Is the concept of musical genres dying? Maybe.

Humans naturally try to bring order to the world by putting things into neat little piles. Take music, for example. As of the end of last year, Spotify has divided its music universe into 2,424 different genres. If you want to see a visual representation of that, check out the map at Every Noise at Once.

Radio works the same way. Stations will adopt a format, which promises the listener a certain style of music every time they tune in, be it rock (and it’s sub-flavors), pop, country, hip-hop, oldies, news/talk, and so on.

Such categorization/organization of music has served us well for generations. Now, though, Gen Z is looking to break down the idea of genre entirely.

In the old days, as anyone who came of age musically in the 70s and 80s, the music community was extremely tribal. Take, for example, the tensions between alt-rock kids and mainstream rock fans. If you were on House Alt-Rock, dogma demanded that you could not like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, or any of the old guard. Meanwhile, members of House Mainstream Rock ridiculed the weirdos across the aisle for their tastes in music and clothes.

There was very little shuttle diplomacy between these two tribes. If you tried to defect from one side to another, you were met with suspicion and often refused entry. Returning to your original tribe with your tail between your legs, you risked being shunned and exiled. It was pretty brutal.

Today, though, these barriers are all but gone. Technology–specifically streaming–has flattened the musical universe. Gen Z, which has never known a world before an always-on internet connection, is free to roam the universe of music on their own. Their tastes are fluid, ecumenical, and often vastly more complicated than things were in the old tribal days. And because this generation is open to musical influences from all directions and all eras, the music that they’re making is…different.

This is from I-D.

“Now, however, younger Gen Z artists are foregoing traditional genre categorisations altogether. But why?

“It’s impossible to discuss this new, hybridised sound without also discussing the stratospheric rise of streaming services, which has completely transformed how we consume music. On platforms like Spotify we’re now longer beholden to specific albums or specific genres; we pick and choose our favourite songs to add to playlists instead. And importantly, those playlists are diverse. According to a report last year conducted by Sweety High, a Gen Z girls media company, almost 97% of Gen Z women listen to “at least five musical genres on a regular basis.” Clearly musical tastes are becoming more varied, which also impacts music-making. Blending different sounds becomes more likely when the music-makers themselves are constantly listening to varied genres.”

Fascinating. Question: Is there a radio group brave enough to create a radio station that reflects this? Just askin’.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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