By Sonora Birnie
OPINION: Genre Fluidity
“What kind of music do you like?” This is a question that appears simple and harmless on the surface, but those of us who obsessively listen to music know the impossibility of answering it. Sure, most people have a preference, but the lines that used to separate music into clear and definite categories have been smudged beyond recognition.
The truth is that there is a massive amount of crossover between genres, and more sub-genres than anyone could ever hope to count. An article that appeared in The Guardian estimates that there are 1,264 popular genres. There is even an entire website dedicated to listing music genres. It is appropriately named musicgenrelist.com. One glance at this list proves my point about the sheer massive quantity of genres.
Presumably, genre exists because humans have a habit of finding comfort in categorization. Labels offer an easy way to find what you want, but I argue that music has perhaps transcended this ideal. My argument is not that genre doesn’t exist anymore, though I admittedly toyed with that idea, but rather that most modern music has developed into a kind of genre-fluidity.
Additionally, musicians can make their dreams and ideas a reality easier than ever before due to the technology that is available. Not only that but they have the chance to market themselves to a wider audience than was available to most artists in the past.
This naturally leads to a vast amount of music readily available to the consumer. This means that there is more music than ever before to draw inspiration from, as obvious as that may seem. With relative ease, people can find the sound that suits their particular taste in music, even if that sound is way off the beaten track.
Today there is more experimental music than ever before because you can literally make and promote anything you want. Genre is merely a suggestion, a jumping off point. Genre gives way to subgenre, then subgenre gives way to sub-subgenre. Artists are building new lyrical and musical structures with pieces taken from music that predates them, ultimately creating something that may not sound anything like it’s inspirational ancestors.
All of this leads me to believe that most modern music is not limited to a single category. Pop music is an obvious example. Ariana Grande clearly makes pop music but she makes music that uses hip hop beats to back up her pop chord progressions(NASA). The recent Charli XCX drop is also labeled pop music, but there are extreme electronica elements(2099). Consider Robyn, who came onto the scene pre-2000s and is still making music in 2019. She categorizes her music as “Electropop synth-pop dance-pop R&B (early)”. Listening to Robyn’s hefty discography, it becomes a clear example of pop music that is heavily influenced by other genres(Human Being).
Some music is so out of the box that it only fits into a genre weakly titled “experimental (insert main genre)”. Examples of experimental genre bending artists include JPEGMAFIA, Maluca, Lungbutter, Death Grips, Clipping(stylized “clipping.”), Shabazz Palaces, and Altin Gun.
We are blessed to live in a time where music can be so experimental and outrageously defiant of category, but it certainly does complicate things.