Years ago, every supermarket I would go into without fail would always play Muzak™. Apparently the benefits of broadcasting such fare in shopping emporia was that it was supposed to get people more involved in the consumer process and to subliminally convince them to actually buy more things. Nowadays, however, most supermarkets that I wander into opt instead to play a mainstream pop radio station. I’m not sure what the ultimate economic effect of this shift is, but it is something I’ve become more acutely attuned to as of late.
This is probably because I have the uncanny ability to walk into the two supermarkets in my neighborhood every time a Katy Perry song is playing on whichever radio station it is that these supermarkets feed through their speaker systems. Either that or Katy Perry songs are pretty much always on the radio no matter what time of the day it is. If it’s the former, I suppose I’m being punished for years of trying not to be trapped by my own personal judgments and to have an appreciation for all of the world’s music. But if it’s the latter, then there’s something tantamount to mind control at play on the airwaves.
Although one of these songs was literally stuck in my head for many hours after leaving the supermarket and at one point I woke up in the middle of the night with it running through my brain, I’m particularly annoyed by them. Rather I’m annoyed at the ubiquity of any song or anything else for that matter. I was riding on the Times Square/Grand Central shuttle about a month ago and every single spot in the entire subway train had been literally covered with ads for Lady Gaga’s new album. It felt somewhat akin to being in Stalin’s Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq where every place you turned had an image of “the benevolent leader.” Yet it didn’t make me buy the album, which Amazon recently was offering customers for as low as one dollar.
There does seem to be a very concerted effort to force mainstream pop music into our consciousness whenever and wherever possible, presumably with the hope that folks will buy this stuff and the recording industry will rebound. According to reports released last week, overall sales of recorded music between January and June 2010 actually increased for the first time in more than seven years, so the plan must be working. Lately every time I withdraw cash from an ATM I’m greeted with ads for three blockbuster summer pop music concerts I can’t miss—they’re always the same three concerts. Yet to show you how effectively this particular advertising scheme worked on me, the only one of the three that I can remember at the moment is Britney Spears, but that’s because I had already been saturated with information about her during grocery runs in years past. So supermarket song saturation is more effective than ATM messages, at least for me. Though thankfully I learned over the weekend that not every supermarket has the same soundtrack.
On Saturday, my wife and I wandered to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in search of hard-to-find Mexican ingredients for some recipes she was cooking up—there’s a big Latin American community in that part of the city as well as some amazing and very cheap Mexican taquerias, all of which are extremely authentic. When we walked in the big supermarket there—quite wonderfully named Bravo—I was in the process of preparing my cerebellum for another Katy Perry medley, when lo and behold instead there was a live band playing Dominican tipico meringue, accordion and all! It was at an ear splitting volume, so loud I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts. But nevertheless, it was an utter delight to hear some music in a public space that I had actually never heard before. Perhaps more people would be made curious about music if they constantly heard different things instead of the same stuff over and over again. While internal repetition in a specific piece of music can make for an ecstatic listening experience, hearing the same music over and over again usually makes people immune and ultimately oblivious to whatever might be fascinating about that music.