Jacobs: Pop fans need to get with the times and over Now

By by Justin Jacobs

Now! 30, as in the 30th installment of the popular Now That’s What I Call Music!… Now! 30, as in the 30th installment of the popular Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations, was just released and sold 146 thousand copies in one week.

This news immediately brings to mind two questions. First, how in the hell have 30 of these things been made? And second, who are the 146 thousand people dumb enough to buy Now! 30?

The answers to these questions are actually rather simple, but they point to a deeper issue. Basically, 30 of these compilations have been made because they continue to sell, and they continue to sell because fans of soulless pop music are the most vapid type of music fan, and hence will buy anything with an exclamation point and a good beat. But that’s a gripe for a different column.

My real issue with Now! still existing is that, in an age where we can download entire catalogues of records in under a minute or buy individual songs on iTunes, thereby making your own hits compilation, this series of pop song collections is utterly and completely irrelevant to the music scene.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Now! actually debuted back in 1983 in England as a 30-song double vinyl, but even then the idea wasn’t new — hits collections had existed since the early 1970’s. The series exists in Mexico, China, Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, Israel, New Zealand and Greece, where the title roughly translates to ‘Now These are the Hits Today!’ They’ve long served the purpose of encapsulating Top 40 radio in one place — all the catchiest pop hits of the last few months on one record, no waiting around to hear them on MTV or the radio.

Even in 1998, when Now! debuted in the states, it was arguably relevant. Napster was big, sure, but the downloading scene certainly wasn’t as saturated as it is today. Looking at the track list is particularly entertaining, too — remember ‘Never Ever’ by All Saints? Fastball, K-Ci ‘amp; JoJo, Aqua, Marcy Playground and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies all show up too. Inexplicably, so does Radiohead. Seriously, Thom?

In seventh grade, when I was king of the bar mitzvah party dance floor circuit, I actually won a copy of Now! 2 (which included the New Radicals’ still-underrated ‘You Get What You Give’) at a middle school dance when the announcer asked students to have a dance-off. And at time, it was a pretty cool prize.

If I was the same 13-year-old winning Now! 30 today, though, I doubt I’d be as thrilled. With the incredible amount of access we have to music, and the fact that I could burn my own version of Now! from iTunes, without any songs I didn’t like, in a few minutes,’ the compilations just seem unnecessary.

Now, by no means do I condone downloading mass amounts of music and stealing from deserving artists, but the songs on Now! compilations are so ubiquitous in the pop music lexicon they’re basically public property. Why spend money on a compilation that has pop songs you more than likely have on iTunes already? For the cover art and liner notes?

It seems pop music consumers have begun to catch on. While Now! 5, to name just one, sold over four million copies and Now! 7 sold 621 thousand copies its first week, as access to music increased, the series’ sales dropped pretty dramatically. Now! 30, with 146 thousand first-week sales, is one of the series’ least successful.

Still, folks, come on now. Make your own, better mixes of your favorite hits. Plus, any establishment that would put Nickleback on a compilation, like, say Now! 30, is one that doesn’t deserve your support.