Middle Aged Shout Out – Where are all the Young People for Old Music?


So Madonna has been taken off the Radio 1 playlist because she is too old. A clear case of ageism she says, something that is especially relevant to female artists, which she sees as:

“Discriminatory and unfair…I was like, ‘Wait a second. Shouldn’t it have to do with whether you wrote a good, catchy pop song?”…I didn’t know it was anything to do with my age. I just do my work. We’ve made so many advances in other areas – civil rights, gay rights – but ageism is still an area that’s taboo and not talked about and dealt with.”

Her manager notes that now young people only want to listen to artists in their twenties, and even Pharrell who is in his thirties got lucky being able to sell to Radio 1’s demographic of 15-30. The channel’s representative said it was not about the age of the artist, however, but of the audience, which for Madonna’s fans is over 30 years old now. As someone on Twitter pointed out to me, it isn’t to do with gender either as the same thing happened to Robbie Williams a few years ago.

Quite apart from my own age playing a part in my shock that young people don’t listen to Madonna, I thought everyone did, as she is so omnipresent, it struck me that the same act can look very different depending on one’s position. How can Madonna experience the ban in any other way than a clear act of ageism against her? At age 57 she still feels that she has a lot to give, yet she is not being allowed to (in the UK at least) because she is the age she is. Yet it is fair that Radio 1 should continue to shape its playlist to suit its audience, and yeah, young people don’t want to listen to older acts, fair point. That isn’t necessarily about Madonna’s age, just about her relevance (which is of course, linked to her age).

But what really struck me about this story is how young people today don’t seem to listen to music from previous generations as much as I’m sure mine did when I was younger. Whether it be Radio 1’s listeners not checking out Madonna’s latest song or, more significantly that Sam Smith admitted to having not heard of Tom Petty’s ‘I Wont Back Down’ which he has just had to shell out 25% of his royalties for because it sounds the absolute spit of his own song ‘Stay With Me’; or that young people reportedly didn’t know that Paul McCartney had anything other than a solo career before a recent collaboration with Rhianna brought him into their vista, one wonders how these young people go around in a world full of radios and don’t hear even the most commonly played songs? Is this perhaps due to the invention of the Ipod, which physically enables one to remain within one’s own musical sphere for longer?

In danger of sounding like an old fart, when I was young I listened not only to the music of my parents, The Beatles, The Stones, The Moody Blues, etc., but their retrospective stuff from the 40’s and 50’s, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Bessie Smith, etc. By the age of ten I had a good understanding of the recent history of music (and also, classical music, which seems very off the radar in popular culture these days). This was furthered by my keen uptake of retrospective music in my teens with a love for Joy Division, Jimi Hendrix, Bauhaus and any number of bands my parents wouldn’t have dreamed of listening to but I was thirsty to hear.

Of course, I don’t know what young people are listening to today, any more than anyone over 30 who doesn’t have kids does, but it seems strange that the music industry itself sees such a clear stratification in popular music along age lines. There is pre and post 30-year-old watershed now. I’m not sure that existed in my day. Back then it was Old Farts v Youngsters and being 30 didn’t feature in either camp really. Somehow I think that if you asked most young people about their relative recent history, the music of the 1990’s they might not know anything further than The Spice Girls as a kid.

This is why I am so glad that 6 Music exists, such eclectic gems are necessary listening in this day and age when so much music is referential to numerous sources. If I had a kid I’d be stuffing it’s ears with all sorts of music, from the womb onwards. It would be enveloped in all sorts of conflicting and confusing genres in order that our music heritage gets passed on. Surely a love of music involves eclecticism?

Maybe that’s it; maybe Radio 1 is just a bit shit. The DJs certainly sound like muppets with no long term musical knowledge to me, although they wouldn’t get the chance to voice it even if they did I’d imagine, in order not to ‘bore’ the audience. To be fair it always has been the radio station of choice for musically illiterate, second only to daytime Radio 2, which remains the Old Farts station of choice. Hence why we looked further outwards from the mainstream for our musical influences. This is especially the case since the loss of the exclusive Gallop charts back in the day. But when there are beauties like 6 Music around, there should be no excuse for growing up in ignorance these days; it makes it easy for the listener to be well versed. Rant over.

About annaarrowsmith

I am Britain's first and most acclaimed female adult film director, with lots of scenes written, directed and produced by myself and several awards under my belt. After 2 decades of production and distribution experience, I recently completed a PhD in Gender Studies that focuses on men's experiences of women's power in dating relationships. I know an awful lot about film-making and about gender. You might have seen me in the British media...
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