HBO’s ‘The Defiant Ones’ points to the past, not the future

HBO’s The Defiant Ones, a four part mini-series that chronicles the careers of Jimmy Iovine and Andre ‘Dr. Dre’ Young, begun airing this week.* It goes without saying its a must-watch for anyone remotely interested in the history of music. Rolling Stone has a nice primer about the series.

Two things struck me while watching the full series.

Firstly, just how much of what defines 90’s sound was created/found by these two guys. Seriously, their discography is unreal, with Iovine getting major points for his work in the late 70’s and 80’s as well.

Secondly, how much Dre and Iovine’s gift of crafting records anchored by killer singles ultimately helped sink the record industry.

Of course, they didn’t invent the single. Nor did MTV or Top 40 radio – though they certainly played their parts in devaluing the album as complete experience. Eventually, Napster confirmed that listeners only wanted individual tracks. Apple legitimized it. Spotify cheapened it. Now, Apple has invested some 3 billion dollars into Dre and Iovine to make it cool again, or something.

You can’t blame the artist for being good at his or her job, but you also have to wonder what the future looks (or sounds) like in an industry where music comes pre-bundeled in bulk.

I mean, music discovery is nearly dead. Doesn’t help when Spotify is “allegedly” adding fake artists into their playlists to undercut artist royalties. Or perhaps more troubling is how current-day artists have nothing of interest to say. N.W.A., Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Trent Reznor, even Interscope Records itself, were all reactions. Reactions to the political climate. Reactions to culture. Reactions just to get reactions. Still, there was purpose behind the music. And yet, in today’s culture of near-constant reaction, a culture where music can be created more easily and quickly then ever, in a culture where a fucking buffoon is the god-damn President of the Free World, who do we have reacting? Jay-Z? Maybe Kendrick? Maybe.

Still, The Defiant Ones is wonderful love letter to music, even if our two leads most recent accompaniments are selling headphones and online services to a technology company.

* Subscribers with access to HBO Now and Go can watch the whole series now

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