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Cerritos College • Norwalk, Calif.

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Art of entertainment: Where have the songwriters gone?

Heres Tom Petty, one of the artists mentioned in the article, preforming all they way back in 2006.
lightningfields/natasha hrubovcak
Here’s Tom Petty, one of the artists mentioned in the article, preforming all they way back in 2006.

Imagine the American songwriter. What image comes to mind? Johnny Cash recounted how he walks the line, Roy Orbison longed for his precious dreams and Tom Petty remembered his dear American Girl.

These musicians transcended their respective mediums and have risen to become titans of American mythology, but this past time is in danger.

Who are the modern singers/songwriters and what are their muses?

Well, currently the parade of pubescent performers seems to be especially enamored with their girlfriends and/or their last breakup.

Be it Lewis Capaldi, Ed Sheeran or Shawn Mendes, there seems to be no more ominous portent in the modern day than the dreaded “white guy with an acoustic guitar.”

While the appropriate question would seem to be how did we get here, that truth is painfully obvious; changing times means changing cultures.

The world that birthed these hard, but soulful artists is largely a thing of the past, there are no more boys named Sue.

But the blame does not solely lay with a changing climate, there is still an audience for this type of genuine music; However, attempts to meet these demands from the powers that be have been fumbling at best and baffling at worst.

Consider country, which was once the realm of Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, now Nashville is lorded over by the debauchery of the “bro” subgenre that Florida Georgia Line occupies and the chaste “boyfriend” stylings of Dan + Shay.

While this corporatized version of the genre that once bore the “outlaw” qualifier has its fans, those who remember the style’s previous highs, both old and young, long for what the style has proven it could be.

Though these tales of shallow partying and romance have their fans it certainly would not hurt for the radio to welcome the hard-bitten blues of Larkin Poe to their airwaves.

The sisters are a proven hit with the country listeners of yesteryear and their youthful edge provides a clear hook for younger listeners.

But most importantly, Rebecca and Megan Lovell’s music projects a sincerity that is sorely lacking in today’s charts.

Though they wear their Georgian origins on their sleeves, they never once come across as midwestern cartoons.

Potential fans can spot the product of a corporate board room meeting from a mile away and that stench can prove repulsive.

The great singer/songwriters were lauded for their genuine, human touch and in trying to create a universal version of that, the radio has effectively neutered this subgenre.

Johnny Cash was not meant for everybody, Roy Orbison had a narrow target audience, and there are some poor souls out there who do not care for Tom Petty.

Despite this, these artists cultivated a following that borders on the cult-like even years after their passing.

Should we ever hope to see this phenomenon again, we must reject the living props that have been paraded onto our screens as legitimate songwriters.

The true heirs to that proud legacy do exist, but they toil in near obscurity.

If you truly consider yourself a disciple of this great American tradition, it is your duty to seek these underground acts and ensure that they finally get the push they deserve.

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About the Contributor
Lukas Luna-Arellano is the co-community editor for Talon Marks. He plans to shore up his literary credentials while at Cerritos before transferring. He enjoys reading, working out, and listening to various types of metal.
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    Amy ParkerMar 13, 2023 at 11:51 am

    Personally, I’d say there’s still some great large-scale songwriters out there. Halsey still writes incredible concepts for her music – always has from Badlands and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom out to today’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. Hayley Kiyoko’s stuff was decent, especially This Side of Paradise/Citrine-era; Expectations was alright, but Panorama did kind of slump a bit. Girli also still does some incredible writing, and Rebecca Black has just been getting better and better with her concepts. The artists are still out there, but they’re all within subcultures. All the ones I mentioned, for instance, are sapphic songwriters; Halsey is probably the closest to mainstream among them.

    I would still consider them to be “soulful” songwriters – perhaps even more than the ones you listed. I also feel like Sheeran and Mendes are on their way out – they all mostly peaked pre-COVID and have just fallen since then. Even TS is still doing some alright songwriting.

    My main point is – the songwriters are still out there, and they aren’t *that* hidden/underground. There’s an absence in country, sure, but that’s not the only genre – you just gotta keep looking through other genres. 🙂 I’d definitely recommend you try Halsey’s “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom” album, I think you’d like it.

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Art of entertainment: Where have the songwriters gone?