This might be due to awards-show fatigue, caused by the fact that every decision is covered with the breathlessness of a papal conclave, in which we’re waiting for the fumata bianca to emit from Kanye West’s ears. It may be due to the AMAs’ model, where fan voting via Facebook and Twitter delegitimizes the idea that the show is anything more than a popularity contest. But it could be due to something else: a shift in music-consumption mechanisms that is blurring the once-sacred lines of genre division in favor of a more fluid ecosystem. Migos is a pop/rock group now. So what?
As a means of connecting discrete cultural texts and finding their sameness, genre is a sacred cow of sorting mechanisms. It traces its roots as far back as classical Greece, where Plato’s Republic contains an argument from Socrates that it might not be possible for the same person to write or act in both comedy and tragedy, the twin genres of the day. Genre also served as a means of codifying high/low binaries, where symphonic and classical music were “art” made for the bourgeois (or “boujee”) while popular music was a lower, more debased form fit for mass consumption. The Grammys, for instance, started as a way of asserting the musical significance and excellence of acts like Frank Sinatra and Henry Mancini above the menace of pop and rock music like Elvis Presley.
But it’s always been slippery: Is Adele pop, soul, R&B, or some combination thereof? Why was Beyoncé’s 2017 country Grammy submission denied and her rock nomination for the Jack White collaboration “Don’t Hurt Yourself” affirmed? How is it that the Carpenters, Bon Jovi, Ace of Base, Hootie & the Blowfish, Spice Girls, ’NSync, Outkast, One Direction, and now Migos could all win the same pop/rock award? Maybe the AMAs really are just a popularity contest. Or maybe instead they’re an index of the shifting signifier of pop/rock and Migos really does have its finger on the Culture after all.
In terms of consumption, genre long functioned in a quotidian sense as a cataloging structure for retail stores of yore: If you liked Migos, you were likely to find the group’s jewel cases sorted neatly between Method Man and Mos Def. Genre effectively functioned as free advertising; it assumed that if fans liked one musical group, they’d be likely to want to hear more things similar to it. But with the decline of the record store and the rise of streaming and digital platforms (which were responsible for 75 percent of total U.S. music-sales revenue in 2017), these rigid boundaries are falling away.
Apple Music, one of the industry’s three major streaming services alongside Spotify and Jay-Z’s Tidal, boasts the availability of more than 40 million songs at any given time, many of which are thoughtfully sorted for listeners into curated playlists based around moods or spaces rather than strict genre convention. “Songs to Sing in the Car” on Spotify, for instance, has previously filed Lauryn Hill’s hip-hop standard “Doo Wop (That Thing)” between the classic rocker Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Ryan Adams’s meditative “Come Pick Me Up.” Other playlists on the service capture the soundscape of “Your Favorite Coffeehouse” or curate a hodgepodge of “Today’s Top Hits.” Genre still exists, but it no longer divides culture, cleaves fandoms, or crystallizes identity in ways it once did. The listening public now consumes music omnivorously and ravenously at the digital buffet.
More Info: theatlantic.com