Until recent weeks, the rancor of this year's contest between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the Republicans' Donald Trump had left many pop artists relatively muted. But in the final days of the campaign, a wave of acts have at long last found their voices -- many in favor of the Democrats' candidate. Bruce Springsteen, a liberal stalwart who performed at the inauguration for President Obama, sang this past weekend in support of Clinton. Pop heavyweights Beyoncé and Jay Z joined Clinton in Cleveland, and on the eve of the election, artists such as Lady Gaga and Jon Bon Jovi had Monday evening rallies planned to support the Democratic nominee . Even some not known for being politically active have begun speaking out.
On Oct. 24, 2006, the fledgling Big Machine Records in Nashville released what may have looked like on paper as a 15-minutes-of-fame kind of album. The work was from a then-unknown 16-year-old singer/songwriter. Her songs dealt in themes country music didn't pay much attention to: teen romance, high school dramas and youthful dreams. Slowly but surely, however, that album, "Taylor Swift," began creeping up the country album chart, and the curly headed artist from whom it took its name began popping up more and more, especially once Big Machine issued her single that name-checked one of country's biggest stars at the time, Tim McGraw. By the end of the year, the album had moved 200,000 copies, and prompted The Times to spotlight Swift as one of the faces to watch in the coming year, praising the album for "[touching] on themes such as the fragile self-esteem of teen girls and the magic of first love."
Corporate sponsorship at music events took an intriguing turn Friday at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, when singer Sam Hunt, whose music incorporates elements of hip-hop along with his country foundation, was joined on stage by rappers Snoop Dogg and G-Eazy and singer Bebe Rexha. Surprise guests, of course, are not unusual at music festivals like Stagecoach. But this one was coordinated by one of the sponsoring beer companies. It was promoted as one of a series of "Bud Light Music'Stage Moments' " and described as part of Budweiser's "quest to bring the people of America together." While they were sharing the stage to sing Hunt's hit "House Party" -- which followed G-Eazy and Rexha's performance of "Me, Myself and I" and then Snoop joining the pair for "Next Episode" and "Drop It Like It's Hot" -- the performers hoisted bottles of beer and encouraged fans to take and post selfies doing the same.
Add write pop music hits to the list of things that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can now do. As well as write poetry and novels, AI is now being used to create music by a Grammy-nominee producer, who collaborated with IBM's Watson cognitive computing platform on his newest release. Alex Da Kid used Watson to analyze the composition of five years' worth of Billboard songs, as well as cultural artefacts such as newspaper articles, film scripts and social media commentary. The idea was to understand the "emotional temperature" of the time period, and use this to inform Alex's creative process. I asked him to explain how the insights from the data contributed to the finished work, and he told me "Watson scraped millions of conversations, newspaper headlines and speeches – all of which showed me how emotionally volatile we as humans are and have been, particularly over the last five years."
The piano ditty below, which ascends jauntily, then finishes with a tuneful flourish, sounds a bit like a jingle composed for the latest toothpaste campaign. The tune was, in fact, dreamed up by a musical AI program developed at Google. And the program's latest compositions show how combining a powerful machine-learning approach with simple musical rules can produce creative works that sound remarkably human. Music composition is an enigmatic form of human creativity. Songwriting programs already exist, but they typically follow a specific set of rules, and they tend to produce tunes that feel rigid and mechanical.