What’s In A Genre? A Close Look At Music Categorization

Bending the genre rules has been all the rage in the music industry. With artists craving innovation, it just may be the key to that next big hit.

Love music? Chances are, the first thing you mention when describing is its sound or style is the genre.

Genres categorize music into groups (i.e., Pop, Rock, Jazz, Country, Hip-hop, R& B, or World (aka Enya)) and if we want to get a tad more granular, don’t forget New Jack Swing, Soft Rock, and Emo. But what is it that makes a genre, well a genre? Especially when it comes to those songs or artists that straddle the line? Should genres even exist nowadays when there’s so much crossover?

One example is Jason Aldean’s hit “Burnin’ it Down,” which has a typical country twang against an unmistakable hip-hop back beat. As more genres have become popular and the major ones played on the radio, it in many ways encourages artists to mix genres so they can get crossover radio play.

Another genre to look at that has had quite the crossover is Salsa Celtica, a band that mixes Salsa and Celtic music (who knew?!), sounding like a cross between Tito Puente and The Corrs.

Mixed genres are the rage and have been for quite some time, squashing all traditional categories that we’ve come to associate with music. Pop music has been the most shook up by the mixing trend, as it now encapsulates virtually every other genre within it.

There’s Taylor Swift who has bent genres like no other. Starting as a strictly country artist, Swift saw her rise winning numerous country awards but slowly started to crossover to have more of a pop sound, especially in Red. However, we saw her fully go pop with 1989 and her newest album which not only includes pop, but a heavy amount of hip hop beats, Reputation. However, in many ways Swift has not fully left country behind as she has recently written with country band, Little Big Town.

Other artists that have taken Pop to the next level include Janelle Monae and Amy Winehouse, two artists who have taken soul, jazz and pop and put their own spin on all of it.

With artists like Winehouse and Monae taking from jazz we have seen it also dabbling into the genre bending game. Jamie Cullum has collaborated with hip-hop’s Pharrell Williams, and is known for crafting ingenious renditions of pop gems into elegant jazz standards, and switches from jazz, to latin, to hip-hop, sometimes in one song. We have also seen Kendrick Lamar use jazz in his album, To Pimp A Butterfly. 

Why are musicians inspired to mix genres in their music?

“If I’m sharing something that compels others to stop being cynical and create music that nobody’s really heard before, that’s great,”

Janelle Monae said in an interview with Pitchfork back in 2010.

“Of course, a lot of people who listen to big bands have no interest in electronic dance music, but I definitely do. And that’s colored my approach, bringing all these things together. Not to show off, but in my head these things do exist together — and should,” said Jamie Cullum in a creators.com interview.

Many artists also want to push their own creative boundaries, by treading unknown waters and stepping out of their comfort zones.

With that said, the desire to innovate along with not really knowing what you want to achieve may be the key to musical expression/creativity.

Want to create something that represents you but takes you out of your comfort zone? Listen to it all and don’t pay attention to the labels.

In the end, everything feeds everything else and if you free yourself from the labels, you might be surprised by what you create.

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