Music Genre 3 Letters
Music Genre 3 Letters – Skrillex produces Bieber, Rihanna covers Tame Impala, and 1975’s genre-bending charts. The people who make and consume music are more stylistically corrupt than ever. How did we get here?
Dark Lines: (left to right) David Guetta, Ryan Adams, Rostam Batmanglij, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Kevin Parker, Skrillex, Matty Healy, Carly Rae Jepson and Justin Bieber. Composite: Getty
Music Genre 3 Letters
Pitchfork, considered the world’s leading alternative music website, relaunched this week. Along with the sleek new look, it announced a “significant new feature,” the ability to browse the site by genre.
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At first glance, these genre boundaries – like pop v rock – might appear to be as rigid as ever. But it can mean the opposite.
What does it mean that a website whose name is synonymous with a certain alternative rock allows readers to read nothing but pop, metal or rap? What does it mean if Vampire Weekend’s Rostam is dating Carly Rae Jepsen and The Weeknd is dating Max Martin? What if the likes of David Guetta and Calvin Harris approached so many singers and MCs that they worried less about genre boundaries? If Rihanna covers Tame Impala, Ryan Adams covers Taylor Swift (13 times)? How about Miley Cyrus’ collaboration with Flaming Lips, or all of Sia’s collaborations?
1975 just scored a transatlantic No.1, with influences ranging from Yasuo to David Bowie. If you look at everynoise.com and key in, say, Lana Del Rey, you’ll find her listed under “pop, indie R&B, indietronica, pop pop, synthpop.” it’s a little bit of all of these, but at the same time it’s not at all. All are representatives of the post-genre group of artists. They now carry genres that were specifically set 10 years ago, or live outside of them. They tend to overlap, which makes it hard to say for sure whether you like a particular genre or not.
Miley Cyrus performs with Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
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Last summer, a survey by Ypulse, a millennial tracking agency, surveyed 1,000 young adults. When asked about their favorite artists, many respondents couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that “this generation is interested in many genres of music and artists,” not out of ambivalence.
Millennials are passionate about music (76% of 13- to 17-year-olds say they can’t go a week without it), compared to 79% of 13- to 32-year-olds. their tastes do not fall into one particular genre of music. Only 11% said they listened to only one genre of music. “Apparently,” Ypulse noted when publishing his findings, “millennials are less of a genre generation.”
In 2000, Melody Maker music magazine put Craig David on the cover. Fair enough: David has hit No. 1 three times during this time. Also, Craig David wasn’t on the cover: he was a “lookalike” (ie, not like Craig, but a black man) sitting on the toilet. Cover: “UK Garage: My ASS”.
At this point, Craig identified himself as an R&B rather than a UK garage artist, but Melody Maker’s logic was that if black people were all the same, maybe they all sounded the same without the guitar. However, the magazine used its opposition to UK garage as a way to expand alternative music, which meant guitar music. Guitar music was good not because of what it was, but because of what it wasn’t. Melody Maker published ’50 Ways to Fight Indie Nation’ against ‘UK Garage and Pop Shit’. These include a Backstreet Boys reference in a Blink-182 video (“Fun vids, cool guys, great music”), Embrace playing secret gigs (“Do it for the fans, in cool places. Nice”) and Coldplay. No. 1 (“Showing that the good guys can finish first”). Melody Maker was apparently trying to respond to manufactured music, ironically, when Melody Maker was trying to shut down UK garage, it looked like neo-punk, the closest thing British music had seen since acid house. .
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I can laugh, but if my kids ever ask me what I do in the genre wars, I have to admit that I have blood on my hands. Back in 2000, I started Popjustice, a blog that I hoped would fight a corner for pop music. And this is where the fight against guitar music began. Puerile would be a charitable way to describe those early years: at one point Popjustice’s front page featured Richard Ashcroft’s face with the word “TWAT” emblazoned across it. While that may or may not be true, it’s clear at this point that it has no bearing on whether or not Step Three’s album is a triumph (for this record).
At the turn of the millennium, festivals were where you’d hear guitar bands; Guitar music on Radio 1 was mostly relegated to the Evening Session. However, in 2016, radio playlists were filled with guitar music, and festivals took center stage. None other than V Festival, whose headliners this year include Justin Bieber, Rihanna, David Guetta and Sia.
“It’s completely intuitive,” V Festival director Bob Angus told me. “Music tastes have expanded and we want to celebrate that.” When Angus is asked if there’s any ‘where Kasabian’-style opposition to this year’s bill, he replies that they were scouting potential names after last year’s festival, before the Bieber revival. “Justin has 70% approval from our customers,” says Angus. “That’s why we went after him. We targeted Rihanna and Bieber because they scored so high. Honestly, Justin made a great album.”
Producing good music is certainly very convenient. After last year’s Justin, Skrillex and Diplo collaboration Where U Now hit US radio, Bieber tweeted to fans: “Let’s make it about the music.” But the reception to Bieber’s latest career shift has been extraordinary, surprising, and self-deprecating. Pitchfork praised the vocals as “like an angel made of pure sunlight”. Complex saw him as a “big-ass superstar”. According to Dazed, who called him “a cultural icon of our time,” “the perception of Justin Bieber has taken a U-turn, and so has his music.” Nylon added: “As an artist, his appeal goes beyond teenagers. His bridge has been opened.”
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Obviously, there are different styles of music. The blood-soaked bombastic Sacks of Fleur East are apparently not the same thing as Slaves. You can’t argue that grime isn’t a phenomenon, or that Little Mix isn’t a pop band. But the days of bumping one over the other, or getting fired for not having the other, are over. Different styles of music still exist, but no one cares.
Columbia Records head of radio Samuel Potts puts YouTube at the center of this. “Millennials or ‘digital natives’ are the first generation to have the entirety of the world’s music at their fingertips,” he muses. “It affects the creators as well as the younger fans. Online culture is global, so genres that exist in distinct and geographical locations now intersect worldwide. As a result, you get artists like 19-year-old Raury, who hits with the likes of Kanye and Andre 3000, and brings in everyone from Bon Iver to Phil Collins. “
According to him, testers are no longer on the road like music journalists. “Traditionally, fans used the music they were given with gatekeepers and spices, but now, in the connected economy, with more choice, you’re more likely to be influenced by friends, celebrities or music in advertising.”
That’s not to say that radio hasn’t been involved in the erosion of genre boundaries. During the 00s, Radio 1 launched its Live Lounge, where artists were asked to cover current hits. This was before the constant demand for content made “surprising” cover versions a staple of many release strategies.
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Joe Willie remembers the feeling of being awake. “Initially, the idea was to have a place to talk,” he recalls today. “At first people might be a little bit like, ‘Look at us, we’re so cool, we’re not being ironic,’ but in the end, they’re like, ‘Okay, what’s the best song we can cover?’ “Arctic Monkeys is a case in point: at the time, most people saw Cloud Girls as disposable and not particularly cool. Arctic Monkeys decided to make Love Machine because they thought it was a great song.”
Looking back a few years, Willie recalls that his evening session with Steve Lamak was a walled garden because the alternative music of the time – on the tail end of grunge and continuing to Britpop – wasn’t played during the day. “People like Simon Bates and