The Different Faces Of Music
Examining the many different sub-genres of music
Art that Appeals to the Masses
Music is one of the few forms of art that most people actually care about. While it usually takes a special kind of person to appreciate a good painting, sculpture or ancient mosaic, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like music. Part of the appeal of music is the vast array of genres that comprise it. All of these genres have their own unique quirks and themes, which in turn attract different groups of people. Everyone has their favorite song, sound, band and album. Musical choice can be influenced by a multitude of different things, including mood, emotions, events in one’s life or just spontaneously. Many people don’t pigeon hole themselves into one genre of music either. Although there are some people who follow the “everything I don’t listen to is shit” philosophy, most people may like different genres like Rap, Rock and Country music all the same. Music is incredibly versatile, and this versatility allows it to maintain it’s mass appeal.
A musical “genre” can be defined by it’s “sound”. Different genres have different beats and characteristics associated with them. Rap often has a tangible “beat” to it that the rapper raps to while rock and metal tend to place an emphasis on a guitar melody and creating a “wall of sound”. The unique characteristics comprise what Linguist James Gee would call a “Discourse”. A Discourse is basically a set of actions that define who you are and what you belong to. In the case of music, a band’s sound, and therefore genre, would be considered it’s “Discourse”.
Rock music is one of the most popular genres of all time, although its popularity has faded in recent years in favor of rap and pop groups. Rock bands consist of the following members: A guitarist, bassist, singer and a drummer. Rock music was extremely popular from the 1960's to early 2000's with several big name bands such as The Who, Def Leppard, Steppenwolf, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones. Other groups popular throughout the 90's and early 2000's included bands like The Offspring, Nickelback, Creed, Nine Inch Nails and Blink 182. As rock music progressed, it developed a more “angsty” sound. This lead to a slightly angrier sound than in past years and led to the development of different sub genres within rock such as Grunge and Metal.
Grunge music is defined by it’s angsty themes and darker undertones. This genre was extremely popular throughout the 1990's with the “Big 4” consisting of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Nearly everyone over the age of 12 has heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” yet many don’t realize that the song will be 24 years old in 2015. Grunge as a genre is not very popular anymore, with no real new bands worth noting. This particular genre capitalized on the angst and anger of a generation of youth that simply isn’t as prevalent anymore, leading to its decreased popularity.
Possibly the most misunderstood genre of music of all time, metal has either been extremely popular or basically blacklisted. Bands like Metallica, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi and Black Sabbath made metal one of the most popular genres in the country during the 70's and 80's. It has always been a controversial genre; with accusations of promoting satanism, sexual themes and more recently even motivating murderers. There was even a group led by Al Gore’s wife “Tipper” known as the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) that advocated completely banning the genre from US airways. Many of the groups concerns were leveled at songs by metal artists such as W.A.S.P and Motley Crue which they found to be particularly objectionable and offensive. Metal is the reason why when you go to buy a CD or an album on iTunes or in a store that contains obscene language it has that “explicit” tag attached to it. Metal sounds similar to rock but often contains more distortion in the guitars as well as an additional band member, most often a rhythm guitarist. This gives Metal bands a “heavy” sound which combined with shouted and sometimes growled vocals gives the genre an “angry” feel.
Rap music is one of the most popular and controversial music genres of the past decade. Early rappers included artists like LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, Everlast, Tupac Shakur, Puffy Combs (or P Diddy or whatever he’s calling himself now) and the Notorious B.I.G. The best selling artist of the past decade was rapper Eminem and the genre itself has never been bigger. Rap is often spoken lyricized verses that are dubbed over a tangible beat which makes up the foundation of the song. Rap much like rock has many sub-genres associated with it. Back in the 90's and early 2000's, the two subgenres were “West Coast” and “East Coast Rap”
West Coast rap was characterized by it’s more complicated “g-funk” beats and was generally a more laid back sound than East Coast rap. This genre was popularized by Tupac Shakur, N.W.A (look it up if you don’t know what it stands for), Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. It shared many of its themes with East Coast rap, notably hood life and gang activity, but with an emphasis on the potential rewards from said lifestyle. Songs were often about making money and achieving fortune off the exploits of hood life.
East Coast rap had a simpler beat than west coast rap and often focused on the harder elements of hood life. Notably, murder, fear and poverty. It was often thought of as “gruffer” and “grittier” than West Coast rap and often sacrificed a complex beat for more lyricism. Notable artists included Notorious B.I.G, DMX, Nas, Jay Z and LL Cool J.
Pop music is a very complex and broad category of music. It generally encompasses lighter themed music about partying with a large emphasis on radio airtime, a catchy beat and is often used as club music. The whole concept is to create a sort of “feel good” and “happy” mood to the listener. Lyrics are usually lack luster to borderline crap (“Turn Down for What” and “Gas Pedal” come immediately to mind. Don’t even try and argue) and the music is mainly synthesized and artificial rather than made on conventional instruments. Autotune is also commonly used. Pop artists include the likes of Micheal Jackson, Maddona, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha and Katy Perry along with many others.
Country music is the final popular category of music present in the US. It is a southern themed genre which often contains aspects of southern culture. There are songs about family life, trucks, NASCAR, tractors (Kenny Chesney… I swear I’m not stereotyping) and topics such as romance. The music is played on acoustic guitars and is generally slow and calm sounding. Country music often tells a story and its this story that the song places emphasis on. Lyrics are front and center with the music being simpler and less complex as to not distract from the songs message. Popular country artists include Johnny Cash, Harry Chapin, Tim McGraw, Cheryl Crow, Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney.
Only Scratching the Surface
The genres listed in this article make up only a small fraction of everything music has to offer. There are countless other genres and sub genres all waiting to be explored and discovered. Chances are that while reading this article you liked more than one song that was posted. This is because music appeals to everyone. Every genre has something to offer and you never know what emotions a song from a different genre of music will bring out in you. I chose the songs for this article because I liked them. Each song here is a song I enjoy and as I’m sure is apparent, it covers a wide variety of vastly different genres. So don’t be afraid to explore a bit. Listen to whatever you like, not just whats popular. Don’t limit yourself, because music is the art of the masses which means it has more to offer an individual than any other form of entertainment out there.