The Uberpop


Food for thought: Does Genre still exist?

Posted in UberArticles by theuberpop on November 10, 2009

For quite a while I’ve heard a number of people (musicians and not) bring up this notion of styles eventually “coming back around again” like fashion has trends that are in and out of season.  This was definitely true for a while, and I think this is at least in part due to both timing in the youth culture and technological developments in the field of musical equipment and recording tactics (there would be no Rock and Roll without electric guitars, no New Wave without synthesizers, no Hip-Hop without turntables and sequencers, etc.)  However, we now live in a world where you can find any genre of music created anywhere by anyone with a Macbook and a Myspace page.  I’m pretty sold on the idea that we live in a world where musically it’s all been done and now we’re left with subtle variations of genres and genre bending and blending (vis-a-vis bands like Vampire Weekend and The Roots).

I’m not at all debating or attempting to debunk the fact that musical genres are born out of a sort of “cross-pollination” with other pre-existing genres.  For instance,  jazz owes its roots to “field hollers”, “spirituals”, early blues and (to an extent) classical music (or “art music” to those with music degrees and that lovely sense of entitlement that only studying music at a collegiate level can bring).  The same is true of rock and roll (in the broadest sense of the term “rock and roll”, I’ll get into the whole “sub-genre” thing later), which owes its roots to the blues, folk and country music (these are broad generalizations here, don’t shoot me yet).

In this way one could argue that genre is cyclical in an evolutionary sense, genres adapting and breeding and evolving into other genres, although some genres and “factions” of music have fairly directly resurrected themselves, although much of this seems to be rooted in “sub-genre” – case in point the “British Invasion” of the 1960’s and the “Britpop” revival of the 1990’s.  In this particular instance you had bands of the later era (ie. Oasis, Blur, Suede, The Stone Roses, arguably early-Radiohead) more directly imitating their predecessors (The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who)…some bands’ imitations being more blatant than others.  Keep in mind that most of this is occurring just before the advent of the internet on a large-scale,  consumer-based level.

I truly believe that history will show that the dawn of the internet, more specifically music-based sites and applications like Napster, itunes, Rhapsody, etc. (basically any development taking control out of the hands of record labels) heralded the death of the old divisions of musical genre and the notion that a specific genre remains dominant in the marketplace ’til another is developed and takes its place (from Jazz to Rock to Hip-Hop, now that’s some bold generalizing if I’ve ever seen it).  We live in an era in which anything is possible in terms of musical experimentation – once again due to advances in technology, specifically the development of consumer-based recording technology readily available on most computers right out of the box, as well as the shift in culture that followed said changes (ie. social networking sites allowing musicians to promote their music without the machinery of a record label or PR agency).

Just look at the current landscape of popular music.  The top ten highest selling albums on itunes at this moment (1:10pm on October 31st 2009) include Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Creed, Rod Stewart, Owl City and the New Moon Soundtrack (which is the smartest move that current indie-rock royalty including Death Cab for Cutie, Thom Yorke, Grizzly Bear and a slew of others could make in terms of making some serious bank…those 12-year old girls may only listen to that record once and hate it because it didn’t come from Disney, but by God they bought eight copies of it because Robert Pattinson was on the cover – I digress…).  This has to be the most random collection of artists I’ve ever seen.  You couldn’t possibly look at that list of artists and believe that we still live in a world in which a few broad genres dominate the musical landscape.

I realize that there are a number of what would be considered “rock bands” on that list, but I’d like to submit that “Rock” as a genre has splintered off into so many “sub-genres” that you couldn’t possibly argue that they belong in the same basic category.  If we were honest with ourselves we could say that the same applies to most other genres: Hip-hop/Rap, R&B, Country, Folk, Jazz, etc…you’re likely to find a smattering of elements from all of those genres, both in the general sense and on the level of “sub-genres”, on any single album released these days.

I’m not attempting to start a war here, just a discourse.  I think that this is a subject that should breach the consciousness of any musician, or any music fan for that matter, and that it’s worth pondering, fleshing out and discerning what that means for you and your “musical journey”, as it were.  I will say that it is absolutely true that certain genres sell better than others at any given point, but I honestly think that we live in a world where there is a market for any genre (granted, not all markets are as vast as Miley Cyrus’) but there’s definitely a niche market for just about anything conceivable out there.  What do you think, interweb?

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