Genre Does Not Define Good Music
Pop sucks. Rap is trash. The blues is dead. Classical is overrated. . . If we believed this constant barrage of genre-hate, no music would be worth listening to.
Some people believe that the only songs worth listening to are the ones they like. What they do not realize is that everyone’s experience of music is subjective. There is no ‘best’ genre.
The difference between taste and quality is best explored with a metaphor. I’ll use clothing, as preference for what we wear is just as individual as what we listen to.
Some people enjoy wearing loud getups. Others like wearing neutral atire, vintage finds, or edgy garmets. Each person has their own preference, but that does not mean that yellow ties are better than beige socks, or bell bottoms better than ripped tank tops.
Regardless of style, all clothes are subject to differences in quality. Some are crafted with care and last for decades, while others are made with minimal effort and quickly wear out. The quality of music similarly varies. Some artists put their entire being into their craft, creating music that resonates with people and stands the test of time. Other artists simply slap a song together with the sole intent of getting a hit, and are soon forgotten. However, both types of artists are found within the same genre. The only thing that counts in considering the quality of music is quality.
But what is good music? To answer this question, we must consider the purpose of music.
The Purpose of Music
Like all art, music does two things: it communicates a message and conveys emotion. In other art forms, message and emotion may have equal weight, but in music, emotion is more powerful than message. Writing can move people deeply, but the message is usually most prominent. Music, however, connects people in a way that transcends barriers such as language, culture and literacy, and can utilize rhythm, harmony, and dynamics to invoke powerful emotion. Through sound we experience the commonalities of our human existence, sharing our pain and triumphs, our sorrows and joy.
So what music conveys emotion best? Folk? Opera? Jazz? None of the above; genre is irrelevant.
Good music conveys emotion effectively. Music and writing share this focus on effectiveness; in writing, the verbs you choose depend on the mood you are trying to create. If your goal is to create suspense in a scene, you might say that your character creeped down the basement stairs. Writing that your character simply walked, however, suggests that your character does not care about the danger lurking ahead, and subtracts from the effectiveness of your scene.
Similar examples can be found in music. Dance songs feature pounding beats that drive people to the dance floor. Pop uses feel-good melodies and relatable lyrics. And metal uses driving guitar and in-your-face vocals to capture feelings of rebellion. Good music is not determined by its genre, but by how effectively it communicates emotion.
So if you ever find yourself asserting the superiority of your favourite genre, I encourage you to listen to one song in a genre you would never listen to—and truly listen. You may be surprised at what you feel.