We're all familiar with the endless sequels and reboots that Hollywood dollar-chasers keep pumping out, mainly because it sells really well with today's audiences, who are afraid of any brand they don't instantly recognize.
But let's not re-hash the topic of unoriginal material in movies. This earlier post already covered it quantitatively from the 1930s through the early 2010s. And let's not look into TV shows, because TV is boring, and because it's not very different from movies. Every hit show is part of an established franchise and/or in its 20th season.
What is the counterpart to sequels in pop music? You could argue it's a song by someone who's already had a hit before, but often those songs can sound quite different owing to changes in mindset. The Rolling Stones were still on the Billboard Year-End charts in the '80s (even if not at the top), but "Emotional Rescue" and "Waiting on a Friend" don't sound much like "Satisfaction" from over 15 years earlier.
Luckily there's an airtight way to look at the creeping staleness of pop music — look for an identical song that appears on the Year-End charts for multiple years. Being popular from one week to the next is one thing, but from one year to the next? Was nothing better released in the meantime?
You might think that these are just songs that were released late in the year, and carry over into the next. Well, that would happen for every pair of consecutive years, whereas this is a recent development. Often the song was released in the middle of the first year, not the very end. I've noticed some isolated examples of this trend from the Year-End charts of the mid-late '90s (none from the '80s of course), and then more and more during the 2000s.
Now it has gotten so bad that you don't have to have a very good memory to notice it, if you read through the charts of back-to-back years.
Out of the Hot 100 on the Year-End chart in 2014, 10 of them were on the chart for 2013 too. You heard it right: fully one-tenth of 2014's hit songs were the exact same warmed-over hits from the previous year.
Here is the list, with its spot on the 2013 chart, then its spot on the 2014 chart.
02 - 83 "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke
03 - 57 "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons
10 - 46 "Roar" by Katy Perry
15 - 20 "Royals" by Lorde
18 - 44 "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus
19 - 22 "Wake Me Up" by Avicii
62 - 23 "Demons" by Imagine Dragons
63 - 05 "Counting Stars" by OneRepublic
96 - 74 "Brave" by Sara Bareilles
97 - 19 "Let Her Go" by Passenger
Like I said, there's no real trend toward very-late releases showing up. Nearly half are ones that started big and have fallen, while nearly half are ones that began small and rose higher, with two of them staying more or less where they were. No trend toward rising or falling fame across years, then.
Stylistically it's mostly dance-pop and indie performers, not rap or R&B. Demographically it's by whites for whites, not black-for-black or black-for-white. My take is that the average white teenager is so bored or put off by literally almost everything, that when there's a halfway decent tune they'll keep playing it out one year after another. It's a desperate choice in a world where so much sucks. (Happy New Year.)
That could be at work as well in the movie and TV domains. Movies over the past 20 years really have been terrible, even if they were fresh and new. Audiences came to realize that Hollywood stopped being able to make satisfying original movies, so they cling to something that they know from past experience is at least not irritating or offensive, however bland the tentpole franchises may be.