Recently I discovered one of the rarest things while browsing around a thrift store -- a CD for an album released after 2015. Hardly an obscure artist either, yet it's the only time I've seen the album in any kind of second-hand store -- Taylor Swift's Reputation, from 2017.
Her first five albums, released from 2006 to 2014, are in abundance at thrift stores and used media stores. It's only the next one that has left no trace, and not because it sold poorly -- it went multi-platinum -- and not because it didn't have big hits -- it's the one with "Delicate". It was the #1 album on the Billboard year-end chart for 2018. She launched a massive world tour for it, and a concert special from that tour became a huge success on Netflix.
Oddly enough, the thrift store had a copy of Witness by Katy Perry, also from 2017, although I've seen that one once before in the wild. Pursuing my impressions of what I've seen vs. not seen IRL, I searched eBay for used CDs by the biggest artists of the past decade -- Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, etc. There is a pretty clear split between albums released before 2015 and after, with the earlier ones having hundreds of copies for sale, and the later ones only having dozens for sale.
It's not strictly night-and-day -- V by Maroon 5 is from 2014 but only has dozens available, and 25 by Adele is from 2015 yet has hundreds available. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule. And while some famous artists like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato never cracked the threshold of hundreds of copies, their pre-2015 albums are still higher in number available.
Although I did not check eBay because the sample size would be too small, my impression from IRL stores is that copies of indie music are also non-existent after 2015. I did find a copy of Borns' 2015 album with "Electric Love" on it recently, but that's unusual. There's a copy of Alvvays' self-titled album from 2014 if I want it, but not their 2017 album Antisocialites, which I'm actually looking for but will probably never find. Even for bands I don't recognize by name, when I check the back cover, there's rarely a copyright date from 2015 or after.
What changed around 2015 was the dominant mode of playing music, from ownership to renting, as streaming services replaced CDs and digital downloads.
It's strange, but just think about it: if you never owned the music to begin with, how could it ever leave a material trace in the real world? Archaeologists from the future will have no primary physical record to study for the music of our time, since today's streaming services will not last any longer than previous media formats like the record, the tape, the DVD, etc.
Instead they will have to reconstruct the record from secondary sources like Billboard charts, reviews in the media, eccentric blog posts, and so on and so forth. Even then, they'll only know the artist's name, album and song titles, genre, and some reviewer's impressions (at most, including stats like beats per minute, key, etc.). They won't be able to actually hear what was recorded and played by us, unless there's a special archive that's still being maintained.
And that's not because the past just disappears over time -- they'll have a rich record of music from before 2015 to experience directly. It's only the period of streaming music that will appear to be erased from the record.
What will they conclude about our world, beyond the observation that our musical media format changed from one thing to the other? Naturally, that we are becoming incredibly poorer than previous generations. We own less and less, and rent more and more, in both the lower and higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Not freemen but serfs.
You'll rent a bed in an Apple-aesthetic flophouse, you'll rent your office desk in a WeWork flex-space, and any social, emotional, and cultural connections you make to the outside world will only occur after a transaction that connects you to a streaming service from the info-tech cartel. You won't be having kids or meeting your family ever again, as everyone will be a transplant to a shithole megalopolis. But if you want to split the bed-rent by shacking up with someone else, you can choose to identify as "married" and level up your "adulting" status.
As the mainstream heads increasingly in that inegalitarian direction, a counter-culture will arise that avoids the transplant shithole cities, maybe even moves out into suburban, rural, and small town environments. And they will prize ownership over renting -- permanence, durability, and rootedness, rather than transience, disposability, and alienation. A higher standard of living, both material and intangible, at the cost of lower zip-code status.
That means owning a home or apartment, owning furniture (symbolized by a proper bed rather than a mattress on the floor), owning a variety of cultural items (books, CDs, prints, DVDs), owning the tools for maintaining their place, and owning organic social connections to family and neighbors that cannot be canceled by some subscription service provider (or by the group members themselves, more to the point).
Those who are getting ready for that world could be considered "preppers" in a way, searching far and wide for second-hand stuff that will actually count in the near, medium, and long term. They've been busy over the past five or so years "stocking up," in anticipation of the coming Age of Austerity 2.0.
Unlike the more well known type of preppers, though, the new generation is upbeat (considering the circumstances) rather than doomer, communitarian rather than (delusionally) individualist, and seeing a societal decline that will be gradual rather than apocalyptic. Thriving despite a steady societal erosion, not surviving a post-apocalypse.
It's highly disturbing how little regard the standard preppers give to the things that make life worth living, and how little they intend to pass things on to future generations. They're survivalists, not stewards. Friends, extended family, neighbors, songs, dances, stories, rituals of any kind really -- totally absent in the thoughts and actions of the preppers.
After all, there will be no society after them -- they are not the first generation of a new enduring group of people, but the final generation to have lived before the end of the world as we know it. They just don't want to bite the big one in as painfully acute of a manner as the mainstream.
For the stewardship-minded folks out there, though, keep in mind what to expect when you're out searching for things to preserve. Housing built after the 1970s -- don't bother, solid lumber frames cease to exist after that point. And music released after 2015 -- impossible to find, whether you like the songs or not. I don't think most people will look at the late 2010s as a high-point in music, but even if you do, it's better to just forget about it and go for the far more easily accessible stuff from before 2015 (which you'll probably like more anyway).