Last updated on March 25th, 2019 at 07:13 pm

Music is an integral part of contemporary culture worldwide. Many people, especially youth, form their identities around the type of music they prefer, letting their musical preferences influence how they dress, how they wear their hair, how they speak and even whom they choose to associate with. With music being this connected to personal identity, it’s no surprise arguments arise about which genre of music is superior (most people, whether this comes from nature or nurture, seem to have a need to rank themselves in relation to others). In North America, especially, some people who listen to rock, punk and heavy metal music frequently refer to their music as real music, while genres like country, pop, and sometimes rap get a bad name.

The fact that people choose to divide themselves like this, letting music draw the metaphorical lines, is rather absurd when you think about it. If music is something that’s to be enjoyed (and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who says it isn’t), shouldn’t the pleasure it offers bring people together, as opposed to keeping them in hostile enemy camps? Furthermore, the lines dividing musical genres are blurry anyhow. Among teenagers in the early 2000s, there was extensive debate about whether Blink-182 was a real punk band, or one that had sold out (meaning that they had changed their style) to become popular, and therefore, should be considered part of the pop genre. Similarly, today some people aren’t sure whether to refer to Taylor Swift as a pop artist or a country artist.

When people argue that rock, punk and heavy metal are superior to the music of other genres, they generally say that artists within the aforementioned genres are truly committed to making great music, both instrumentally and through the writing of meaningful lyrics, while today’s pop and rap artists will do or say anything inside or outside their performances to receive more money or attention. As for country music, people who have a negative opinion of the genre often say that the music of country artists lacks depth and originality. They believe that country artists cover the same shallow topics of hoe-downs, trucks and beer in all of their songs. Yet these negative pronouncements about the so-called inferior genres of music are simply incorrect, in many cases. This is not to say that rock, punk and heavy metal fans are wrong about the quality of their preferred genres, but that the ones who criticize other genres are sometimes wrong about the negative attributes they believe the music of these genres possess.

While one can’t deny that some contemporary pop and rap artists are attention-seekers, always looking to provide shock value to the general public, not all of them are. Kelly Clarkson, Colbie Caillat, and Serena Ryder are just a few examples of pop artists who write meaningful, inoffensive lyrics and keep up classy images. While many popular rap and hip-hop artists do sing about objectionable things, and use language that could be offensive to women, conscious hip-hop artists like KRS-One, Mos Def and El-P prove that hip-hop can be meaningful and deep. As far as country music goes, artists like Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Kenny Chesney have released many meaningful songs about life and relationships that don’t refer to hoe-downs, trucks and beer at all. While one of Kenny Chesney’s songs, “The Good Stuff,” does refer extensively to the drink, its main message is that one should choose love over alcohol.

Many people who judge one genre of music as inferior to another haven’t explored the songs and artists within the genre in enough depth to be able to pass educated judgments. Instead, they rely on stereotypes developed from the public images of just a few artists; often, these are the artists who are the most extreme in their musical styles and personal behaviour, so are seen most frequently in the public eye. Of course, people can have their own preferences when it comes to music, but if someone doesn’t like something they could just say, “That music doesn’t suit my personal tastes,” rather than, “That music is inferior to the music I listen to.” Music is judged by so many different things like the lyrics, the beat, the instruments and the vocals (and within each of these categories, people also have all kinds of differing opinions about what’s good or bad), that it would be impossible to come up with some sort of objective standard by which to judge music.

Whether a piece of music is popular or obscure, or on what genre others consider it to be, really is beside the point. By only allowing themselves to listen to music within one or two genres that have been defined by themselves or others, so many are cutting themselves off from the full range of positive musical experiences that they could be having. If a melody is beautiful or song lyrics are meaningful, isn’t that really what matters?


image: gabenl (Creative Commons BY)