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The Ghosts of the Past: Pop Music is Haunted by Our Fears of the Future

Back in 2011, pop music scholar Simon Reynolds observed popular culture's fascination with its own past and stated: “We live in a pop age away from the locomotive for retro and crazy for commemorative.”

For Reynolds, this obsession with the past has the potential to bring concerning the end of popular music culture: “Could it’s,” he asks, “that the best threat to the long run of our music culture…is its past?”

The situation has not improved within the years since Reynolds raised his concerns. Our fixation on the favored music of previous a long time threatens our future by suppressing originality.

Thanks to recording technology and up to date developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we increasingly find ourselves in a ghostly present haunted by the ghosts of pop music's past.

Ghostly presence

This form of haunting may cause fear. Hauntology, a theoretical concept that originated within the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, was later developed applied to musicology by critic Mark Fisher. Hauntology deals with memory, nostalgia and the character of being. The present is rarely simply “present,” and the remnants of our cultural past all the time remain or return.

A ghost, in literature, folklore, and popular culture, is a presence from the past of something or someone that now not exists. So does a ghost come from the past or the current? As hauntology would argue, a ghost is paradoxically each at the identical time.

In November 2023, pop phenomenon Beatles released a “recent” song titled “Now after which.” It was warmly received by fans and critics alike and shortly reached the highest of the charts within the United States and the United Kingdom, becoming the fastest-selling single of 2023.

The Beatles track “Now and Then” from 2023.

The song incorporates a predominant vocal track by the late John Lennon, taken from a demo recording he made at home within the late Seventies, just a number of years before his assassination in 1980. It also features archival guitar tracks by the late George Harrison.

The two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, contributed recent bass, drums, vocals and guitar parts (McCartney even played a slide guitar solo that mimicked Harrison's sound and elegance), and producer Giles Martin (son of the legendary Beatles). -Producer George Martin) provided a string arrangement and backing vocals from other iconic Beatles songs.

Now and Then was also celebrated for the technological sophistication of its production and, particularly, its use artificial intelligence. Using software that might tell the difference between a human voice and other sounds on a recording, Lennon's voice was isolated and revived, allowing McCartney and Starr to perform alongside their long-dead bandmate.

Last masterpiece

“Now and Then” will not be only a “recent” Beatles song, but additionally probably the group's last: there aren’t any old recordings left to revive, and McCartney and Starr are each octogenarians.

In fact, in accordance with music critics like 's Alexis Petridis, “Now and Then” is an emotionally satisfying “act of closure.” In its own right, it represents an actual addition to the Beatles catalog, completing the band's profession and “never deigns to make use of obviously Beatles-esque signifiers.”

Music journalist Jem Aswad characterizes “Now and Then” as “Now and Then” in an articlebittersweet finaleWhile Aswad flippantly criticizes the song as an “unfinished sketch”, he at the identical time insists that any further criticism is just unwarranted sour grapes, concluding that it’s “an unexpected pleasure that marks the completion of the ultimate a part of the song”. Unfinished group marked “Business.”

Haunting, ghostly

However, some critics shared Reynolds' concerns and located “Now and Then” decidedly less praiseworthy. Josiah Gogarty's brutal review, published in , argues that the song serves as “an indication of our lives.” cultural decline loop” and compared it to a “séance that evokes the warbling and clinking of the dead.”

The recording includes McCartney's count-in originally and a number of studio conversations from Starr at the top, as if to reassure listeners that the song is a product of living musicians.

At the identical time, the song is eerily placeless or ahistorical, caught somewhere between past and present: an eerie, ghostly thing, evidence of a popular culture that has long since stopped evolving.

Limit the long run

The problem is that songs like “Now and Then” are steeped in nostalgia: they threaten the long run and limit the opportunity of recent ideas emerging.

Fisher feared the effect of this sort of nostalgia, which might result in “a canceled future.” We can easily imagine such a future because we already inhabit it: a way forward for limitless tours by incredibly sleazy rock bands, countless remakes of old movies and TV shows, the fetishization of the whole lot vintage.

Even probably the most mind-bogglingly advanced technological developments—just like the AI ​​that made “Now and Then” possible—serve a regressive purpose: revitalizing the Beatles.

A generous interpretation of “Now and Then” can be to view the arrangement and production as capturing and reinforcing the meaning of the lyrics: “Now after which I miss you… I would like you to return to me.” These lyrics suggest the presence and absence theorized by hauntology, cleverly reflected within the song's eerie soundscape.

Less generous is “Now and Then,” not a concluding act but simply continuing an ongoing trend of looking back in pop music. It suggests that our uncertainty about our future ensures that we remain without end entangled with its ghosts.


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