Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The folly of prediction

A little while ago I was asked what I thought might lie ahead for music in the 2010s, given all the retrospection of decade-end lists, etc. In answering the question it became clear how silly it is for anyone at all to predict the future. (Wall Street and Washington people, and everyone who relies on their wisdom, take note.) But it’s especially pointless for critics considering how consistently the pop pendulum has swung throughout the postwar era:

In 1950, it looked as though the future would be all crooners and soft, string-laden arrangements.

In 1960, it was clear that rock and roll was a passing fad.

In 1970, it was all going to be peace and love, and concept albums on 8-track.

In 1980, it was clear that disco would live forever, and that cassettes were the future.

In 1990, hair metal and CDs were indomitable.

In 2000, the industry was at its historic sales peak, boy bands were everything, and the Internet was a controllable nuisance.

So what are the inevitably wrong, blind-man-and-the-elephant predictions for the 2010s? Well: the industry will die, audiences will fragment further, and journalism will die. Smart money would say that at least one of those plain-as-day prognositcations will be dead wrong.

Why? For one, history is obviously not predictable; the black swan theory says that change tends to be led by unexpected anomalies. Also, pop is by its nature contrary and reactive; whatever the last generation liked, the next one rejects. Also, technology moves way too fast. Also, what are music critics ever right about anyway?

1 comment:

Cousin Chris said...

Really interesting post. I think the only prediction that can be made is that something that we consider right now to be culturally dead, like say most mid-90's rock acts, will be ripe for a re-emergence in some way. Who saw the 80's sound and look coming back as hard as it did the last few years?