The Death (or Life) of Subgenres

Shancheze Johnson for The Signal

Subgenres are important, combining pre-existing genres, pushing their limits or creating an otherwise unidentifiable sound. Labels have historically used genres to narrow their consumer base, but today, with the rise of social media and independent music streaming apps such as SoundCloud, more artists are able to produce and promote their own content, creating new sounds and styles — without the previously needed record label.

“On paper, there’s nothing wrong with combining two or more genres of music to create something unique. The problem is that often when this enterprise is undertaken, it’s not creating something unique, it’s meant to mimic something that is patently similar to everything else being released in popular music,” music journalist, Trigger Coroneos said.

Rap music is as much country music as a burger is pizza, yet record labels continue to homogenize genres for greater sales, leading to the potential death of subgenres. The music industry’s sales-driven mentality has forced genres to adopt a sound that can accompany the average listener. The result is a “monogenre” that seems to pull pieces from all genres.

Genres and subgenres naturally originated as a way to organize music similar in sound or location.

“Jersey Club, alongside Juke and Footwork, are three genres that are historical given their roles in their respective locations, New Jersey and Chicago,” Album 88 executive Max Calderon said.

Socially, genres allow music listeners to associate themselves with a certain culture.
Recent trends have shown, however, that music listeners are polygamous in genre taste.

On the same note (no pun intended), a genre’s popularity is the groundwork for its profitability—cue big labels.

Subgenres function as a gateway to niche audiences whose listening contributes to what labels will consider as popular, and by isolating and narrowing this group of consumers, labels are capable of producing sales.

In recent years, more and more subgenres have broken into the mainstream. Emo rap is recent example, bringing to fame artists such as Yung Lean, Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Xan among others. Check out these genres you might have never heard of. One day they too might be a playlist on Spotify.

Subgenres you may not have heard of

Bedroom Rock
Bedroom rock has largely dominated the current indie pop audience. With artists like Jerry Paper, Clairo and Ariel Pink sending listeners into a world of nostalgic shock, the blue-hued genre uses 80s synths and music videos consisting of The Simpsons and other cartoons to remain familiar with current young adults and teens.

“It’s not much of a weird genre, rather just a really popular sound at the moment,” Album 88 radio manager Auje Herndon said.

Unlike other genres, nightcore is a style of editing pre-existing songs rather than creating new music. Named after the Norwegian duo of the same name as the genre, nightcore artists speed up songs and increase the pitch, similar to Euro-pop, trance.

“It’s just so fun and simple to produce, yet it’s also very clever,” Calderon said.

Artists Sevdaliza, Diamanda Galas and King Dude are just a few nightcore frontrunners.

Math Rock
Using fractions, math rockers apply calculating riffs behind spontaneous melodies give math rock its appropriate title. A byproduct of 80s hardcore rock, math rock combines unpredictability with a slightly more relaxed sound. Popular Math Rock bands include Chon, This Town Needs Guns and Foals.

“It’s a different and interesting writing technique,” said Calderon.

Jazz Metal
Jazz metal, unlike the previously listed subgenres, is a single genre influencing certain aspects of another genre, in this case, jazz to metal. Metal’s usual energy and sound remains alongside improvised, jazzy solos. Jazz’s polished finish against metal’s jagged edges work in tandem to form a shapeless yet intricate sound.

“Like math rock, the writing is different and interesting,” Calderon said.

Wizard Rock (Wrock)
J.K. Rowling in mind, rock band Harry and the Potters began in the mid-2000s performing song parodies with the popular British novel as inspiration. Since then, many bands have carried Harry and the Potters’ mystical torch, and the genre serves as one of the more experimental subgenres.