Shuffle or nah?

I’ve been working on a very special and time-consuming project: cleaning up and organizing my iTunes library. Somewhere in the process from getting my older music onto a new computer, some information was lost or mixed up. It’s been a task to make sure every song has a name, an artist, an album, and a genre attached to it, but I’m almost there (up to the letter “T” in artists)! Also, shouts to Shazam for helping me identify some of this information — you the real MVP!

While going through my music, I come across a lot of old jams, nostalgia, emotions, laughs, and concerns for my music tastes. In this time, I also took some thought into how I wanted to go about categorizing genres. Let me tell you, there are a lot of genres out there and I don’t have the time or knowledge for that. I figured it’d be easier to stick to a few main categories (i.e. R&B, Hip Hop, Reggae, Pop, etc.) so I can filter through easily when I want to listen to a certain kind of music. In doing so, I realized this may be a good and bad thing.

One of my favorite podcasts, Another Round, did this episode with Lianne La Havas, and in it, she is asked about how she would categorize herself genre-wise and she says, that she prefers not to categorize it because music has many characteristics that its hard to define. She recommends people thinking about how they feel and what they hear to categorize it and uses the example of describing her music as “melodic.” You can hear the full conversation here.

Granted, I’m already about 3/4ths of the way down on my iTunes list before I thought about this, but it’s something I’ll bring to my playlists which will be another music project in itself. Nonetheless, Lianne La Havas’ thoughts and my efforts to categorize my iTunes library simply for ease connects to a different, yet relevant experience we have as music listeners when we come across new music and artists.

Around the time of Adele’s new album release, I saw an article retweeted by a friend that was headlined on Twitter as “Why Adele is today’s Whitney Houston” and I read it because #clickbait, but also to see what words someone would choose to compare Adele to the vocal goddess that is Whitney Houston. Now, I’d first like to note that Whitney Houston’s name is only mentioned in one sentence in this whole article, but once again, #clickbait. Regardless of this, it had me thinking more about how easy it is for us to say “He/She/Ze’s the new *insert celebrity here*” or “You look like *insert other celebrity here*” because comparing something new to prior knowledge helps us make sense of it and gives us the language to describe it.

It’s easier to say Adele is the new Whitney Houston because that gives us a mental sigh of relief so we don’t have to put in the efforts to understand Adele as Adele. Yes, I could probably put Adele in a playlist called “Saaanggg” along with Whitney, Mariah, Jennifer Hudson, Jessie J, etc., but to be honest, I’m actually not as in love with Adele as most people are (I know *GASP*, but maybe I just have to listen to more of her music — I know she poppin tho). It’s okay to say Adele’s voice is Whitney-esque, but to claim Adele as the new Whitney does not give enough credit (1) to Adele to be the artist she is and can be, (2) to Whitney to maintain her untouchable legacy of the artist she was, and (3) to us as music listeners to recognize the individuality of an artist.

In another post, I mentioned two ways of understanding the world which were (1) by either comparing it to something we already know or (2) by understanding it as its own entity. Both approaches have their rightful place and when it comes to music, it is okay to use both. It’s impossible to not compare one artist to another because it’s likely that that artist had been influenced by the other. And you may need to use a music genre if you are describing that particular artist to someone who has not heard of the artist before. However, it’s also not impossible to think beyond one genre or similar artist and challenge yourself to understand the artist and their music in a way that you have not before. Maybe, it’s not about having the language to describe the artist and their music, but about acknowledging and appreciating the emotion you experience from it.

By the time I’m done organizing my iTunes library, I’ll probably be satisfied at its orderliness and feel comforted by knowing I can simply search “Dancehall” when I want to illuminate my Caribbean roots. And I’ll probably still shuffle my whole iTunes library knowing darn well that Ignition does not make a smooth transition into Falling In Love With Jesus (but if the BET Awards can do it, my iTunes sure can). There’s a time when you want to just listen to your “Saaanggg” playlist because you know Whitney Houston, Jessie J, Jazmine Sullivan, and Adele are going to have you thinking you can heal the world with one high note. There’s also a time when you want to listen to only Chance the Rapper on repeat because want to hear a sound unlike anything else you’ve ever heard.

Music is powerful and the way we understand, describe, and categorize music can be too. It’s important that artists continue to be influenced by the past while creating for the future and it’s our responsibility as music listeners to recognize and respect that — whether we shuffle or nah.

– Renée

#NP: Alessia Cara — Here // video / lyrics

Originally published on November 22nd, 2015 somewhere else, but slightly updated