As every year passes, music becomes more and more hard to contain. Artists innovate, advance new trends and try to please their fans as pressure grows to release more music at a faster rate, so there’s a lot to keep track of.
A few times a year, there are oddities that rise to popularity in music that we can’t really put a finger on. But one thing has stayed consistent from the 15th century, when music was first commercialized, until now: genres.
There is an idea growing in popularity among some music fans that genres aren’t relevant anymore. The reasoning is that genre blends have made it impossible to classify music distinctly anymore and that the current music meta has distanced itself so much from the original bedrocks of these genres that they no longer do them justice.
Take, for example, an artist nearly unparalleled in terms of creativity and trailblazing new sounds, Frank Ocean. Even though Ocean’s eclectic taste brings in elements of hip-hop, ambient music, rock, funk, electronica and more, his music is still rooted in R&B —and there’s no question about it. All the fundamentals are still intact: the passionate singing, vocal tone, soulful melodies, pacing, moods and themes.
His multiple dimensions, experimentation, risk-taking, and unconventional songwriting may serve as abstractions, but here’s the bottom line: Frank still makes R&B music. While his take on R&B’s sounds and subject matter is modernized and influenced by other genres, its foundation is apparent.
That goes for even more experimental acts than Ocean. The rock band Swans have created an esoteric form of music that critics have dubbed “post-rock,” characterized by repetitive timbre and hypnotic textures that induce primal emotion. The industrial hip-hop trio Death Grips has pushed the boundaries of the genre to the point that most modern rap fans want nothing to do with them. A young band that performed at Ohio University earlier this month, Mdou Moctar, fuses elements of African music with surf rock. While those artists might alienate fans within the genres that their music is built off of, the foundation is still rock solid.
This conversation is emblematic of a mindset that is still common in music discussions today, especially when they are between younger and older listeners. Usually, the older generation, still wistful of its past glory days, will go to any lengths to defend the music they grew up on. But even among millennials, there is a horde who will say that music just isn’t as good these days, but that’s another discussion entirely. However, the poisonous mindset that can come along with that is banishing any sort of experimental take on a so-called traditional sound into genreless limbo.
Think about how all new music is created. If artists simply listened to what older generations imparted on them in terms of what a genre means and what is allowed in it, music would not be where it is today. There would be no progression or evolution. Those styles, as great as they were and as well as some of them have aged, would become boring and hackneyed. Regardless of personal preferences, whether you dig 60s soul or 90s R&B, 80s punk or 2000s alt-metal, 90s boom-bap or 2010s trap rap, all music must change over time in order to survive.
Much of the great music we have today is a result of adventurous artists taking influence from a genre and challenging it. Without the foundation and fortitude of that genre, however, there would not be a platform for this music to take shape and eventually create its own influence.
Ultimately, this issue does not come down to one single artist. It engulfs all genres, as music fans scramble to label and assign meaning to new musical trends in an ever-changing landscape. But genres are not going away, and there aren’t any valid criteria in limiting how far they can go.
If we set a subjective limit, how can we be sure that any music belongs in any genre? As artists experiment, branch out and create new sub-genres, the foundation is still there, and it’s still felt. Genres are allowed to evolve and still keep their titles. In future generations, maybe today’s music will be seen as the standard for what defines these genres.
Camden Gilreath is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Camden? Tweet him @camgilreath23.