Are Musical Genres Obsolete?

Musical genres are now obsolete. They don’t matter anymore. Genres like hip-hop, rap, alternative, rock, country, et cetera are trivial.

Part of why I think this is the case is because I spend a significant amount of time with kids. I go to high schools and middle schools where I talk to the students. There really aren’t hip-hop kids or metal kids or anything like that anymore. Kids probably listen to a wider variety of music than in the preceding two generations.

I see the same pattern in adult music fans. A lot of people say they listen to everything. They aren’t being completely sincere or accurate when they say this because there’s always some blindspot. They might listen to everything but country. Or everything but funk and soul. Or hip-hop, rock, and country, but not classical.

I blame Steve Jobs. (Actually, I considered calling this post “How Steve Jobs Killed Rock and Roll” but decided it was too sensationalized.) Think about your iPod. Your iPod has absolutely no problem playing Wu-Tang Clan, followed by Katy Perry, followed by Carlos Santana. It doesn’t have to switch discs or tune the dial to different stations. In fact, many people, myself included, hit “shuffle” just so they can have a more eclectic playlist of tracks.

Also, consider how we buy music today, assuming one actually buys music, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You go to iTunes or the Amazon store. You don’t browse shelves of “pop” or “hip-hop.” You type in the song name, or the artist name, or the album name or some such thing, and the site spits out matches. Since you’re not usually browsing by genre, you’re more free to pick a more varied selection.

This is very different from the music world of the 1980s and 1990s. This is a bit of a stretch, but I feel like choosing music then sort of meant buying into a philosophy. If you liked rap, that philosophy said that the police are oppressive killers and guns are tools for running the streets. If you liked country, that philosophy was something like the South should have won the  Civil War and beer is freedom-juice.

To give you some idea of where we are now, I want to describe an intriguing commercial. There’s a spot for Diet Coke where you see a young black man in his car singing along to Taylor Swift’s song “Twenty-Two.” Now this is not just to say that black men are listening to country. Yes that’s a little surprising but that’s not the weird part. The weird part is that the commercial portrays this as if it’s not weird. It’s totally straight as if it’s the most plain thing in the world. It doesn’t make fun of the guy. It doesn’t portray him as weird. In fact, if you aren’t paying attention you wouldn’t notice anything at all. See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0KmvWL6Dfw

So while there’s no good reason to believe that Video Killed the Radio Star, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Steve Jobs killed Rock and Roll. And just in time.

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