Soul Music

KLSU DJ Peter Frost looks over his playlist in the studio while Amy Winehouse plays over the college station. (Source: Elizabeth Neuner)
KLSU DJ Peter Frost looks over his playlist in the studio while Amy Winehouse plays over the college station. (Source: Elizabeth Neuner)

By Elizabeth Neuner | LSU Student

In the past 20 years or so the airwaves have crashed to the same beat. With few exceptions, pop music has dominated the Billboard Charts.

Until recently.

"Pop was made to get the biggest bang for your buck," said David Benedetto, music director at KLSU. "It's a generic sound."

In 2007, a British jazz singer with winged eyeliner and a gravity-defiant beehive hairdo became the top-selling album artist in the world. Her name was Amy Winehouse. Before her death in July 2011 her album "Back to Black", paved the way for another lady in black who would shatter chart records and bring jazz to pop music, Adele.

"Adele came at the right time," Benedetto said. "And because she came at the right time and is talented she became successful."

Like Winehouse, Adele uses soul, rhythm and blues and jazz to create a sound that flashes back to an era where "cigarette girl" was a profession and Marilyn Monroe was still an actress, not a tragic Hollywood figure.

With her soul-crushing lyrics and Motown vibe, Adele's sophomore album, "21", has sold more than 10 million copies and has been on the Billboard Hot 100 for 31 weeks.

So how does a dulcet-toned, Etta James channeling vocalist break through the auto-tune of her contemporaries and sell an astonishing amount of albums in the digital era? According to Baton Rouge DJ, Dustin Howard, who works club scenes, it's her raw talent.

"Real artists sound more authentic," Howard said. "It gives the song validity and audible qualities that we love about instrumentally produced music."

Adele strips away the computerized beats and electronic instruments. She also lacks the paradoxical presence and theatricality used so often by popular artists like Ke$ha, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Adele and other artists like her use their greatest musical weapons, their voices.

This simplicity harkens to the roots of American music.

For many, this music may sounds fresh, but for baby boomers, it's a time warp.

"Not only that type of music [is coming back] but the production value is very like the 60s and 70s," said John Friscia, KLSU station advisor. "I know to [college students] it sounds new."

Music, like fashion, doesn't crest and trough, it moves like a whirlpool.

"Music goes in cycles," said Benedetto. "You'll find you have one genre of pop out and another genre will build on that and someone will combine the two."

Benedetto argues that there is a formula for music genre resurgence.

"It's 50 percent opportunity and 50 percent what you have to offer," he explained. "[The opportunity] goes along with the culture and the direction the music is going in."

Benedetto also argued that the digital era has allowed people to be exposed to more music through file sharing, a blessing and a curse for the record labels.

With this new technology came the invention of auto-tune, the recent vogue of music.

"Auto-tune will be like the seventies production value that's now seen as out-dated," Benedetto said. "It detaches you from the music."

It's the backlash of this detachment, according to Benedetto, that has made Adele's music such a success.

"I see it as a reaction to wanting something real and pure," he explained.

Howard had a similar line of thought,

"It takes nothing to create a studio artist, make a catchy club-banger and fade away," he said. "The soul and Motown era, it's all timeless, it speaks to the heart."

This timeless quality of Adele's music and those like her and Amy Winehouse have made them rarities in a sea of pop princesses in edible clothing.