The Monogenre Theory presents the idea that pop music is moving towards a conglomeration of musical styles and genres. Thanks in large part to the Internet, the scope of pop culture has expanded to include more than ever before — including equal parts EDM, folk, country, pop, rock and hip-hop.
We now live in a world where the reigning queen of pop, Miley Cyrus, and Wayne Coyne of beloved psych-rock band, The Flaming Lips, collaborate frequently.
We now live in a world where the latest boy-band can cover one of the best punk songs ever.
We now live in a world where Odd Future ringleader Tyler, The Creator, and Mac Demarco are working together on a mysterious project and Kanye West has extended an invitation to work with the minimalist post-dubstep composer James Blake.
And this is strictly speaking in terms of collaborations. The influence of everything on everyone is so apparent that even the most out-of-touch parents can appreciate Miley’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Lady Gaga’s neo-Madonna aesthetic.
Pop music alone is not the only part the culture that is being affected by the conglomeration of genres. While genre-bending pop acts like Haim and Miley Cyrus are perfect examples of the Monogenre, indie rock, metal and hip-hop are also seeing the effects.
Stephen Malkmus, of Pavement fame, went as far as to claim, “Most metal is indie now like Autopsy or some kind of big metal bands are basically indie bands as far as I’m concerned.”
Given the staggering popularity of black metal acts such as Deafheaven and Liturgy amongst the Pitchfork crowd, it would seem that Malkmus’s claims are not too far off point. A significant number of metal bands are signed to indie labels, and while they may not generate as much buzz as other bands, music blogs do a pretty decent job of covering up-and-coming metal acts.
No matter what the trends seem to indicate, Monogenre will never be fully realized. The reason isn’t the musicians or even the labels, but the fans. No matter what the music sounds like, the fans want to be divided into tribes. Teenage punks always play the underdog card against the monotonous tyranny of pop music and classic rock purists will forever claim that no good music was made after the ’80s.
People find their identity in the music they listen to and they always will. The theory of Monogenre fails to take this into consideration, and ultimately, it fails to acknowledge the purpose of genres in the first place — identity.
Where does this leave the state of pop music? The unification of sounds and aesthetics is happening — the Monogenre theory had that much right.
This is where I would like to coin the term Metagenre — the use of a musical style or genre as a rhetorical device.
In the age of technology, it is easier than ever to do whatever you want musically. With the click of a mouse, the sound of a digital drum kit can be entirely transformed. Any sound can be achieved, and therefore any genre can be emulated effortlessly. Throw sampling into the mix and the possibilities for musicians today are endless.
The good producers and artists know this and are able to nitpick genres at will in order to convey a message. Artists are able to reverse the intention of a genre — instead of a genre having meaning because of the listener and the listener’s experience, artists employ a genre in their music to convey a message through its presence.
Perhaps the most spectacular example of Metagenre comes in the form of our generation’s most brilliant musical mind, Kanye West. West has perfected the use of sampling and stylistic manipulation to convey a message. Starting with “808 & Heartbreaks,” West pushed the envelope of style by using the still undiscovered and subversive electro-pop in a hip-hop atmosphere. This production choice was able to say more about the direction that West was heading than anything he could have. He was able to subvert the traditional connotations of rap music being club-banger and gangster by contrasting his more than explicit lyrics with an at-times tender production.
Fast forward to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” where West produced not only one of the best albums of all time, but also one of the most masterfully composed. Utilizing hundreds of samples ranging from the Prog-rock of King Crimson to the poetry of Gil Scott-Heron, and collaborations from a diverse array of acts including Bon Iver and Rihanna. Going into the rhetorical meaning of every one of these production choices is a project worthy of a dissertation or even a semester-long class, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that a perfectionist like West did not arrange everything in an order for a reason.
Another big name example of Metagenre is the indie-rock gone arena-rock band Arcade Fire. With each album, Arcade Fire has essentially reinvented its sound. Frontman Win Butler even said so himself. Arcade Fire has successfully transformed the baroque pop grandeur of 2004’s “Funeral,” to the Springsteen-esque sounds of “Neon Bible,” to the grandiosity of “The Suburbs” and now it has reincarnated itself as a “mash up of Studio 54 and Hatian Voodoo.”
Arcade Fire chose to employ Haitian influence and James Murphy’s neo-disco production on its latest effort, “Reflektor,” not as a musical preference (despite Regine Butler’s Haitian roots) but rather a rhetorical device used to advance their platform, the same way they adopted new sounds on each of their previous albums to tackle different themes they were trying to achieve.
Similarly, Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears used elements of cutting-edge EDM music, trap and dubstep respectively, to convey a message. Alone, the lyrics of Cyrus and Spears come off as asinine, ignorant and tasteless, but when the production and the carefully arranged array of genres are added in, the songs take on a new sense of cultural awareness that allow the most ambitious of pop-culture apologists to argue that Cyrus and Spears are actually critiquing pop culture.
Similarly, dance artists such as Disclosure, Daft Punk and Girl Talk have appropriate elements of all genres ranging from UK garage and 2 step garage to funk to stoner metal to convey messages in their work that extend beyond the immediate danceability.
It’s abundantly clear that music was drastically changed by the advent of technology. However, no one could have predicted just how easy it would become to change musical styles. While the Monogenre theory was able to establish the fact that music is homogenizing, Metagenre is able to answer why.
Metagenre allows artists to express themselves in ways that were not possible as recently as five years ago. New layers of meaning and context can be woven into a track with unparalleled ease, and artists continue to experiment with genre as a rhetorical device, the digital age will continue to bear witness to incredible works of art.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JordanBohannon
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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