People want to use hyphens when they describe the music they listen to. Rarely will you ask someone what kind of stuff they’re into and simply receive a reply of “rock” or “dance.” A growing complexity naturally comes with more sophisticated nomenclature, after all, and a snappy summary of exactly what the vibe of artist or an album is all about can be pretty useful. “Epiphany Pop,” for instance, is great as a description, summing up a genre which might make you have a Pink-Floyd-esque revelation that’s at the same time enormously catchy.
Huge umbrella terms just aren’t always useful when it comes to describing music. Nirvana and Coldplay have both been described as “alternative rock” but their sounds are about as similar as each of their respective musical ethoses. You wouldn’t argue that Bastille and Sufjan Stevens have anything in common either, and yet both are described as “indie,” a term which pretty much erases all distinction between artists. This also holds particularly true when discussing the world of electronic music, which can encompass anything from Aphex Twin to Martin Garrix.
With this in mind, then, it’s safe to say that if someone describes themselves as not liking a whole genre, they’re probably doing it wrong. We all know that there are about a hundred and million ways to do each musical style, and basing an opinion on an entire body of work based on just a couple songs is a pretty quick way to make sure you miss out on some fantastic content. On the other side of the coin, however, music snobs and elitists who are only into just the one thing can be pretty insufferable as well, acting as if no other field of music has anything at all on their genre of choice.
The solution? Well, sub and micro-genres, I guess. These can be bad for the listener as well, however. At what point do they become meaningless? In a culture where everything seems to be post-something, micro-genres aren’t always as helpful as blanket expressions are for the listener, which help people discover new content in a way which such a tiny isolated genre can’t. Let me know the next time people start directly looking up black-sludge-nu-metal on iTunes and expect to discover a whole host of artists that fit this bill.
A growing complexity naturally comes with more sophisticated nomenclature
Micro-genres can also act as self-imposed restrictions in disguise for musicians, almost limiting their creative energy to a certain extent. Last year’s Teen Suicide record, for instance, which is to be their final release, was such a divergence from their earlier work that many fans argued that it should have been released under a different name completely. Perhaps had their listeners not had such a strictly defined idea of the band’s sound in their own minds this kind of knee-jerk reaction would never have occurred.
This kind of debate is simply a sign of the times. Pop melodies don’t just belong in pop songs anymore. Guitars don’t solely belong to the realm of rock. In an age where distinctions between different musical camps are increasingly blurred, genres and micro-genres are clearly both double edged swords, and can be as useful as they are hindering for both the musician and listener. My opinion, then? I’d say you can choose to distinguish music in whichever way you want as long as you don’t completely alienate people with your descriptions.