The front door was open because we’ve been experiencing cool weather lately. But they don’t do screen doors in SE Asia so mosquitoes and other critters can fly in. It’s maddening, but there you have it. And since we don’t have a dining room table I was sitting on the floor, using our couch as a table to eat my chicken soup while I read an article on my Samsung phone about communism that my brother sent.

The hotel next to us was blaring “Hotel California” by the Eagles and even though it has been one of the most overplayed classic rock songs, I started to get into it, especially the guitar solo. Like most music, it time-traveled me back to all those moments that I have heard classic rock or American music in Asia.

I started it at the guitar solo. You’re welcome.

It’s funny because you don’t expect it when you first arrive or if you are new to SE Asia. You expect to hear local or ethnic music. But there have been countless times I have stepped into a taxi to hear Western music being played. Sometimes it’s how I’ve ended up bonding with the driver. There’s something surreal about being in a land so different than your own and hearing familiar music, music you grew up with, music you used to listen to when you were driving down roads.

When I was doing research for my book, I asked Uncle Ron (he’s technically not my uncle, but I was raised the Thai way so all of my mom’s friends are my uncles and aunties) about what his experience was as an American GI during the Vietnam War. He talked about what it was like to walk into ‘those bars’ and how shocked he was at the cover bands playing American and British classic rock in Thailand.

“They didn’t speak English, but they knew all the words to popular 60s and 70s rock songs. They were very good, too.”

An example of what Uncle Ron heard covered:

When we lived in Chiang Mai, there was a bar that used to play live hard rock (there are others, trust me) that we used to walk by and stop and listen to sometimes. Other times we’d admire how well certain songs were covered, and discuss the musical merits of each band member. The guitarist was particularly special at wailing out Black Sabbath, Guns ‘n Roses and Led Zeppelin with passion.

These days, musical tastes run more along pop and K-pop (*cringe*) and I fear as a global community we’re worse for it. I try to introduce other musicians (you know the kind that play their instruments) to my students and they usually roll their eyes at me and wonder when they can hear The Chainsmokers or other music that they’re accustomed to, but in my opinion, fluff that is forgettable or replays in your head until you want to scream.

This isn’t to say I haven’t tried. I want to know what’s popular. I’ve also always been a student of popular music and videos which I blame from coming of age when MTV first aired. Now, I know you might think I’m being too hard on the genre, but I find looking at culture through its various lenses and influences, fascinating.

Other forms of music (classical, jazz, rock, country, etc.) require skill. Pop these days has been reduced to auto-tune (think Photoshop for singing voices), beauty over brains and sexy-slick dance moves. Sure, I’m making a generalization, but it’s been long understood that the music industry has killed talent for the all-mighty dollar.

You could argue that this is about tastes and I’m just old-fashioned, but I don’t think so. I think a lack of creativity, innovation, risk-taking and the reward of such artistic behavior is part of the demise of our society. Pop music is empty-headed. If I don’t watch the video sometimes it takes on a different flavor. Or sometimes the video is what makes the song interesting.

But with classic rock (or bluegrass or other forms of music that I like), I don’t watch it. I listen. I return to the music again and again. I appreciate different songs depending on my mood or various points in my life. And often the complexity of classic rock, for instance, transcends time and creates a mood in me that resembles awe over the sheer talent of what I’m listening to.

The same commercialization of music has taken over art. The art world has become fixated with ideas (not even good ones). It’s rare to take our time with art these days. I find art history remarkable in its downward spiral from the Renaissance and Impressionistic periods to let’s say, the urinal (oh, excuse me, the Fountain) by Duchamp and this conceptual art phase that frankly has left many people “visually uneducated” or confused.

Copying is considered smart and what ‘true artists’ do has been misunderstood and attributed to Picasso. Artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst have made their living from copying other artists, and not even creating their art themselves. It’s mindboggling, really, how rich they have become from not even drawing or painting or sculpting at all. Yet they are the most famous artists today.

Sorry. I know there are those who would argue against me, but when art, music and movies (anyone else saturated with old TV reboots and comic book heroes?) has become devoid of CREATIVITY, we’ve got a big problem.

Part of the reason why writers have a hard time being traditionally published is these money-making machines don’t want to take a risk on someone untested. There’s a reason why we have an explosion of indie publishing, indie music and even indie movies. Talented, creative and crazy souls want to do what they love and push against the norm or at least offer something unique. But the tidal wave of what we’re told is art or music is as overwhelming as the advertising world we live in.

And that’s why we need individual voices more than ever.


/1/ Really worth the watch if you haven’t seen it already…

/2/ Pure pop vocals, the way they used to be.

/3/ Traditional Thai “luk thung” music. Rockin’, funky.

/4/ Have you heard of Dengue Fever? Cambodian lead singer + LA band + awesomeness. “Seeing Hands” is my favorite song from them.


How important is music in your life? What’s popular music where you’re at? Do you listen outside of your favorite genre?


37 replies on “What happened to creativity in music and the arts?

  1. When I stayed in a Thai temple in Bangkok for a gruelling 10-day meditation retreat (6 hours a day between me and a hard floor with about 5 minutes of supervision), and I had no music, one song kept coming to mind. It was “Fortunate Son” by CCR, as in “I ain’t no fortunate one, no”. Then, after I finished my sentence at the temple, I went to get a haircut at an undistinguished barber in Bpaknaam, and the barber put on some music to his tastes. Yup, “Fortunate Son”.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Synchronicity! Gotta love those moments. I’m going to try that with a cheeseburger or something like that 😀 555 or large amounts of cash. Yeah, the latter…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post and wholeheartedly agree!
    There are still a few great, creative bands out there but they just don’t get any mass coverage unfortunately.
    Though it was really before my time I love sixties rock music, especially from the very creative later part of the decade. Little since has ever reached those heights. Similarly movies – for me the golden era ended over twenty years ago.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You are not alone. In fact, I know we are not! That period was like no other…many question that we will ever achieve such greatness again.

      What’s funny is I never realized how much British rock I liked until much later. And yes, there is good music out there, but you have to find it. American radio is actually still alive and less commerical stations, college stations, etc, and probably music cities like Nashville and Austin are strongholds of indie bands and music.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This why I really appreciate my father-in-law’s musical talent (Bob Balsley’s if you want to Google or our friend Jeanie Carlin-Bickel). They are older but truly talented and musical. Bob is a revered guitar player/teacher in our community and has touched so many lives with his talent! He was discussing last week his frustrations with music on the radio and how electronic and in his opinion, bad it sounds. Some of my personal favorite artists both recent and older are: Tom Petty(so devastated he’s gone😔), Paul Simon, Jon Mitchell, Hozier, Margot Price, Cake, Broken Bells, Willie Nelson, swing music in general, and I love Bing Crosby’s voice. So many the list could go on and on, but I definitely appreciate REAL talent and musicians who CAN sing & play instruments!! Thanks for the new introduction to some great and interesting music, Lani! Have a wonderful day, Anne 💕🎶🎸🎹🥁🎺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cool. I was hoping folks would open up and share what they like. I’ll look up your local talent.

      Tom Petty. I know. He’s one of those that was played often, and therefore perhaps seen as overrated, but he definitely deserved all his recognition. His Wildflowers CD/tape was part of my playlist in college, I remember. And Paul Simon, of course. Simon and Garfunkel forever!!!!

      Thanks again for the names/homework 🙂 Here’s to happy listening. ❤


  4. I think even kids today are noticing the difference. There’s a whole group of middle schoolers on my steps that share everything from The Police to The Eagles and listen to the “oldies” station in Los Angeles. They mock Bieber and all the singers who get studio “help” to hit certain notes.

    On the other hand, the high school’s most popular language is Korean right now, thanks to K-pop.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting…I’d never guess. That’s great news. I hope the good ‘ol stuff inspires the younger generation.

      Yeah, K-Pop just has gotten to be TOO MUCH. I can’t handle all the guys wearing makeup and looking pretty and getting work done. It’s too slick and fake for me. I think what originally was something fun and different has become overdone and tired.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I totally agree, Lani! I used to think that maybe I’m just an “old fart” for thinking modern pop music is pure garbage, but reading your post makes me believe it’s more than just an age gap. One thing that really gets me about modern pop music is its sexualization. I am literally aghast when I listen to the hyper-sexualized pop songs on the radio/tv (there’s one Ariana Grande song where they literally say the word ‘cum pop’) and how kids as young as 12 are listening to this. I think this kind of music contributes to the drop of self-esteem in young women and the degradation of American values. Period.

    Songs back in the day, and even indie songs today, don’t constantly sing about getting laid in a club–or anywhere. It’s more about deep, complex emotions, or even just a place or a memory (like Hotel California).

    Wonderful post! And Dengue Fever is awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww, cheers, matey!

      Yes, you bring up an important point, the hyper-sexualization of a lot pop music these days. I, too, have been shocked by the music videos and the songs. Women are pretty much naked now. And the some of the videos makes me blush. Hahahaha. It’s like porn-lite.

      And that’s it, right? Sex sells. It gets views. It’s all about efforts to be more shocking and outrageous and one-up the next ‘artist’, etc.

      Everything feels so EXTREME right now. And when that happens, the pendulum swings the other way – it has to. Here’s to future talent and balance.


  6. My daughter gives my a mix CD each year on my birthday with new songs from the year. Despite my advanced age, I like many of the songs she chooses. I like music from every decade starting way back in the 1950s (pre-rock) through the earliest rock period and beyond. The radio stations I listened to when we lived in the Philippines played lots of good eighties pop music. My complaint with the current situation is that it’s harder to identify good music. There are lots of creative people out there but we lack good curators.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s harder to sift through everything. Folks have to really look and dive deep to find something new, different and fresh.

      There is good music from every decade, for sure. It’s funny how it reflects the times, the mood, the direction and so on of the culture.

      And this is not to say that I don’t like some “pop”ular music of today, but the artists I do like are more on the fringes or are clean of degrating women and offensive lyrics.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Gotta wonder how many of our students will grow out of liking the Kpop when they stop dancing in the mirror to it. It’s so narcissistic too, it makes me wonder what THEIR kids are going to like as a rebellion to the mass produced stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, the music we used to listen to holds so many memories and nostalgia that they might cringe for a bit when they look back…or love it. 😛


    1. Is that true?

      I have nothing against electronic music, space music, etc. And there is probably electronic manipulation to create sounds and bring songs together, but I believe some musicans still play instruments.


  8. Mainstream pop is rubbish, I think everybody knows it’s just a product to be consumed and discarded, nothing else. But I do think that people who say “music died decades ago” tend not to spend too much time trying to find current good bands, hehe.

    I had to look up The Chainsmokers. I listened to a song which had over 300 million views on Youtube and I had never heard it. I don’t go to clubs, I don’t watch TV or listen to mainstream radio, so I mostly avoid all that shit. The only chance I have to hear them is in the supermarket, I think.

    I am seeing these guys live in Shanghai tomorrow:

    Someone mentioned KEXP and Cake up there, I agree. I love Cake and KEXP have had a lot of amazing bands. Some artists/bands/songs/videos I love, in case you are interested. I normally only listen to people who write and compose their own songs.
    Sufjan Stevens:
    St. Vincent:
    Elephant Gym:
    Hanne Hukkelberg:
    The New Raemon:
    Andrew Bird:
    This Town Needs Guns:

    Let’s leave it here, I don’t want to be too annoying, haha!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Not annoying at all! I was hoping people would share what they like and I got some new artists to check out! Thank you 🙂

      I occassionally surf around YouTube to find other artists, but I have to admit, I have good music karma, something I get into a bit in my book. So, in other words, good music comes to me. I have friends like you who go searching.

      Thanks for Tinariwen! They are cool! Reminds me of the time I was in Portland and I asked the Middle Eastern restaurant that we were in what they were playing and I got this amazing playlist! 😀

      Cheers and enjoy the concert! Live music is the best! xxoo


    1. I was wondering why your comment was all in orange and then I scrolled down to see the links. Hahaha.


  9. I think you are right in saying that in many places in SE Asia you here Western music. Or pop. Whenever I am back in Malaysia or Singapore, I’d hear some Top 40 Western pop song playing somewhere, or some Chinese pop song. It is a generalisation there when you say that a lot of music is auto-tuned, but I do think you are right. What gets played on the radio these days usually needs to have a good hook or a beat.

    Music has always been a big part of my life, from singing Disney songs in the car as a kid on the way to school, to Top 40 music in my teens and these days and over the last decade and a bit more, more alternative – Lindsey Stirling, Metallica, System of a Down and I’m a sucker for covers of songs on YouTube. It surprises a lot of people that I listen to the heavier stuff, but it’s the kind of stuff that literally blocks out the rest of the world when I need that kind of space 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So, you’re going to find this amusing. Someone on IG started a ‘good music to have sex to’ list and Lindsey Stirling was on there. I laughed and thought of you. I hope I haven’t ruined her for you. As if! Hahahhaa.

      I liked heavier music when I was younger, now I feel like I can honestly say I have a much wider base of tastes and appreciation for different kinds of music.

      The bf has an interesting process. He listens to a song at least three times to appreciate it or decide it’s off the list.


      1. LOL. No, you haven’t ruined Lindsey for me at all. I’ve heard her music being played for all kinds of moments…but not for sex. I wonder what song, though, since all her songs have pretty heavy beats 😀

        I am like your boy. Have to listen to a song a few times before if I can decide if I can connect with it or if it’s just nothing more than a catchy hook 😀

        Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m such a Luddite –I’m listening to my favourite classical music -baroque (Rennaissance) instrumental and choral music. I’ve lost touch with the big popular culture hits, I know nothing about bluesgrass, need to be taught how to listen/appreciate jazz (I liked Bobby McFerrin with his vocals.) and country ‘n western music is very popular in our prairies/rangeland province. (I’m not keen.)

    I’m certain if I knew how to play an instrument, my listening might become broader.

    Re: author you said “Part of the reason why writers have a hard time being traditionally published is these money-making machines don’t want to take a risk on someone untested. There’s a reason why we have an explosion of indie publishing, indie music and even indie movies. Talented, creative and crazy souls want to do what they love and push against the norm or at least offer something unique. But the tidal wave of what we’re told is art or music is as overwhelming as the advertising world we live in.
    And that’s why we need individual voices more than ever.”

    The Internet, open blogging, has created serious pressures on publishers to lower their prices to a point of devaluing the creativity and sheer work effort of book writers. Eldest niece who was a geotechnical engineer switched to writing romance novels. Her thing is romance /love stories that feature non-white protagonists …there’s a lot less published in English of such characterization.

    As a English literature grad. I can appreciate all the problems on devaluing of novel-writing…. Makes one wonder in 10, 20, 40 years, what long standing novels will stick in our collective memory.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Self-publishing has definitely become a blessing and a blight. While authors have a chance to put themselves out there without a ‘gatekeeper’ and without the rejection, the market is flooded with all kinds of writing from really bad to great, but ignored.

      I think what’s frustrated me is if you are considered a ‘nobody’ then you’re often passed over for celebrities, etc, who aren’t even writers. And there have been plenty of times when I’ve wondered how a particular book got even published!

      I suppose there are some parallells to the publishing industry and the movie industry in that there are the big houses or companies that pretty much dicatate the market. We’ll see how it continues to unravel…


      1. Absolutely on-target like an arrow: self-publishing …is blessing and a blight. Without a market gatekeeper, the author is flying solo or drowning in the ocean of goodness and crap.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. The majority of music I listen to can probably be classified as “old” or classic! Music that’s probably older than the music I listened to as a kid. More the kind of music my parents probably listened to, at their age. Am I turning into my parents!?

    Saying that, I try to listen to some new music. There are a few bands that I keep up with—The Heavy, Wolfmother, Foo Fighters—their music has a sort of timeless feel that will never be out of place. Some new hip-hop, too. Artists like Kendrick Lamarr and Macklemore do fantastic things with their music and videos. That’s something I can respect.

    I did read somewhere that films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver, whose soundtracks almost solely consist of older music, are introducing classic rock to a younger generation and they’re lapping it up. Maybe there’s hope for them!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I feel like we live in a world gone EXTREME with politics, education, culture and music is definitely in the mix. So, my hope is the pendulum will swing back to the middle where it belongs, and artists with talent will be able to make a living off of their work and be appreciated as they deserve.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hey Lani, slowly going backward and catching up on posts I missed. 😊 I agree on a lot of your points except two: (1) screen doors are normal in the Philippines so I guess the lack of screen doors are just in that part of SE Asia lol, (2) we have local bands that play American rock, classics like the Beatles, and acoustic-type music. Of course, pop exists everywhere.

    Seriously, I agree about the lack of creativity in the arts these days. Indie music/movies/books/etc have a lot more character than their mainstream counterparts. This is something often alluded to – at least, the music aspect – by Joshua of the Minimalists blog. Part of why I love their podcast (aside from the minimalist part, obviously, since it’s me ha!) is how he periodically introduce listeners to various indie artists he listens to. They even brought a favorite guest indie singer to sing live on the podcast recently. It’s nice to discover new blood who have their own style.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Screens in the Philippines! So civilized. So jealous 😛

      Actually, since I wrote this, I’ve read for the first time in history, in 2015, music older than 18 months outsold new releases. I think the masses have finally decided they are sick of the slick ways the music industry has manipulated the public.

      Fascinating stuff, how the industry runs, what they do to ensure hits, etc.

      Thanks for reading!!!


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