Every generation has its artists that breed resentment simply because they’re a bit too successful. Hall & Oates. Madonna. Lionel Richie. Over time, people get tired of hearing these artists because their music is ubiquitous, so a backlash develops. Even the Beatles experienced this to some degree in the years immediately following their breakup, with critic Lester Bangs questioning whether their music stood the test of time in a now-infamous essay called “Dandelions in Still Air: The Withering Away of the Beatles.”
Maroon 5, who perform on the TODAY show Friday, June 29, are today’s edition of these artists. For almost a decade, they’ve churned out hit song after hit song. How many of them are there? Too many to list, but a sample includes “This Love,” “She Will Be Loved,” “Sunday Morning,” “Makes Me Wonder,” “Harder to Breathe” and of course, last year’s “Moves Like Jagger.”
All of these songs – and more – not only got tons of radio play, but became the kind of musical staples you couldn’t escape, whether it was hearing them in the supermarket or at weddings. So the news of Maroon 5 returning with a new album almost comes as an anticlimax since their songs have never really gone away.
The band clearly knows how they’re now perceived, which is why they’ve titled their new album “Overexposed,” a reference to their omnipresence on the pop scene. The album has already spawned a hit single with yet another earworm, the track “Payphone.” Yet reviews of the album have been mixed, with Entertainment Weekly saying Maroon 5 “barely sound like a band” or the Washington Post calling it “shiny and ridiculously pleasurable, which is different than saying it’s good.”
But calling out Maroon 5 on the details of their presentation or sound is missing the point. What makes the band stand out is their ability to consistently churn out first-rate pop hits. Those hits aren’t the type of semi-novelty songs that explode and disappear either, but the type of songs that become pop standards of sorts. This isn’t easy to do. If it were, then every artist would do it.
Similar criticism has been directed over the years to artists ranging from Neil Diamond to Paul McCartney to Madonna to New Kids on the Block. Their albums weren’t challenging enough. Their music was “well crafted” but somehow substandard or formulaic. Time proved the critics wrong in such cases and time is also likely to blunt much of the criticism directed at Maroon 5.
What is the band doing right? Maroon 5, for their part, are bringing a sense of melody back to the pop charts, which have been dominated by rap and dance music for the past few years. Had the band failed commercially at this, it’s very likely their haters would be complaining that the public was too blind to recognize the band's subtle blend of pop smarts and neo-soul grooves. Since Maroon 5 is so popular, it’s easy to take what they do for granted.
But don’t be surprised if history is kind to the band, like it’s been to Hall & Oates, who were the butt of jokes in their day but are respected now. Or Lionel Richie, who just released an album to the type of critical excitement he never quite received in the 1980s.
Mediocre artists might get to release albums over the course of a decade, but they don’t chalk up hit after hit after hit. But that’s what Maroon 5 has done. If they’re overexposed it’s because of their hit-making ability, not publicity stunts. It’s because year after year they somehow manage to come up with songs people really love. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it.
Which Maroon 5 earworm is your favorite? Move (like Jagger) over to our Facebook page and let us know.
Tony Sclafani is an arts and culture writer whose first book is due out next year. His writing can be seen at www.tonysclafani.com.
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