Since forever, entertainment -- and your relationship with it -- has been defined by genres. Your Spotify library is separated by labels and your On Demand selection is defined by archetypes. A common first date question is what kind of music you like, and not having a straight answer is kind of weird to us.
But this is 2019 -- we’re no longer putting things in boxes! You can basically make up your own career path, gender and sexuality is more fluid than ever and who can even define fashion trends anymore? The general population is getting more comfortable with dabbling in lots of different things and avoiding any kind of restrictive label, and it sounds like musicians are feeling the same.
I’ll credit Taylor Swift a little bit here for making a huge shift in her musical career when it was still kind of strange to do so. Swift was strictly country, having moved to Nashville specifically to pursue the genre. But she was a teenager when she started out, and now as she approaches her 30s, you can’t deny that she’s as pop-y as pop gets. Miley Cyrus, too, released sugary-sweet pop girl jams post-“Hannah Montana,” added some EDM with “Bangerz,” did a weird thing with her Dead Petz phase and moved on to some smooth country-pop with “Younger Now.” From her recent EP, we gather that her upcoming “She Is Miley Cyrus” will change sounds yet again to a more alternative vibe.
Obviously, these two artists’ works are instances of growing older and trying out new sounds as they went, which is to be expected. More than a genre shift, though, I’d argue that some newer artists are forgoing the labels altogether, my best example being Lizzo.
Is she a hip-hop rapper? Yes. Is she pop? Sure. R&B, definitely, and then there’s the tinge of classical she throws in there by playing a flute. Lizzo’s a self-proclaimed genre-killer, and it’s working for her! Her “Cuz I Love You” album is killing the game, charts-wise, and her following has absolutely exploded. While the Swift and Cyrus fans of the world can complain about not liking each artist anymore for being “wishy-washy,” no one can discredit where Lizzo’s sound started, is going or will go.
Then there was the whole “Old Town Road” fiasco. You may be tempted to put Lil Nas X in the “hip-hop” box, and his first EP, “7,” surely maintains a hip-hop sound throughout, but he made sure he was going to be labeled the way he wanted. The song first circulated around the TikTop app, but when “Old Town Road” began climbing the charts (it was simultaneously placing high on the Hot Country Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts), Billboard pulled it from Hot Country, citing that the “references to country and cowboy imagery [did] not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”
Lil Nas X came back with an “Old Town Road” remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. Apparently the “Achy Breaky Heart” singer, as washed up as he is, was enough to make the world check itself, as the song broke a streaming record previously held by Drake and now Lil Nas X is a household name. That, and I dare you to define what genre “F9mily,” one of the songs on his EP, fits into.
Even someone like Niall Horan, a former One Directioner, a pop boy band veteran, is experiencing a sense of freedom to make whatever music speaks to him without any kind of genre restraint. His first album post-1D was fine, but it was almost an impersonal type of music that he was expected to put out -- cute and sweet, but not much substance and with a sound eerily similar to the band’s. Whatever’s coming next, though, sounds like it’ll be brand new.
One thing's for sure: Change is a'coming, and it's all going to be so good.