Daily Distraction: Explore how culture has reshaped pop songs with interactive NYT feature

In a new interactive NY Times piece, "The Culture Warped Pop, For Good," the authors reveal how tech has changed music itself, not just the way we listen

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
A screen capture from the New York Times story "The Culture Warped Pop, For Good"

It took a while, but recently, more legacy media companies are getting creative with their online feature layouts, especially when it comes to music writing. Last week, the New York Times Magazine came up with a fantastic online presentation for its 2020 year-in-music review. Rather than mere YouTube embeds, snippets of songs by various artists played while you read. (Amazing photography didn't hurt, either.)

A few days ago, the Times followed it up with another interactive music feature, "The Culture Warped Pop, For Good," by Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding. It's a perfect example of a piece that benefits from letting listeners hear examples of the musical ideas described by the authors, who argue that tech has not only changed how we listen to music; it has changed the music itself. 

Reading about verse-chorus-verse structures in Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and the complete lack of that structure in Travis Scott's "Sicko Mode" would be interesting enough, but the entire conceit comes to life alongside the music and the pulsating visuals. Give it a read (and listen) for yourself.

Granted, these interactive layouts aren't exactly new. In fact, we're more than eight years removed from the NYT's groundbreaking "Snow Fall" experience. And not all online publications are created equal, of course, in terms of funding and staffing. The New York Times isn't your average media company; it added 2.3 million digital-only subscriptions in 2020, and the Times now exceeds 7.5 million subscriptions for its digital products and print newspaper.

But here's hoping that in the future, more media companies will realize that this is how people want to read in-depth features on the internet — not with a one-size-fits-all text/image design interspersed with intrusive ad boxes and overly aggressive referral links followed by a never-ending scroll of sensationalist and disturbing chumbox disinformation, but rather a design that fits the piece itself, leverages the creative freedom of the web and serves readers over advertisers.