Musical Genre Is A Lie Created To Divide Us

Genre terms like ‘Baroque’, ‘jazz’, ‘rock’, or ‘Nintendocore’ are musically meaningless. Very often they are just code-words for the original genres: ‘art’ music and ‘folk’ music, which in turn describe only class distinctions and don’t say anything about music. Genre words are just pseudo-reasons for people to close their ears: “Rock is trash”, “Classical is just about old white guys”, “Hip-hop is noise.” Musicians must never close their ears, and I see no reason for music lovers to do so either. (Sturgeon’s Law, and the confusing self-marginalization of ‘classical’ music, don’t help matters of course. But we can persevere through all that.)

Does ‘popular’ mean ‘trivial’? If so, why does the music of Gershwin and the Beatles endure? Why do jazz musicians — themselves players of an only-recently conservatory-ized music — study and cover Radiohead? Why did Bartók draw inspiration from folk music? Does ‘non-trivial’ music require that its makers disconnect themselves from any audience? Clearly, ‘art’ vs. ‘folk’ is a false dichotomy, but unwarranted pride and shame persist, to nobody’s benefit.

Instead, players and listeners are better served by attention to the fundamentals: rhythm, melody, and harmony; then texture; then dynamics, articulation, and timbre. These terms suffice to describe music; more importantly, they strip away false boundaries and distinctions — and they strip away the ability to use fashion as a crutch. Things like the social class of the audience and the appearance of the performers are mere epiphenomena; only the music itself will last.