A song's potential to become dated is an interesting conversation to have. To be clear, "datedness" doesn't reflect, in any way, how good or bad a song is. After all, the skeleton of a song lies in its melody and lyrics— attributes which have nothing to do with whether a song becomes dated or not. How could they? Those things have been in music forever!
So what determines a song's datedness?
Datedness is determined by either the song's instrumentation or how the instrumentation is placed within the song's overall mix. Here's an example of a great song which sounds totally dated because the use and tone of its synthesizers doesn't hold up today.
"I'm On Fire" by Bruce Springsteen
Here's an example of a good song that sounds dated because the drums are so loud in the mix.
"Behind The Sun" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
And here's an example of a good song that sounds dated because of a chorus effect on the rhythm guitar—an effect that really isn't used on guitars in mainstream music anymore.
"Paradise City" by Guns N' Roses
Some of the above songs have dated elements which I wish weren't considered dated today. Others have dated elements which make me glad they are never coming back. So the logical question becomes this: why did these dated elements make it into the song in the first place? The simple answer is because it seemed like a "fresh idea" at the time.
But a funny thing happens over time. It keeps on moving. And moving. And moving. And something happens to the "fresh idea" in the process. Like all things fresh, it spoils until it eventually rots! So, shit. How do you avoid sounding dated then?
Your last song became dated because the sound was fresh like bubblegum.
The bubblegum that this girl is chewing won't be good in 10 years. Just like her bubblegum, the "cool" within your dated song's production also has an expiration date.
What a production actually needs is something that stays fresh like honey.
It's sweet like bubblegum—that's good. But the difference is that honey has no expiration date. HONEY IS TIMELESS! It will be just as good good 30 years from now as it will be today.
So let's look at a song whose production is timeless like honey.
"Kodachrome" by Paul Simon
The drums sit nicely in the mix. The bass isn't filled with fuzz. The vocals have a little compression and not too much reverb. There's acoustic pianos and the electric pianos that are there aren't effected with phasers or other artificial-sounding sounds. There's little to no delay on the guitars. Everything is just sort of straight. In other words, this 1973 song could be released today. It's fresh like honey, baby!!
This means the key to making a song fresh is to not get overly fancy with your production. A great song will sell itself with the wonderful music and inspiring lyrics you've created.
It's my opinion that in the last 15 years or so, we've done a good job of making mainstream music that has a low risk of sounding dated in the future.
I just don't hear anything in these songs that could make them sound dated in another 10 years. We'll see if my opinion changes in 2023.
However, I have heard one hit song this year that just SCREAMS "dated potential" whenever I hear it.
"Too Close" By Alex Clare
It really is a shame, because Alex Clare's international smash "Too Close" really isn't a bad song. It has an instantly singable hook and Clare has a strong and soulful voice which is needed to really sell a song like this. Without a doubt, there is something good here. There's also something which I think will make it sound incredibly dated 10 years from now You probably know what I'm talking about. It's the wobble-wobble of that dubstep which is holding the rhythm in the chorus. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of dubstep. But even if you love the genre, you have to recognize that, like disco, it's not going to be popular forever. It's fresh like bubblegum, not like honey.
Even Deadmau5 agrees with me.
"It's a conduit now for previously mainstream pop acts to use. I've only made one dubstep track and I will admit I only did it because it was cool at the time."
Thank you, Mr. Mau5. Now, what do you think?