Music accompanies us everywhere, no matter what we do or where we are. Knowing modern styles will be useful not only for aspiring musicians, but also for any art lover. In this article, we’ll look at the genres of contemporary music that you hear most often in stores, on the radio, and in movies.
What are musical genres
Let’s first understand what a musical genre is. A musical genre is a category that encompasses works that are similar in a number of ways: stylistic, compositional, narrative, etc.
Music can be divided into different genres according to a variety of characteristics, such as the use of certain musical instruments, tempo features, the overall mood of the melody, and others. The artistic nature of music means that these classifications are often subjective and contradictory, and some genres may overlap.
Let’s take a look at 21st century music genres with examples of their adaptation to the new times.
In fact, pop music can be traced back to around the 1940s, when the so-called “crooners” Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, and later Pat Boone and Dean Martin, came into vogue. These artists were hugely popular, and their songwriters used different varieties of genres in music to achieve the perfect formula for success. This approach worked: for example, Dean Martin’s single “Everybody loves somebody” was so popular that it knocked the Beatles off the top of the most respected music chart, Billboard, at the height of “Beatlemania” in the USA. More info here
This means that at first pop music was considered not as a separate genre, but as a collection of the most popular works of different genres. Therefore, it is difficult to identify its typical characteristics. Quite often such songs include several attributes of other genres at once. Therefore, pop has the largest number of offshoots, among which:
- Country pop/country rock: Features a lot of guitars and a folk (country) or near-rock sound. Often used as soundtracks for westerns.
- Pop-rock: combines elements of rock (electric guitars, drums, energy) and the melody of pop music.
- Soft-rock: almost similar to pop-rock, but with a harder sound;
- Disco-pop/post-disco: emerged at the end of disco’s popularity and combined the dance rhythms and electro sound of 80s pop music.
- Indie: term applied to music by independent songwriters.
- Synth-pop: A tune based on the sound of synthesizers and the like. It became widely popular in the ’80s, mainly thanks to the Norwegian band a-ha. They also brought this style back into vogue in the late 90s.
The power of pop music lies in the denial of genre or niche: it does not try to bring in a new subculture or convey a message, it is simply a type of entertainment.
Classical music consists of many parts played by individual instruments and sometimes includes vocal parts. It predates electricity, so it involves the use of instruments that do not need amplification. At modern concerts, the sound of the orchestra is sometimes amplified with microphones, but this is usually only used in very large concert halls. Basically, the term classical music is applied to works written before the twentieth century: Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and others.
In fact, it is difficult to assign one direction to classical music. Classical music is mostly instrumental, and many people associate it with opera and ballet. However, it can also include folk music, which, in turn, gave rise to the creation of country and folk music, and those are divided into many categories. Besides, classical music is universal: just change the tempo of the song slightly, and you get a completely different mood.
Rock emerged from classic rock ‘n’ roll in the ’60s, although by the ’70s it no longer even remotely resembled its progenitor. Rock music took over the music industry to such an extent that many critics still consider it to be the most significant trend. Rock ‘n’ roll, and later rock, emerged as a rebellious youth movement. The main characteristics of rock music are the dominant guitars, mostly electronic. An important component of the music is considered a bass and drums, sometimes there are rhythm guitars. The sound can change from lighter, like the Beatles, to heavier, like the Rolling Stones and Animals.
The genre gained its main popularity after the famous “British Invasion” when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came to the US. In the ’70s rock music borrowed some techniques from classical music, like the harmonization of voices from the band Smokie and almost operatic inserts from Queen.
Even though rock is not as dominant now as it was in the twentieth century, it is still considered almost the most important direction of music because of its powerful energy and charismatic musicians.
The blues is characterized by the use of guitar, first solo and then augmented by drums and bass. The chords use notes with a changed pitch. This gives the blues its typical melancholy, sad sound. One of the distinctive features of this style are the wind instruments (saxophone in particular) and classical keyboards (piano, piano, piano).
The blues originated in the United States in the oppressed classes, mostly among black people. In the more privileged classes, the genre was considered the fate of criminals and other people “outside the law. Therefore, many performers were not allowed in nightclubs, and they traveled around the country and gave concerts in the private apartments of their acquaintances. Interestingly, this was the reason for the mass spread of the blues.
R’n’B is a good example of the smooth transition of several directions of music from the 20th to the 21st century. On the one hand, there are features of spiritual (evangelical) music, a phenomenon found only in American churches: spiritual lines are sung in a winding, rhythmic tempo.
Notes of blues, on the other hand, give this trend warm chords and rich bass notes. Modern R’n’B has slightly moved away from the classic sound, making a bias in the direction of hip-hop with rap inserts and break-dance. A typical example of the modern is the singer Aaliyah, who is referred to as the “Princess of R’n’B”.
R’n’B includes many subgenres, some are considered individual styles:
- Classic Rhythm and Blues;
- Doo-wop: This sub-genre focuses on vocals with a minimum of musical accompaniment;
- Soul: a spiritual (near-religious) music genre;
- Funk: a danceable form of rhythm and blues;
- Disco: is actually a combination of soul and funk;
- Boogie (electro-funk): also an r’n’b dance style, but with elements of techno music.
A classic example of rhythm and blues is Etta James and Nina Simone, the most famous is Tina Turner. The brightest representatives of this style on the modern stage are Usher, Alicia Keys, Berry White and Beyoncé.
In jazz, group interaction is crucial. Jazz musicians may not follow a predetermined score. It is believed that a good jazz performer must “feel” what others are going to play and how the music will develop. Experimentation is valued in this genre, which is why it is believed that real jazz music can only be heard live. It is one of the few genres in which improvisation is allowed even during recording, as the great Ella Fitzgerald did.
So despite the development of popular genres and trends in modern music, jazz is still part of the nightlife subculture in bars around the world. The complex aspect of improvisation explains why of all genres it is most (if not always) instrumental and plays more with structure, patterns, and rhythms than with the performer’s voice.
Electronic dance music has its origins in Jamaican dub-step and developed around the 1970s with the development of electronic musical instruments. In modern times, electro has moved almost entirely into nightclubs and has become a form of mixing art. This new form, commonly referred to as EDM (Electronic Dance Music), is created by DJs who add dozens of tones to a piece to create a unique composition. Often the artist’s voice is also processed.
With the development of EDM systems, electro music has become the most accessible for independent composers, because it’s easy to generate in a specialized music processing program. Maybe that’s why there’s a trend in the music market to pair techno artists with pop musicians. This made EDM practically the most popular genre of music in the world in 2020, as not a single top was without a dozen songs of this trend.
Hip-hop emerged in the mid-20th century as a protest against racial division and is still among the most popular contemporary trends in music. Real hip-hop must include 4 elements: dance harmony (break-dance), mixing records (DJ), a bright visual style of the performer and rap, that is fast lyrics in a certain rhythm.
By the way, rap is just a slang of hip-hop and literally means “flow”, which reflects the rapidity of the spoken words.
An interesting detail: the vivid personal style of hip-hop performers is not just a visual lure, but a tribute to history, as hip-hop emerged in the subculture of the United States as a protest against racial discrimination. For example, the rappers’ love of white sneakers is a reference to the time when the first performers could not afford a second pair of shoes, and the massive gold chains and rings symbolize the connection with the ancient African warriors who wore gold on themselves before military outings.