I think one of the questions I dislike the most is when I am asked “What is your favorite type of music?” While most people think this is a surface level question, it got me thinking, what kind of music DO I really like? I didn’t want to just say I just loved R&B, because I also really love listening to Pop and Electronic music, but then again, I’m constantly listening to Rap as well… So, I found myself answering the question with an answer that I feel as though most people respond with: “a little bit of everything.”
You may have heard this phrase thrown around in the past couple of years, or maybe you haven’t, and that phrase is Genre-Bending. What is Genre-Bending, you might ask? Let me break it down for you. Genre-bending pretty much sounds like its name: it is the process of blending two or more different music genres, allowing for artists to step outside the traditional box of singular genres. What we used to classify as solely rap can now be a combination of rap, pop, and rock. What used to be considered strictly country can now be country, pop, and rap. The combinations are endless and the list goes on.
Think back about 10 years ago. Artists were categorized into restrictive boxes, where their music was simply reflective of the genre they participated in. Rappers were rappers, and pop artists were pop artists. The concept of genre-bending was not explored, and instead, artists were criticized for stepping outside of what their listeners were used to. One of the most prime examples of an artist breaking away from her traditional genre was Taylor Swift. Taylor was labeled at the start of her career as a classic country sweetheart. She solely put out country albums and songs, scoring her first Billboard No. 1 at 16 years old with “Our Song.” After releasing 2 more country albums, she then released her album RED in 2012. While I’m sure Taylor was ecstatic about being able to explore a different side of music, she was met with extreme criticism for the transition in her career. She was ridiculed for this change in her career, as listeners were far more comfortable if she had just kept with country songs.
Now, in 2020, I bet that no one even really thinks too long and hard about sonic consistencies; rather, we look for consistency in artists’ performance, passion, and artistic integrity. Showing respect for your work and putting out genuinely good music that people want to listen to is what has become commendable. There are no longer such strong barriers surrounding music genres. The idea that artists have to fit into one genre has completely flown out the window, but I doubt many people have noticed this transformation in music; not because we aren’t paying attention, but because we have evolved into accepting that good music is good music, no matter the genre.
A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean have individually been genre-bending throughout the course of their careers. Each of these artists uses a unique form of genre-bending in their music, from songwriting to producing. A$AP Rocky is one of my all-time favorite rappers. Though labeled as a rapper, he defies borders confined to the genre. His music never fails to appease my music cravings. Some of my favorite songs of his are ‘Sundress’, ‘Fashion Killa’ ‘L$D’, ‘Everyday’, and ‘Ghetto Symphony.’ However, each song is extremely unique and exhibits genre-bending. While ‘Ghetto Symphony’ and ‘Everyday’ incorporate more typical Rap sounds, they also include a ton of sampling from other Soul, Rock, R&B, and Disco/Electronic songs. ‘Fashion Killa’ ‘Sundress’ and ‘L$D’ incorporate a mix of Rap, Psychedelic beats, R&B as well as samples from other songs. The heartbeat of these songs is intensified and brought to life by the diverse nature of genre-bending. I would never simply categorize A$AP as a rapper, as he is clearly more than that.
Similarly, the overly talented singer, songwriter, and producer, Frank Ocean, defies R&B labels and produces music that’s almost impossible to place into one singular genre. Sonically, Frank Ocean produces absolutely brilliant music. What is so special and unique about his music is that it not only explores the realms beyond typical song structure but also challenges even the technical aspects of songwriting and producing. I would not classify Ocean as an R&B artist, as I believe he goes way beyond that. Some of my favorite songs of his are ‘Nights,’ ‘Lost,’ ‘White Ferrari,’ ‘Ivy,’ and ‘Super Rich Kids.’ Ocean is a mixture of contemporary and alternative R&B, Soul, Pop, Electronic, and even a little Rock. While the collaboration of so many sounds and samples may seem overwhelming, Ocean’s music is sonically cohesive and tells his personal story, which is why he has become one of the most notable artists of our time.
Another artist who does not fit into one singular genre right off the bat is Lil NAS X. Rap, Country, and Pop connoisseur, Lil NAS completely broke the barrier between the genres with his first single, ‘Old Town Road’. From Fraternity houses to The Grammy stage, it was the song that would not leave the billboard charts– not just the charts, but the number one spot. Despite it being a sound that no one had ever really quite heard before, and its initial backlash from the more conservative country community, this song encompasses everything that genre-bending is. Within the first 15 seconds, you’d think you were listening to a bango-esque, traditional country song, but right after that, you’ll hear the country song evolve into a bass-heavy, hip-hop rooted rap bop. Rap and country music are placed on opposite sides of the music spectrum by many. If I were to tell you that rap and country worked perfectly together in a song, some people would laugh in my face. However, Lil NAS X proves that there is no limit to creative songwriting, and constraints should not exist when it comes to creativity and imagination. By incorporating both of these genres into this song, Lil NAS has defined and reinvented a new appreciation for music that goes against the traditional grain. Lil NAS X proves that with the right hook, production track, and beat, the genre does not matter. A number one hit is a number one hit.
Another artist who does not stick to the normal barriers surrounding genres is Kacey Musgraves. This Texas native has completely reshaped the norm of country music by genre-bending country, pop, and disco/psychedelic music. The ethereal sound in her music, mixed in with her country vocals creates an original sound experience for her listeners. Her music is unlike anything I have ever heard before. Her song, ‘High Horse’ challenges the limitations of singular genres. With heavy pop production, a blaring disco beat, and classic country songwriting, Kacey Musgraves creates an unconventional yet wildly popular genre-bending song. Musgraves, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, shared that “These days I only see music really as falling into two genres, good or bad.” This rings true of her music. By taking a risk in her creative freedom, she seemingly liberated a previously confined genre: country.
The more I learn about genre-bending and musical roots, the more I see lines being blurred in the music industry. I’ve realized that the music consumer cares most about the quality of a song and not necessarily the genre it fits into. Because the power music holds is such an indispensable and important part of our world and how we understand it, it’s crucial to break down the musical barriers the industry created so artists can do what they do best: create art. I also feel as though there is a lot to learn from this, as it truly reflects on how we as members of society should never feel confined to a singular box. Instead, we should encourage ourselves and others to step outside of society’s figurative boxes and allow ourselves the freedom to discover who we want to become.
Cover Photo: A$AP Rocky via Facebook