A Genre Rant!

Several weeks ago, my fellow blogger and I were casually listening to some tunes with a couple of quiets when that Sade track “Smooth Operator” came on. In response, he turned to me and said something along the lines of ah…good old sophisti-pop. I was like what, what’s that? Apparently, sophisti-pop was a genre label given to the music made by artists like Sade, The Style Council, and Simply Red during the 1980s and into the 1990s. My initial response was one of ridicule and bemusement at how someone could come up with such a silly name for a style of music, but then it got me thinking in general about music genre labels and how ridiculous many of them can be. These days the amount of genre labels given to artists seems to have grown to such an extent that they now number in the hundreds, but many of them are just so stupid, if not meaningless.Genre labels for my mind are either terms invented by fans to distinguish their favorite artist or group of artists from others or are marketing labels imposed on different types of artists by music industry people so they can group them into specific niche boxes in order for them to be more marketable. Now I can appreciate this, and yes many artists do fit nicely into specific niche genres or styles as I prefer to group music by, but when you here acts being labeled by such stupid terms as sophisti-pop you then start to wonder what does this actually mean? Does it mean sophisticated, what is sophisticated about it and how is being sophisticated related to the music in any way?

What about those artists that have several genre labels given to them, as if it wasn’t already confusing enough. Does this mean they play all these styles of music, or is it that people cannot work out what style or genre they actually fit into so what they do instead is simply cover their bases and label them as being all the genres they sound like. Many of The Beatles albums encompassed several different styles on one album alone, but does that mean The Beatles should be given ten genre labels when all their doing is experimenting with different sounds and styles in a game where there are no rules.

Then there’s the good old sub-genre, including the endless amount of genres within a genre. A classic example of this is the number of sub-genres that exist within metal such as death metal, black metal, nu metal, thrash metal, glam metal…the list goes on. Isn’t it all just metal but played slightly? And why in fact does every slightly different way of playing metal have to have its own sub-genre label? What about the neo genres that have become fashionable in recent years, everything within music seems to be neo these days neo-psychedelia, neo-soul, neo-prog. Aren’t these just styles that have long been with us and continue to be played? Why should adding neo to soul or prog distinguish a more modern variant of a long-established style of music, especially as the people playing these types of musical styles you would think would have been influenced in some way by the original practitioners from the 1950s, 60s, or 70s?

At the end of the day, music is music, there are no rules or boundaries as to what you can do, and experimentation should be encouraged within specific styles or genres without the need for ten new genre labels being invented to account for this. If musicians want to combine elements of different types of music into their own, so what, it shouldn’t mean a new sub-genre is developed every time this happens, or that that artist should be given half a dozen genre labels. Musicians should not have to be boxed into certain categories or have weird labels like sophisti-pop imposed on them, especially when the making of music and the creative process itself is not about distinguishing this from that, it’s about what sounds good and what you can create with all the tools and knowledge at your disposal. So in concluding this rant against genres, I say forget about labels such as sophisti-pop, blue-eyed soul, neo-this and nu-that as those terms are not about music to me and shouldn’t have to separate a variant within a style of music from the overall style itself.

– Sam

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