Not all music needs to be categorized in single genres, and that’s okay

The idea of putting different types of music in specific genres is a disservice to the art musicians make

Back in high school, when my friends and I would talk about the kind of music we liked, I always felt ashamed to admit I listened to pop music. Because of that, I always focused on other genres like indie and alternative music. I didn’t fully understand what those labels meant, but they felt better than saying I liked pop. Looking back on it, these judgements that we make surrounding  genre are odd and limit our enjoyment of the music we consume.

When you tell someone you listen to a specific genre, it may elicit many different reactions. I noticed that when I mention to older family members that I like pop music, they tend to react more adversely than if I were to mention enjoying rock music. One of my aunts said that only rock music should be considered real music. I asked her why and her response was simply, “Well because rock music is better than the stupid stuff on the radio now.” However, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, how do we define the differences between rock and the subgenres it spawned, like alternative rock?

There seems to be, in my experience, a lot of disdain for “mainstream” music. In a lot of ways, I feel ashamed that I like a lot of it. It seems as though people take issue with how successful many artists who get radio play are, as opposed to lesser-known artists. However, it comes off as a value-based judgement rather than an appreciation for the music. In my experience, people viewed themselves as better, or more cultured than the average listener, if they had knowledge of lesser-known artists because they needed to work harder to find the music. I have also heard  people say they are “real” fans because they knew the artist before they became popular either on the radio or on streaming services — I’ve even been guilty of this myself. I realized that putting down popular artists wasn’t a fair way to assess whether or not I liked a specific song.

When I think about the artists that I like, compared to the genres I don’t like, I find myself wondering if I believe the labels as much as I thought I did. For example, I always talk about how much I dislike rap and hip hop, yet I enjoy many songs by Dax and a few by Cardi B. For a while, I was adamant that I didn’t like the music because I shouldn’t like it. I was focused on my decision that I didn’t like this music genre, so I wrote off the music without giving it a fair chance. While I enjoy both Dax and Cardi B’s music their music doesn’t sound remotely the same despite them both being rap/hip-hop artists.

My interest in this topic was sparked while I was watching a YouTube video about two people discussing Semler, a Christian artist and the creation of their album Preacher’s Kid. While the YouTubers share many views that I disagree with and find harmful to members of the LGBTQ+ community, or those who are not Christians, their discussion here was based on music genres. Christian music cannot contain swear words per Distrokid regulations, a site that is used to upload music to platforms like iTunes and Spotify, and Semler has swear words in their songs, yet still classified their  music as Christian.

This got me thinking about the way music genres work, and if their rules could and should be bent. As much as I wanted to be in support of artistic freedom and rule breaking with the music, I find myself being on the side of the genre in this instance. I found myself wondering if there is a rule on what rules can be broken. It brought attention to just how debatable music and the classification method can be. For example, Justin Bieber was not pleased with the Grammy award category that his album Changes was nominated for. He was expecting his album to be nominated in the R&B category, as he felt that he put out an album in that genre. Yet, Changes was nominated for Pop Vocal Album of the Year.

Music genres and classifications are still necessary to a degree. It makes sense to have a system of categorization because it can create a good stepping stone for understanding music and the tropes that come with a respective category. In order to break the rules, you also need to know them, and genres provide just that.

However, there is too much focus on genres.  When Taylor Swift released 1989, some fans were disappointed that she had mostly converted from country music to pop music. There was also a lot of talk about how Mumford & Sons sold out because some of their songs didn’t have the same folk feel as they once did. When genres become the source of the issue, the rigidity they cause ends up being the focus and the actual music is cast to the side.


Graphic by Julie Rose Gauthier

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPIN: Ashton Irwin – Superbloom

Ashton Irwin shares some of his biggest life struggles in his debut solo album

After not hearing Ashton Irwin’s voice in a solo setting since his falsetto in “If Walls Could Talk” in 2018, he released his debut solo album Superbloom on Oct. 23.

With Irwin being the drummer for 5 Seconds of Summer, his voice was never truly put forward in 5SOS songs. In contrast, Calum Hood, the bassist, had a solo song in the group’s latest album CALM, “Wildflower,” as well as in Youngblood, “Babylon,” which was a bonus track on the album’s deluxe edition. Yet, Irwin is the first of the pop-rock band to pursue a solo career.

After announcing he had been focusing on his solo career in September, Irwin released his 10-track album exactly a month later. Instead of being in Luke Hemming’s (5SOS’s lead singer) and Hood’s shadow, Irwin is now at the forefront of the album. There are zero collaborations in this album, which could have been done on purpose to emphasize the “solo” part of the next step Irwin is taking in his career. Regardless, it also highlights how intimate this project felt to him.

Naturally, the drums on this album shine, given that Irwin mains on the kit in 5SOS. The electric guitar is also prevalent. Both these instruments particularly stand out in heavier and more uptempo moments, as heard in “SCAR” and “Greyhound.”

There are slower and calmer songs as well, such as “Skinny Skinny,” in which we can truly hear the vulnerability in Irwin’s voice. This makes sense as it’s about body dysmorphia, one of the many personal struggles he shares in Superbloom.

We can also hear violin in some gentler songs, for example, in “Sunshine.” This track envelops us with its warmth, making us smile and want to see the sunshine Irwin is talking about (“See the sunshine / Just like the first time / Not just today / Not just tomorrow / But now ‘till / Forever and ever”).

In most songs, Irwin builds up the tempo, leading to an instrumental (or instrumental-dominated) passage then slows it down. This allows us to truly process and think about what Irwin is saying, while enjoying louder instrumental passages. After which he brings us back to a slower pace, making us leave his alluring world and come back to our own reality.

The young drummer turned alternative singer-songwriter did an amazing job at delivering many strong messages related to some personal problems he struggled with over the past few years.

In the interlude “Matter Of Time,” Irwin discusses his battle with alcoholism (“Darkness shows up / Don’t you let it grow / The light will shine in / Then your heart will know”). He also talks about overcoming depression in “The Sweetness” where he flawlessly opposes the two main emotions he felt: total darkness and indestructible hope. (“When the darkness creeps into / Your basement / When the darkness / Takes it all away again”) as opposed to (“When the sweetness / Seeps into your bloodstream / When the sweetness / Makes you love your life again”).

This album is all about perfect balance. Irwin contrasts opposites, almost to validate that feeling bad is as normal as feeling good. He combines light and darkness, joy and sadness, fantasy and reality, offering us all the possibilities.

Stepping into multiple roles for the first time, Irwin clearly put a lot into the creation of Superbloom. As singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he worked on the details to make sure he was sharing his story the way he wanted to while hoping to help others who are facing similar problems.

Rating: 10/10

Trial track: “Have U Found What Ur Looking For?”


Pop princesses play-off on the charts

Katy Perry. Photo from Flickr.

There’s a war underway in Hollywood.

If you pay any attention to the pop music scene, you probably already know that Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are all releasing highly-anticipated albums over the next few months. This has caused passionate fans on sites like Twitter and Tumblr to start pitting the artists against each other.

But it’s not a competition…or is it? Britney and Gaga have been out of the music scene recently. Their last albums, Femme Fatale and Born This Way, respectively, came out in 2011. Katy, on the other hand, has had the pressure of following up her double platinum-selling album Teenage Dream, which spawned five Billboard Hot 100 number one singles since its release in 2010.

It’s difficult to predict who will come out on top. If the success of the lead singles and the early reviews are any indication of how the albums will sell, Katy’s album Prism will prevail.

The lead single “Roar” skyrocketed to the top of the iTunes charts after its release and went on to become her eighth Billboard Hot 100 number one single. Gaga’s “Applause” and Britney’s “Work Bitch,” on the other hand, both struggled to reach the top of the charts.

“Roar” doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but its empowering and catchy lyrics have made it an instant hit. However, the various promotional singles and song previews from Prism show that Katy’s experimenting with a new sound. Critics and fans alike have been praising the gritty trap beats used in “Dark Horse.” Meanwhile, “Walking On Air” is a ‘90s-inspired electronic dance track that is sure to be blowing up speakers in clubs around the world.

Nonetheless, we shouldn’t rule out Britney. Though she has not given fans much insight, this album is reportedly her most personal one yet. The lead single “Work Bitch” is a club-smasher that sounds unlike anything she’s ever released. She’s working with singer-songwriter Sia Furler on a song that is “both beautiful and heartbreaking” and “evokes SO much emotion,” she said on Twitter in August. She’s brought several other new songwriters into the mix, including Emeli Sandé and Charli XCX. If that’s any indication of how her album will sound, we should prepare ourselves for a diverse and unique assortment of songs.

Lady Gaga’s Pokerface

Gaga’s new music, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. At the iTunes Festival in September, she premiered seven new songs from her album ARTPOP, including “Swine,” “Aura,” and “Manicure.” The songs show growth as an artist for Gaga, featuring a mix of genres ranging from hip-hop to electronic. However, they simply don’t have the instant impact that past hits like “Just Dance” and “Telephone” boasted.

The real competition seems to be between Katy and Britney. However, Gaga’s passionate Little Monsters will definitely put up a good fight to get her to number one.

This may be one of the biggest pop music showdowns in years. Not since Christina Aguilera and Britney’s rivalry back in the early 2000s has there been such competition for the top of the pop charts amongst female artists.

Prism is due out on Oct. 22,  ARTPOP on Nov.11 and Britney’s currently unnamed album is out Dec. 3.

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