Music

Are genres even relevant anymore?

Compartmentalizing is how people make sense of the world. While it gives a sense of order, it also restricts people from being able to do anything outside of the category or label given. This is the struggle many artists within the music industry currently face.

Genres are a way of compartmentalization. Though music types can define a group of musicians, it leaves no room for growth. Genres cause more issues than actually helping artists. Linkin Park, well-known hardcore and rap band, teamed up with Kiiara and released a pop-influenced song on Feb. 16, “Heavy.” Even more recently, The Chainsmokers and Coldplay released “Something Like This” last Wednesday.

This hasn’t been happening in just the past few weeks — it’s been going on for a while. It took time for people to get on board with Lady Gaga’s album “Joanne” because its mixed rock and folk vibe isn’t what the audience was expecting from such a pop powerhouse.

Putting an artist into a genre can skew a listener’s attitude to their music and expectations. I still have not listened to Childish Gambino’s most recent album, “Awaken, My Love!” all the way through because it’s unlike any of his other music. So far the songs I’ve listened to are good, but my expectations crave his usual avant-garde hip-hop. It’s nothing against the musician, but the idea of genres and expectations reflects a fear of change. It’s the fear of falling in love with something and then watching it morph into something completely different.

But artists rarely remain in their so-called genre over the course of their career. Popular artists are starting to tackle the restrictions genres have by creating albums with various types of music. Each song on Beyonce’s “Lemonade” could fit into a different genre. Ed Sheeran’s newest singles for his soon-to-be released album, “Divide,” plays with acoustics, rock, and electronic dance music beats. Rihanna’s “ANTI” goes back to her Barbados-roots style, yet could also fit into dance, R&B and trap music categories.

Although big-name musicians are in a more secure position to release music outside of their assigned genre, the risks are high. Fans have expectations for their favorite artists. Their original music is what made a fan love them in the first place.

The world almost exploded when Mumford & Sons said that “Wilder Mind” wouldn’t have any banjo in it. It still reached the No. 1 U.K. Billboard charts within the first week of its release, but at the same time faced a lot of criticism from fans who missed the band’s energetic banjo instrumentals. But with mixed reviews, the band definitely took a major career risk.

One of the biggest issues in the music industry is the pressure for musicians to make music that sells. New artists face the problem of choosing to make more mainstream music that isn’t necessarily reflective of their own styles or release the music they want in hopes that people and companies like it.

Artists shouldn’t be held accountable for the music they release in the beginning of their career because just like any human being, they grow and learn. Artists will experiment with different things to figure out what they like and what they’re good at. A rapper can decide to try doing something more country — remember Nelly? — and a rock artist can try to do something EDM. Forget genres, and let artists do their thing.

Christine Chung is a senior communication and rhetorical studies major. Her column appears weekly in Pulp. She can be reached at chchun02@syr.edu.

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