Let's imagine the committee meeting together:
"Members of the board, the explosion of rap music gives us a unique opportunity to exploit the genre and make buckets of money. However, I've noticed that these rap artists are black, and I think our suburban white demographic has a hard time relating. Any thoughts?"
"Ooo! Frat boy antics are really big right now! I mean, remember how big Porky's was! There's a whole slew of movies just like that right now. Bachelor Party, Revenge of the Nerds - no one seems to be getting sick of horny white boy antics."
"Hmmm. Crazy white boys performing rap music. I'm not sure the public will buy it. They don't have... Simmons! What's that called that the white folks don't have?"
"Yes, they don't have 'street cred', thank you, Simmons. How do we get around that?"
"What if we have them rap about prank phone calls and girls and partying? That'll appeal to the white kids, won't it?"
"I've got an even better idea! We can even include elements of punk rock!"
"Woah, hold on chief! Rock and rap together? I think you have flipped your lid, Mr. Wilson!"
"No, get this. We take all those ideas, find a bunch of silly looking Jewish kids from New York, spin a few rhymes, add some punk rock, slap it on a lunch box and sell it. It's synergy, baby!"
"Hmmmm. I like it!"
And thus, the Beastie Boys were born.
And as you reach to click the downvote button, let me explain that this is exactly what the above write-up could describe fifteen years from now. The Beastie Boys were hated by critics, seen as a joke by rappers, seen as a target by angry punk rock fans, and branded as imitators. Fifteen years later they're seen as innovators - one of the most influental groups of their time.
Is that to say that I'm comparing them to Linkin Park? No. It's just that the above write-up enrages me so much so that even though I'm not a fan of Linkin Park, I find myself fundamentally disagreeing with almost everything written. Linkin Park is a band, slapped together not by the music industry, but forged by a bunch of guys with a particular blend of musical tastes. They've been together in some form or another since 1996, so let's cut the shit when we say that they're a corporate-bred mixture of the Backstreet Boys, Limp Bizkit, and Creed.
For every band that sounds like a rehash of the rap-metal genre, there's another band playing straight five-bar blues, and another guy in his basement working on some ambient techno. The success of any of these bands is due in large part to market demand. And while record companies have a large say in creating marketing demand, if fifteen million people don't want to hear your music, fifteen million people really don't want to hear your music.
Knowing full well the popularity of bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn (and as a side note, I find it absolutely hilarious that Korn is pipelinked among the artists in the "innovation/credibility" paragraph), the megaconglomerate music distributors are looking for bands that sound like them. This is nothing new. The success of The Go-Go's spawned acts like Bananarama and The Bangles. That's not to say that either of these groups were a copy of The Go-Go's. It's just that the success of the aforementioned gave similar sounding groups the opportunity to be heard.
At the same time, marketing is everything. While Weezer gets away with being geeks, the general album-buying public isn't going to buy a rap-metal album performed by a bunch of middle-aged men in lab coats. The Offspring have a whole slew of advanced degrees to their names. Do they run around with slide rules and Erlenmeyer flasks? The answer is no. And maybe that's why Linkin Park has taken off. They look slick, performing in the rain on top a weird temple in the middle of nowhere, the "cute" lead singer crooning in an unbuttoned white T-shirt. If you don't think that helps sell records, you're silly. And if you don't think the sideburns, the hip-swinging, and the gold Lemay suit helped Elvis gather 50,000,000 fans, you may be the highly suggestible type. And that was long before MTV.
The look has been the thing for as long as there's been a look. Do you think Bob Dylan wore James Dean's red windbreaker on "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" because it bolstered his artistic integrity? Or because it just looked good? The marketing department will always put a spin on artists to sell records. They made The Go-Go's look like fun-loving innocents while they snorted coke and had anonymous sex with multiple partners backstage. They'll make Linkin Park look exactly the way they need to.
And as for this trend of pre-packaged bands... it's nothing new either. The girl groups of the sixties, the soul groups of the seventies, and the one-hit wonder new wave and synth-pop bands of the eighties were all the products of record companies. Not everyone can languish in relative obscurity and critical praise like Sleater-Kinney, and a good number of people don't want to. I'd imagine Justin Timberlake would rather have millions of dollars to blow and hoards of big-breasted teenage girls to deflower than have a record everyone talked about and nobody listened to. Some people are like that.
So what's the big deal? If ten million people genuinely enjoy listening to N*Sync, who are you and I to criticize them as a bunch of no-talent throwaways? Music is for the masses, and if nothing else is subjective. The point of music is to evoke an emotion. Though "November Rain" may not be the masterpiece that, say, Mozart's "Requiem" is, it evokes far more emotion for me because of circumstances under which I heard it. The mind makes strange connections -- the smell of snow can remind you of the day in third grade when you forgot your mittens. And thus, a song can bring a tear to one person's eye while the rest of us find the words meaningless and forgettable.
And as vapid as "In The End" might be (it's supposed to be about existentialism), not everyone's like Midnight Oil -- most music doesn't have a message. One could easily argue that "In The End" has a deeper meaning that songs by "credible" arists. How about "Somebody To Love" by Jefferson Airplane? Yeah, that's got a deep, meaningful message. "Rainy Day Women #12 And #35"? I'm sure doctoral theses have been written analyzing the complex messages Bob Dylan was trying to convey with that song. And N.W.A's guide to sucking dick skit is the pinnacle of rap excellence.
If you don't like it, find something else to listen to. Buy a Dandy Warhols album. Go to a concert and throw apples at U.S. Maple. There are a million more outlets for music than Total Request Live. And while we're trashing American music (and throwing in every single trite pop culture reference we can), let's not forget that other countries are responsible for Bryan Adams, Aqua, the Spice Girls, and Ireland's answer to Wilson Phillips, The Corrs. And if you've got any question at all as to how different people can have different musical tastes, listen to "Philosophy Of The World" by The Shaggs, and try to figure out why it was Frank Zappa's third favorite album.
Sound. Original or contrived. Written by the artist or someone else. Performed by studio musicians, band members, or a computer. By lifelong friends or two guys a record company put together. Who cares? If you like it, turn it up. If you don't like it, turn it off.