Opinion: The Current State of the Music Genre - Specialization Week


Do music genres exist anymore? Has hybridization created new specialties in the world of sonic enlightenment? In many ways, it seems the answer to those questions is yes. No longer wishing to be confined to terms like rock, pop or R&B, artists now are a synthesis of everything – a “grab bag” of you will – and they believe in unity for all in the progression of auditory consumption.

Skrillex at the 2011 Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest. Photo by Brennan Schnell.

To begin with, country music is a great example, a strong testament to the evolution of the music genre. Country music often has a difficult time crossing over into other demographics, as its sharp characteristics don’t always match the taste of mainstream music fans. Nevertheless, in current times, most of country music’s stars have made big waves in the pop market – artists like Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, and of course, Taylor Swift. In fact, Swift’s latest album, Red, is considered by many people to be a completely pop album with dubstep influences. If it’s country at all, no one’s mentioned it.

Swift told Rolling Stone that her new musical “excursions” are the result of an interest and preference towards hip hop and R&B music.

“I have so many playlists full of Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown,” she says. “I love Wiz Khalifa.”

Interestingly enough, even dubstep is a mixture of genres, its roots stemming from reggae, and drum & bass. Swift astutely picked up on the dubstep trend, which has infiltrated nearly every genre of music thanks to its indie artists gaining major accolades like Skrillex winning the Grammy for Best New Artist earlier this year.

“Oftentimes music styles appear to be fads in the popular consciousness, but usually before they become popular, music is developed in an indie or underground scene,” Jeff Warren, a music professor at Trinity Western University outside of Vancouver, B.C., tells Time magazine. “That was the case with rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, with grunge in the 1990s, and now dubstep has moved from its South London beginnings to influencing the Top 40.”

Dubstep presents an interesting case of specialization in music. It’s a merger of musical sounds that has procreated further, and caught the attention of artists the world over. Yet these new breeds aren’t necessarily true to form, which irritates purists, and conversely, they blended so quickly into the mix some listeners weren’t ready for them.

“For a while, dubstep was kind enough to limit itself to contaminating the playlists of musical snobs with awful remixes of popular dance songs, simply replacing the good and danceable hooks with blasts of indeterminate and overwhelming noise, writer Vlad Chituc comments in The Yale Herald. “But now its popularity spreads past remixes into the realm of original dance tracks, with influences seeping into works by Tiesto, Diplo (of Major Lazer fame), and now, even Britney Spears.”

Beyond the gravitation towards dubstep, there have been several other developments in the evolution of the music genre. Here are five key changes we’ve noticed along the way:

  • Once a genre becomes trendy, it goes pop, and the original genre struggles. When hip hop became universal, artists like Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida emerged with an entirely new take, which, love it or hate it, is much more pop than hip hop. Consequently, music fans have gotten used to that sound and want little to do with the Talib Kwelis of the world. Younger generations thus understand the genre of rap music differently than their predecessors, and electronic music is next.
  • The idea of independent music turned into a genre all of its own. If you’re an independent artist, odds are you don’t make rock music, but indie rock. You don’t make pop music, you make indie pop. There’s a difference apparently.
  • Pop once had a particular quality to it, now it’s just all the genres dumped into a pot. Similarly, if people don’t know what to call something, it’s pop. There’s also deviations – dream pop, bubblegum pop, synth pop, surf pop, new wave pop, electro pop, psychedelic pop, and pop rock, to name a few. What is pop anymore then!? It may be the most difficult “genre” to define.
  • Artists abhor genres. BTR interviews artists every week, and the majority of them prefer not to describe their music as a genre. They feel it categorizes or “pigeonholes” them in a group they don’t want to be in. This is probably due to the fact that there are no basic genres anymore so no one wants to be that guy. It’s totally uncool.
  • With so many 21st century crossbreeds, less people appreciate the original. All the old trusty genres now are simply classics.

And so we say, RIP to the original music genres – they couldn’t keep their hands off each other and their offspring are doing the same.