Music Column: Genres often a barrier to musical exploration

Music Column: Genres often a barrier to musical exploration
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I share a dark past with the year 2010: this is the time when I listened to, and pretended to enjoy, the music of Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney, but not ironically.

In order to comfort my shame surrounding this revelation, I continue to tell myself that every middle schooler goes through the tumultuous stage of losing their own musical identities. At the recommendation of my friends, I blasted songs that helped define the modern country music genre. It's the genre that places no emphasis on artistry or innovation, but instead allows for men to, essentially, speak, not sing, words to the identical, overused drumbeat that has come to define the top-charting tracks of the genre. 

A mere few months later, an essential, satisfying realization came over me: I have a fierce distaste for country music and shall listen to it no longer. Because of this epiphany, I essentially wrote off any and all music falling into the country music genre. Now, before you write me off in a similar fashion, I want to make it known that this would become a gargantuan disservice to the likes of Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Drive-By Truckers and, mainly, Sturgill Simpson.

Because of my perceptions surrounding the country music genre and the invisible walls I placed around those artists, I made the unconscious conclusion that Simpson could be filed into this genre and, therefore, I would not be susceptible to his music. 

I was just straight-up wrong. 

After watching Simpson’s CMA “performance,” or protest, I was immediately aware of my mistake. Simpson is, in the truest sense of the phrase, pushing the boundaries of country music. So much so, that to put him in the country music genre seems entirely unfitting. 

Simpson has thrown conformity to the wind over and over again, making him an anomaly, something unpredictable and remarkably artful. I have yet to fully breakdown the complexity of every track, and his influences reach so far out of country music, which is apparent in his entire collection of music. Every sound, every element is purposeful and their inclusion feels like Simpson’s diligent touch and mindful approach to art. As you can guess, I’m beating myself up for not noticing it sooner.

In an exciting turn of events, Simpson’s busking turned me onto a new album, La Roux’s “Trouble in Paradise.” The album is an entirely danceable, colorful exploration of electronic music that I fell head-over-heels for. It would be remiss of me to leave out such a hidden gem. 

When exploring the depths of Spotify, I most often revert to related artists; the selection is made through an algorithm that relies on genre overlap. While I have profited immensely from this pool of artists, I have also missed entire subsets of music that excite me, despite my initial trepidation. I did not consider genre to be a music confine until recently, but now I wish I was oblivious to genres. 

Daft Punk is considered a modern leader in the electronic genre, a subset of music that would previously fail to entice me. Once again, this was a complete oversight. Daft Punk is the pinnacle of music to dance to, but the dance and electronic genre do not encapsulate the enormity that is this duo. The word “electronic” fails to represent the cultural change that Daft Punk brought to music and those that absorb it. It fails to illustrate the joy, energy and modernity of their collection of music. To me, “electronic” feels cold, or devoid of humanity. That is unrepresentative of the overindulgence of positive emotion that exudes from Daft Punk. 

Genres have become a barrier to musical exploration. The vast disparities between opposite sides of a genre’s spectrum are becoming more obvious and will continue to do so as more artists are able to release music on streaming platforms. While I am wholeheartedly aware of the impossibility of removing genre descriptions, I am also perturbed by artists being thrown into R&B and Alternative categories as a cop out.

Artists evolve and grow rapidly. They are influenced by such a variety of personal ideas, emotions, histories and artists. Genres are boxes that artists should no longer have to check.

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