Genres are difficult species to define. It seems as though tenuously related artists are thrown in a room together through one word or convention that barely defines them. A song with a single man strumming on his guitar and singing about a broken heart could be considered a country song to one person and a folk song to another. If you put together fast drums, a lead electric guitar, rhythm guitar and a driving bass listeners get something that can be called rock, alternative or metal.
Despite being vague, genres are the road maps modern music fans choose to follow.
At their worst they provide formulas so that marketing types can mine for hollow music that expresses nothing. At their best they represent short hand for listeners and artists to explore, evolve and pick some truth out of. Problems arise when the former overshadows the latter.
The result creates a skewed version of a genre that turns listeners off. The response, “I like all types of music except country,” is all too common, but understandable. Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood are some of the most prominent faces of country music. They are popular country: boring high-production value music engineered to appeal to the widest demographic possible.
Kings of Leon, Drive-by-Truckers, Nickle Creek and Johnny Cash are much closer to the genre’s folk roots. Their songs are affecting, complex and unique, but they share qualities with pop country. It’s a shame for someone to outright dismiss them because of that. Similarly, it’s a shame when a person ignores hip-hop because all they’ve heard is rappers feeding their ego or brain dead party filler. The former penitentiary guard Rick Ross is a great example of someone blatantly trying to ride the gangster formula to commercial success. The Far East Movement’s ‘Like a G6’ earns the dubious honor of worst party filler for trying to introduce “slizzard” into our cultural vernacular.
For every dishonest hip-hop gangster though there’s an artist like Kanye West who will dissect his celebrity hubris with brutal honesty, or the group Outkast who perform modern day poetry with a studio.
Bad music has no home; there’s brain-dead crap in all genres.
The raw stupidity of Too Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” has been responsible for more than its fair share of people fleeing from the nearest spoken word. “Acky Breaky Heart” had the same leveling effect for country music with its use of hillbilly tropes. Mullets still have not recovered from the shame corn-ball Billy Ray Cyrus put upon them.Those two songs are not bad because of their type; they are bad because they don’t rise above stereotypes or formula to communicate something interesting.
Genres are formed from a multitude of individuals and groups who make more than one note songs about a sad empty beer, a broke-down truck and the women they can’t seem to keep around. Rap, alternative, classical, blues, dance, electronic, easy listening, jazz, j-pop, reggae, rock or any of the other genres are not religions with their own unbreakable rules.
Perhaps, the best way to get someone past what they think a genre is would be trick them into listening. If they like country music and dislike rap, or vice versa, turn on the Gourds’ bluegrass cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” let them enjoy it, and then quickly play the original. Finally, show them this photo of Willie Nelson smoking out Snoop Dog and watch the hater’s head explode after they realize Snoop and Willie are the same person.
Once they recover, their genre notions will have fallen down dead, and they will thank you with a tear in their eye for their new found musical freedom. Actually, that’s far-fetched. People will be dismissive of genres as long as they are used to make commercial crap. However, next time someone says, “What type of music do you like?” Respond with, “I listen to everything, except for bad music.”