom Hunter Says:

    Ariana Grande said she hates America and Americans, a statement she said was “taken out of context.” In her classic “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” non-apology apology, she went on about how bad our eating habits are. Of course, she was seen on the store video licking donuts she hadn’t bought. She now says she won’t be performing at the Baseball All-Star Game concert because she’s having her “wisdom” teeth removed. Before this story broke, I had never heard of her.

    I grew up in the ’50s listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll, but I also listened to my dad’s recordings of George Gershwin, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller as well. It wasn’t a question of either/ or.

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