A Welcome to Our Robot Overlords: A Conversation with ChatGPT
I asked our AI overlords for a few lessons about the evolution of popular music.
ChatGPT is the chatbot created by OpenAI that has taken the world by storm over the last few months. It’s depth of knowledge is wildly impressive. I wanted to see what it had to say about popular music. Maybe it could teach me a thing or two. Here is our unedited conversation.
I, for One, Welcome Our Robot Overlords
Chris Dalla Riva (CDR): I want you to pretend to be a historian of American popular music. Can you do that?
ChatGPT: Yes, I can do that! As a historian of American popular music, I have studied the development of music in the United States from its early roots to the present day. This includes a diverse range of genres, from blues and jazz to rock and roll, hip hop, country, and more.
CDR: Great. What do you think are the 5 most important trends in American popular music since 1900? Please don’t tell me about the evolution of different genres. I want you to focus on things that emerged across genre. Make it a list.
ChatGPT: Sure, here are 5 trends that evolved across genres in American popular music throughout the 20th century:
The Rise of the Album: With the advent of the LP in the 1950s, American popular music began to shift away from the singles-driven model that had dominated the industry for decades. Albums became a platform for artists to explore more complex themes and musical arrangements, and they remain an important part of the music industry today.
The Influence of Technology: Throughout the 20th century, advancements in technology have had a profound impact on American popular music. From the electric guitar to the synthesizer, new technologies have opened up new sonic possibilities and allowed artists to experiment with new sounds and textures.
The Role of Music Videos: With the advent of MTV in the 1980s, music videos became an important part of American popular music culture. Videos allowed artists to showcase their visual style and helped to promote their music to a wider audience.
The Importance of Live Performance: Despite the rise of digital music, live performance has remained a crucial part of American popular music culture. Concerts and festivals continue to draw huge crowds, and they provide an opportunity for artists to connect with their fans in a more intimate and personal way.
The Emergence of Streaming: In recent years, streaming has become the dominant mode of music consumption in the United States. Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have fundamentally transformed the way that people discover and listen to music, and they have had a profound impact on the music industry as a whole.
CDR: Thanks! Let's dive into trend (2), "The Influence of Technology." Give me 5 different important trends related to the influence of technology. For each item, contrast two different popular works or artists that demonstrate the importance of that trend.
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ChatGPT: Sure, here are 5 different important trends related to the influence of technology on American popular music, along with two different popular works or artists that demonstrate the importance of each trend:
Sampling: Sampling is the practice of taking a portion of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or element in a new recording. It became popular in the 1980s and has had a lasting impact on genres such as hip hop and electronic music. Two contrasting examples are "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" by Grandmaster Flash (1981), which features multiple samples from different songs, and "Straight Outta Compton" by N.W.A (1988), which uses samples sparingly but effectively to create a powerful and menacing sound.
Digital Production: With the advent of digital recording technology, musicians gained the ability to record and edit music using computers. This has had a profound impact on the way that music is produced and has enabled artists to create complex arrangements with ease. Two contrasting examples are "Bad" by Michael Jackson (1987), which was produced using traditional analog recording techniques, and "Kid A" by Radiohead (2000), which was created using digital recording and editing techniques and features dense layers of electronic instrumentation.
Auto-Tune: Auto-Tune is a digital audio processing tool that can be used to correct or manipulate a singer's pitch. It became popular in the 2000s and has been used by artists across a range of genres. Two contrasting examples are "Believe" by Cher (1998), which uses Auto-Tune to create a distinctive robotic effect on the vocals, and "Runaway" by Kanye West (2010), which uses Auto-Tune in a more subtle and expressive way to create a mournful and introspective sound.
Online Collaboration: With the rise of the internet, musicians gained the ability to collaborate with others from around the world without ever having to meet in person. This has led to the creation of new styles and genres and has allowed artists to work with a wider range of collaborators. Two contrasting examples are "Clams Casino" by Clams Casino (2011), which features instrumental tracks created using samples and digital production techniques and was created entirely online, and "Lemonade" by Beyoncé (2016), which features collaborations with a wide range of musicians, producers, and songwriters, including Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, and The Weeknd.
Social Media: Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok have become important tools for musicians to connect with fans and promote their music. They have also led to the creation of new forms of music and new ways of marketing and promoting music. Two contrasting examples are "Gangnam Style" by Psy (2012), which became a global hit thanks in part to a viral dance video on YouTube, and "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X (2019), which was initially promoted through memes and social media posts before becoming a massive hit on streaming platforms.
CDR: Each time a new technology arises, we find people criticizing it as either "not real music" or "making music worse." Can you provide a criticism for each of these technologies? Be as specific as possible. Also, give a counterargument for the criticism. Provide song examples when necessary.
ChatGPT: Certainly, here are some criticisms and counterarguments for each of the technologies related to American popular music:
Criticism: Sampling is lazy and uncreative because it involves taking elements from other songs rather than creating something new.
Counterargument: Sampling can be a creative and transformative process, and many artists use it to create something entirely new. For example, Paul's Boutique by the Beastie Boys (1989) is considered a masterpiece of sampling, with the group using over 100 different samples to create a dense and complex sound that is entirely their own.
Criticism: Digital production is too clean and polished, leading to a lack of authenticity and emotion in the music.
Counterargument: Digital production enables artists to create complex arrangements and experiment with new sounds in ways that would not be possible with traditional analog recording techniques. Many artists use digital production to create music that is emotionally powerful and authentic. For example, "Vespertine" by Björk (2001) is an album that was created using digital production techniques and is known for its emotional depth and intimacy.
Criticism: Auto-Tune is a crutch that allows singers to hide their lack of talent and creates a robotic, inauthentic sound.
Counterargument: Auto-Tune can be used creatively to create a wide range of effects and emotions, and many artists use it to create music that is emotionally expressive and authentic. For example, "808s & Heartbreak" by Kanye West (2008) is an album that heavily uses Auto-Tune to create a sound that is melancholy and introspective.
Criticism: Online collaboration leads to a lack of musical coherence and a dilution of artistic vision because too many people are involved in the creation process.
Counterargument: Online collaboration allows artists to work with a wider range of collaborators and to create music that is more diverse and innovative. Many artists use online collaboration to create music that is cohesive and true to their artistic vision. For example, "Random Access Memories" by Daft Punk (2013) is an album that features collaborations with a wide range of musicians and producers, but still maintains a consistent sound and vision throughout.
Criticism: Social media is distracting and superficial, leading to a focus on image and marketing rather than on the music itself.
Counterargument: Social media enables artists to connect with fans and to promote their music in new and innovative ways. It can also lead to the creation of new forms of music and new artistic communities. For example, "Ctrl" by SZA (2017) is an album that was heavily promoted on social media and became a critical and commercial success thanks in part to the artist's engaging and authentic online presence.
CDR: This is great. Thanks for all of the help today.
ChatGPT: You're welcome! It was my pleasure to assist you. Have a great day!
A New One
"Feel Good" by slowthai
2023 - Punk Rap
I’m not sure if I like this song. There’s something infuriating about slowthai repeating the title what feels like a thousand time. (Okay, it’s only 57.) But there’s also something intoxicating about it. Something that so keenly captures the unadulterated joy of feeling good. Whether I like it or not, I think that makes it hard to call this single from the British rapper anything but a success.
An Old One
"Transatlanticism" by Death Cab for Cutie
2003 - Indie Rock
I also asked ChatGPT to recommend this week’s old song. My directions were to pick something critically acclaimed from over 10 years ago that was not well-known among the general public. It chose “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie. Here’s what it wrote about the tune.
“Transatlanticism” is a slow-building, emotional epic that clocks in at just under eight minutes. It features haunting vocals from lead singer Ben Gibbard and a lush, layered instrumentation that builds to a cathartic crescendo.
"Transatlanticism" is considered a masterpiece of the indie rock genre, and it helped to establish Death Cab for Cutie as one of the most important bands of the early 2000s. The song has been praised for its poetic lyrics and its ability to evoke feelings of longing and nostalgia.
Despite its critical acclaim, "Transatlanticism" remains relatively unknown to mainstream audiences, making it a hidden gem for those looking for great music that hasn't been overplayed.
Want to hear an artist that ChatGPT says is too obscure for them to know about? Check out my latest EP, You Know I Can Be Dramatic.