What do I think of the music of India?
Last week, I gave my thoughts about the movies of Bollywood, and why they do seem to be struggling. I thought, why not do the same with the music? Music is a huge part of Indian films; it is the most unique thing which separates Indian films from the rest of the world. A movie having three to five songs is nothing; it is considered normal by the viewers here.
But much like the films, the music hasn’t been great for a while now. It is not said by people of my age, or people older than me. Even younger kids think that current music is not good at all. So, why is that? Well, you won’t get complete answers here. But you will get some ideas.
First, let’s get one thing clear. Music in the films does not equal Indian music.
Despite my use of the term Indian music, the reality is, the songs in the films are not Indian music in its entirety. India has many styles of music, spread throughout the country, from regional and folk music, to classical music like Hindustani classical music, where instruments like Sarangi are played, and some impressive vocal performances are given along with such instruments. The songs which you may see in the films adapt all the styles across from India, but they cannot be called Indian music. But since most people listen to these songs, and there is very low demand for classical music, and regional and folk music is never popular outside of its intended audience, the songs from the films are the universal thing which is heard by everyone.
On a side note, Sarangi is a beautiful instrument. You should try finding it on YouTube; you’ll be amazed to hear it being played.
Having said that, what are the problems with the songs?
Let’s keep one thing clear. I do not listen to songs from South Indian cinema. So, my focus will be exclusively on Bollywood music here, and more specifically, Hindi songs.
To understand what is a problem now, we need to understand what makes people like the songs from the past. The 60s to 90s is generally said to be the great time, when good songs were sung, by the legendary singers like Kishore Kumar, and Lata Mangeshkar. Both of them were giants of the music industry during this period. And they sang tons of songs individually, together, and solo. Whereas a band only creates albums, the Indian singers sang in the movie songs, resulting in much more output, and much less reliance on touring. Not to say they did not tour, but singers during this time did not rely on touring as heavily in the current time, from what I do understand.
And there is a reason for it; we’ll get to it later. But aside from the good vocal performances, Bollywood songs are also known for their dances, which are considered crazy by foreigners. I have not danced, or ever seen a dance, so I only have other people to tell me this, but yes, but whenever Bollywood is discussed, dancing is always brought in.
But these songs did not have dancing alone. They often had scenes as well; for example, take this song from the film called Benaam Baadshah, where the main character grieves after losing his wife. During the 90s, however, dancing started to be incorporated heavily, and by the time of the late 2000s, the scene aspect from the songs disappeared mostly. This did not mean that the quality of the songs fell. Great songs were still created in the 2000s, or even in the 2010s. But by the end of the 2010s, music producers had a challenge in front of them, which were short videos.
Many people used a certain part of the song for the background music of their short videos, and the producers adapted to this change. They even used it to promote a film, generating hype by only releasing a short video of a song which is featured in an upcoming movie. However, this does not have positive results all the time. Since they focus only on that short scene, when the real thing comes out in its full glory, people are left disappointed. The hype does not match reality.
Many composers, and other people involved in the music industry often protest against this, specifically A. R. Rahman, who didn’t like that he could spend a lot of time and energy on a song, and people only focus on 30 seconds of it. However, this opinion is not universal. (You can find out about this more in this video.)
Then, of course, there is the matter of genre. Much like the Bollywood movies, the majority of the songs are actually romantic. And you can only beat that dead horse for so long. Things have gotten so bad that personally, I have stopped listening to most of the Hindi songs old and new alike, because I just got sick of their romantic overtones.
The other thing is the vocal performances. This is actually observed in music worldwide. Ever since autotunes have been used on a wide scale, it eliminated the need for vocal practice, or having a good voice. While the vocal quality of Kishore, Lata, and Freddie Mercury was very good, modern singers struggled to match them, let alone surpass them.
Then there are the predatory practices of music companies, about which you can see a video here. (Yes, it is in Hindi, but there are subtitles.)
All of this results in people liking the old songs better, compared to the songs being produced in the current time. This doesn’t mean the good songs are not created anymore; they just have trouble matching the quality of the old ones. And yes, I totally acknowledge the fact that the taste in music has changed, and good and bad are subjective when it comes to music.
Anyway, I hope you liked this article. I know this might be a hard and uninteresting topic, but I hope you enjoyed reading it all the same.