Genre: What’s the use?

It’s universal.

It’s Friday, the week filled the stress, the weekend replete with relaxation. It’s God-knows-what hour at night, at God-knows-what bar, and God-knows-how-many beverages have been poured and drank.

The scene is solid, but not something to call home about, not until that song. It could be disco, it could be house, it could be whatever. But it’s that song that calls bodies to floor, to loose their inner wild child like a lamp does a moth.

It’s universal.

Just as much as it is a late afternoon and Hall & Oates pops on to the playlist. And before anyone would know it, where once there was an academic studying, there’s now karaoke in the middle of the room. No witnesses, no holds barred.

It’s universal. One way or another.

A mass media public is a public that indulges in media to an unparalleled scale. And when media is as common place as chemicals in the air, systems of qualification allow for a much more precise method for searching for media to consume. Enter the corporate genre, writes Jennifer C. Lena in “Banding Together”:

These instruments thus function as and reflect existing classification systems, ordering products into categories, and linking these categories with consumer groups.

But regardless of explaining why genres exist within a industrial mentality, questions pertaining to application still remain. For starters: how do consumers use genre? Even better: why do consumers use a predetermined genre?

Is it simply musical differences? Or is it for differences of use?

As Nicholas Miller of the Villanovan notes:

It has become nearly hypercritical over the past decade that listeners be able to make categorical distinctions between their favorite artists due to the ubiquity of online music distributors. Free streaming services such as Spotify, iHeartRadio, Sound Cloud and Pandora provide music junkies with a home to explore unsigned, independent artists make playlists jam-packed with classic tracks, and create a self-governed radio station all on the same platform.

It’s no secret that genres have been increasingly more muddled as time has gone on: just look at the names. Between underground rap, electropop, and alternative rock, the single word genre hardly seems to exist anymore.

No longer does the power to discriminate between artists rest with the industry, but with the listener. Rather than dividing by genre, music listening transformed into a constant arranging for similar sounding artists or moods.

But that hardly makes genre a useless categorization, according to celebrated saxophonist Isaiah Katumwa:

I honestly love all genres of music ranging from R&B to ballads and traditional songs because when you look at it, all music has got its own artistry which is attractive.

Clearly, the usefulness of a genre has reached an impasse: able to differentiate music by method and artistry, but unable to dictate mood or sound. Does disco necessarily imply upbeat dance music if KC & The Sunshine Band released “Get Down Tonight,” and “Please Don’t Go” under the same genre name?

Because if Childish Gambino deserves to be named a rapper for “3005,” then so too does he deserve the moniker of funkman for this:

The Sunshine Band’s “Please Don’t Go” is definitely not going to start any dance parties, just as much as Gambino’s “Me and Your Mama” will fail to do favors when trying to soothe the soul. But this contrast does allow for a new view on music categories: genre or sound, method or mood.

In rejecting the genre for the mood, so too does one begin disempowering objective methodology in favor of personal mood. Relativity beats out universality.

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