The Beatles were a boy band. They played pop music. They wrote jingly happy songs that people liked to sing along with. They were idolized by young screaming teen girls. They were not particularly good musicians or extraordinarily talented songwriters. But things changed, their songwriting improved to such an extent it might be fair to say they are among the very best songwriters of the 20th century. Some would even put them at the top (where I would probably put them for their entire catalogue of work). Their musicianship improved, their singing got better and more inventive, their experimentation in the studio created something new and different almost every time.
They were a boy band. They became legends.
Take that as paid. The question now becomes could that happen in this day and age? Could a band progress like that or would they be torn apart by critical dogs. Would they have ever gotten over the ‘boy band’ tag? Would their experimentation be lauded and listened to or dismissed out of hand? Would the Beatles have become THE BEATLES?
I don’t think they would have. I think their initial fame, the screaming girls, the happy songs, the seemingly calculated nature of their personality profiles (the cute one, the quiet one, etc) would have been enough to brand them in certain people’s eyes and allow those people to dismiss them as untalented hacks who somehow fell into fame and didn’t deserve it. And no matter their subsequent work that label would remain.
The subsequent work is also at question. Would they have progressed in the same direction or would the pressure of critical disdain have ripped them apart? Or would they have tried to make that progression before they were ready for it? Before they had mastered the basics of songwriting? Trying to run while still learning to walk. And if they had would they then have fallen flat on their faces? Or would the stress of trying to progress too quickly, chasing the critics, have lead to the early dissolution of the band?
There clearly was a progression that took time, effort and maturity. Without that process they probably would not have been advanced enough to record Sgt. Pepper. Even if they had the idea it would have ended up as an album with no depth but a pretentious attempt at creating depth.
I come not to bury the early Beatles, I love that music, but to examine their growth. From popular and good to popular and great to popular and legendary. A process that took years.
How does that differ from today? Partly there is no time allotted for growth, bands must be great out the gate and most aren’t. Also the way criticism is levelled has certainly changed. As in Mainstream and Popular is now almost automatically equated with bland pap for non-discerning listeners. As if one cannot be both great and popular.
The Beatles would have been dismissed and buried by the critics before they had a chance to become great. And, yes, they were derided at the outset but I maintain it wasn’t in the same way, as in the; ‘You Suck!’ that often poses as modern criticism but more of a ‘You guys have a lot to learn and I don’t like what I hear.’ And while no one wants to hear others don’t like their work at least there’s some hope in the second. That one can turn the critic around, that the critic might be more receptive to your music when you improve. Also, critics weren’t quite as prevalent back then in terms of the internet. Everyone’s a critic online. Everyone knows more than everyone else. And the largest difference to me is that the online critics are often failed artists (whether it be writing, music or art itself) and embittered by that failure and viciously disdainful of the successful. Negativity gets attention and the more negative you can be the more attention you will receive.
The more albums a band sells, the more tickets a movie sells, the more views a webpage gets, the less good it must be in some eyes.
Because everyone knows everyone else is a moron and if something is popular that must mean morons like it and no one wants to be associated with the morons who like the stuff that you like that makes you a moron….
And the strangest part to me is a lot of the critics who deride modern bands are fans of the Beatles. As if the Beatles came out fully formed with an entire body of brilliant work and the critics expect the same out of new bands. No patience for progression. No chance for the popular to become great.