A healthy diet of pop and art music

Music is often criticized for being too mainstream, or straight-up weird, but an individual’s favourite music usually boils down to its uniqueness or simplicity

Today’s musicians juggle an oversaturated market, leading them to question how they can stand out among the herd. With Apple Music and Spotify playlists updated weekly, musicians clash as they struggle to reach for the top of the list.

Artists who can incorporate popular and inventive elements in their music offer new, palatable experiences to the average listener. When a new track sparks discussion, whether it is outlandish or watered-down, it often still plays a pivotal role in the progression of music culture.

Here are some ways artists can navigate the vast landscape of the pop industry.


The popular and the experimental

Experimental music is a genre in itself, but if we look at Fiona Apple, for example, we find an artist who is innovative within the popular scene. Fringe music, another label for this category, may be too inaccessible and isn’t a realistic approach for budding musicians hoping to make a living off of their music.


We can take a look at Hallin’s spheres to better understand the spectrum of modern music. Named after Daniel C. Hallin, this communications theory is defined by Oxford Reference as a negotiation between three concepts of journalistic objectivity. In this diagram, the centre circle refers to the consensus of public opinion, the middle circle follows ideas of legitimate controversy, and the outermost circle describes fringe society.

If we repurpose this diagram, we can look at how music can be received by an audience. That is: music in the mainstream, music that tests what a listener can enjoy, and music that is disliked or misunderstood by a large audience.

When music is labelled as artistic, it is usually because it strives to add something that has not existed before, or improving on something performed in the past. In contrast, the popular artist is hoping to gain recognition for a widely accepted sound.

Art music may be an appropriate way to label it, then. 

Lady Gaga, for example, who has ruled over the popular scene for the last decade, recently dropped a reimagined look at her 2020 album Chromatica. One year later, Dawn of Chromatica takes the core structure of her popular dance hits, and reinvents it with help from extraordinary talents like Dorian Electra, Mura Masa, Rina Sawayama and many other experimental artists.

This eclectic album redux broadens Gaga’s audience and takes a real turn towards the eccentric. For Lady Gaga, her embrace of the weird isn’t abnormal, but it gives us the chance to explore Chromatica’s “what if” moments.

So, in my definition, art music represents a form that leads away from wide recognition in the hopes of finding new and refreshing avenues for a song, style, and genre.

Music stuck somewhere in the middle

Between charting music and music far outside the mainstream exists the middle, where we find music that aims to entertain the listener and also test their limits.

Within the genre of pop, we find new approaches from artists like Billie Eilish, who makes pop music stylized by her dark, carefree personality, and Hubert Lenoir, who brings a free-spirited, offbeat energy to his pop music.

The rise of music curation in streaming services has also created new opportunities for musicians to stand out, even in an oversaturated market. 

Due to numerous specialized playlists and radio stations, listeners can find more and more unique music experiences. This wide-ranging curation tends to favour popularity but highlights emerging artists or bands as well. Under streaming services, there is a renewed desire to find obscure music that does something novel.

It’s worth noting that music evolves, and so does its audience. What may be received at first as fringe music can become accepted over time. Playboi Carti’s discography, strangely enough, shows this within a short timeframe. His singles and albums have often been received as underwhelming at first listen, but increase in popularity over the following weeks.

Virality plays a role in music progression too, as one single can establish a new music style and become a highly sought-after product. One example is Justin Bieber’s remix of “Despacito,” which brought forth a wave of reggaeton music to North America. Recently it has become equally important for record labels and streaming services to care about both experimental and popular music.


The scope of music

Upon observation, art and pop music function as a dichotomy. Together, they add balance to music culture with a centralized approach that places the audience first. You couldn’t have smash hits from Doja Cat without Nicki Minaj paving the way, and there also wouldn’t be an Anderson .Paak without pretty much any R&B or funk artist ever.

Releases that are too accessible can quickly start to feel commercial, as if it were a product. Oftentimes, artists are hired to make promotional music for a movie, which usually leads to safer music that panders to an audience. One example is the soundtrack for Suicide Squad, which featured a diverse range of artists but led to music with small thrills and inconsequential impact.

Music that is too experimental is susceptible to gatekeeping and can distance and confuse a fanbase. The reason why a fanbase becomes confused arises when an artist chooses to reinvent itself to the point of a loss of identity. For example, after nearly 15 years of transformations, Ye’s last three albums have left many longtime fans feeling left behind.

More generally, pop cannot continue existing without innovation, however minimal, and too much attention to experimentation can unravel a demographic. Therefore, both streams of thought cannot live without the other.

In the end, consider what you would like from your own music favourites. Do you want your music to be at the cutting edge of the industry? Would you like it to continue perfecting sounds you have grown to love?

Regardless, music pushes forward and it’s interesting to remember what your favourite artists contributed to the ongoing evolution of music.


Jesus is King doesn’t deserve a crown

Despite Kanye West’s abysmal rapping, Jesus is King is still richly produced and somewhat enjoyable

Amidst a long-spanning controversy over his support of Donald Trump, bold wrongful claims about slavery being a choice, and simply releasing sub-par music (I’m looking at you “I Love It”), Kanye West is back with Jesus is King, an album born from West’s embrace of Christianity.

The album was originally intended to be released on Sept. 27, but was delayed indefinitely after it failed to show up on streaming services that day. No one was surprised, really; it is Kanye West we’re talking about here.

The project is another tonal shift for West. The Life of Pablo and Ye were his only albums to not sound like he was trying to change the soundscape of hip hop and music in general. He has definitely embraced Christianity before, like on “Jesus Walks” and “Ultralight Beam,” but West has never gone so far as to dedicate an entire album to it.

Through and through, Jesus is King is a gospel album. Beginning with the Sunday Service Choir-assisted “Every Hour,” West assures the listener that this was going to be a project dedicated to Christ.

Across the album, the instrumentals are what you’d expect from West. Heavy on the sampling, gorgeous melodies, and peculiar arrangements. This is especially true on standout “Selah” that features a powerful choir harmony singing “Hallelujah” at the instrumental peak of the track. This song also contains West’s best verses on the album. That being said, the verse isn’t exactly strong.

The track bleeds hypocrisy as he raps: “Love God and our neighbour, as written by Luke.” If West really wanted to love his neighbour, he should maybe consider not supporting Trump in favour of the Democratic nominees with actual good ideas (hey, Bernie).

“Follow God” is another strongly produced track that features a Pablo type beat and cadence, but is once again burdened by horrible lines— “I was looking at the gram and I don’t even like likes.”

Despite the continuous flaws in West’s lyricism, the album still remains somewhat gripping due to the powerful production and great guest performances, most notably Ty Dolla $ign on “Everything We Need.” The track was recycled from West’s unreleased Yandhi but they chose to remove XXXTentacion’s verse.

West is clearly inspired and he’s trying, but the album is hollow beyond its production. West’s rapping is as lazy as it’s ever been, and his plight of Christianity feels half-baked as if he created this album weeks before it was even announced.

Content aside, the mixing is another point in which the album falters. “Selah,” “Follow God,” and “Water,” among others, are noticeably poorly mixed. Whether or not this is by design is moot; the album doesn’t reach its potential because of this. It seems rushed.

Even with the attempt to pair it with a short film, aptly titled Jesus is King, his message only becomes more muddled. The movie doesn’t add anything to the narrative. Its empty, albeit well-shot visuals, make for a pleasant viewing experience, but nothing actually happens. There are a few close-ups of the choir, one continuous shot of West holding his newborn son, Psalm, and a few other unmemorable moments.

The film only becomes somewhat interesting towards the end as West sings a softer, modified version of his 808s & Heartbreak stunner, “Street Lights.”

Simply put, Jesus is King is too uninteresting to merit multiple listens. It sounds nice, but the ideas aren’t fleshed out enough. Sure, we know West is a born-again Christian now, but what of it?

Following Ye, he needed something more substantive to truly paint a clearer portrait of a man affected by bipolar disorder. Instead of explaining to us where he is mentally, he resorts to underwhelming bars about Christianity that make Donald Trump Jr. happy.

Still, the album has enjoyable moments, if you can tune out whatever the hell West is saying. There are some high points on it that are unfortunately too few and far between to make this project a contender for the year’s best.

Jesus is King is at its strongest when West barely even appears. “Use This Gospel” is masterfully produced, featuring rich keys and melodies from West as he sings the short but sweet hook. Also assisted by a Clipse reunion, Pusha T and No Malice return with killer verses that outshine anything West had done on any of the previous tracks.

“Closed on Sunday” has a gorgeous string leading into it that’s unfortunately marred by a horrid bar about Chick-Fil-A. “Hands On” features a lovely refrain by Fred Hammond backed by a skeletal, chilling instrumental.

Jesus is King is, unfortunately, the weakest entry in West’s discography, but it still isn’t a failure.

It’s simply insubstantial and it would’ve benefited from a few extra tracks and fleshing out the shorter tracks. It would have also been more entertaining if West wasn’t so obnoxious in his rapping. How does someone go from claiming he is a god to following God? If only West rapped more insightfully about his transition to Christianity.

Album rating:


Trial Track: “Use This Gospel”

Star Bar: “A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those

And in my arrogance, took a camera pose

Caught with a trunk of Barry Manilows

They sing a different tune when the slammer close”

  • (No Malice on “Use This Gospel”)

Film rating:


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