Is the Concept of Genres Deteriorating? It's Impact on Culture

Written by Connor Miller, Photo by Anne Kroiß

Conversation is one of the primary ways that music enthusiasts broaden their listening range. When meeting people and trying to relate, the age old question is asked, “What type of music do you listen to?,” and more and more the answer has become, “I listen to everything.” By contextualizing this common answer into the current time period in comparison to even a few years ago, a clear disconnection is visualized. Individuals are no longer associating their music consumption with one singular genre. 

The new change in listening habits could be correlated to an infinite sum of musical demand because of technological advancements - streaming services being able to provide as much music as the listener demands without an increasing price - but a larger driver is that genre-hybridization has been occurring much more rapidly than it would have been previous to the technological blending with music. Technology has allowed listeners and artists to tap into markets on a geographical standpoint. A feedback loop has been created where artists become listeners and listeners become artists perpetually stemming new influence from each other. 

In previous generations, this feedback loop would have been elongated as only a handful of artists were seen on an international level based on media of the time period. An example of this genre-hybridization was the adaptation of the Beatles’ sound all over the world. This occurred because of the utilization of broadcasting, such as their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February of 1964. Artists from around the world digested their sound and further musical creations were extrapolated. Tropicália, a Brazilian genre and movement during the late 1960s, was heavily influenced from this psychedelic rock movement in the United Kingdom in the form of auditory profile and cultural significance. The new Brazilian genre acted as a way to emphasize the governmental issues that occurred in Brazil at the time, specifically its military dictatorship. Many Tropicália artists were forced to leave the country shortly after because of the power of the platform that they created through this meshing. Such an impactful cultural creation was bred through the musical feedback loop almost 60 years ago. Re-examining this loop, it is clear that it has increased in intensity and volume since then. 

There is a new bloom of artists arising that have been pushing the barriers of genre labeling, adding in blends of all of their auditory likings. Collectives such as Drain Gang, a Swedish music collective known for their genre-altering sound, have been meshing a myriad of sounds from all different geographically based genres such as trap, hyperpop, and electronic music. Well-known names such as Tyler, the Creator have also acted as categorization defiers which eventually changed the sound of previous genres that they were associated with. Tyler, the Creator was associated purely with rap during the beginning of his career, but comparing his newest album to his oldest album, the auditory landscape is extremely polar. His newest album, Call Me When You Get Lost, has sections of live orchestration and jazz which fits surprisingly well over his bold lyrical style. However, he is still considered to be in the Hip-Hop and Rap space. Bands such as Death Grips have become perplexing in terms of genre categorization because of their extreme experimentation track to track. Trying to fit them into a genre, their music would be described as noise, alternative, rap rock, IDM, and somewhat folkloric. A keyword to note is “trying,” because through using a sum of varying labels to explain them, people can’t understand what their sound truly is without listening to their discography. Previously, few artists used to be considered anomalies of genre, but as that over time becomes the norm, musical labeling has been slowly becoming obsolete. 

The breadth of music creation is currently too vast for each combination of previously existing genres to each have their label of classification. While new sounds are constantly being bred through this cultural entanglement, genres will of course be present since naturally there are different types of music, but there will become a level of fluidity. Music labeling will shift to no longer be presented in a binary form but rather in the form of a spectrum. 

For example, take most songs created in the 70s. When posed against the question, “Is it classical music?” A binary response is generated, a yes or a no. However, if you take a more contemporary artist such as Aphex Twin, and pose the same question against songs from his album, Drukqs, a gray area arises. Apple Music supposedly considers Drukqs as classical music since the album is available for streaming on Apple Music Classical but the album is highlighted by an extremely glitchy erratic electronic sound. The labeling system when correlated to binary responses simply is not efficient enough in the context of modern musical tinkering. 

While the traditional conceptualization of genres may no longer be an efficient way to describe music categorization, it produced cultural cohesiveness. A sense of identity and personal association has since become clouded through the expansion of individual listening tendencies. People now correlate themselves with a span of musical identities rather than a focus on a singularity. The connection between the type of genre and the type of personality has been lost, and as its replacement, audiences listen more so for who is playing, not necessarily what genre they are playing. In it of itself, it's not a negative but rather a change that when examined deeper provides clarification on the alteration of one’s link to an artist. More importance has been placed on authenticity, character, and meaningfulness of a creative’s output rather than a category. It’s blurry to presently visualize how the public's usage and view of genres will fluctuate over time, but when clarity is provided, it is bound to create a further interesting examination of human musical consumption in correlation to technological advancements. Culture shall wait and see. 

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