Music's Diminishing Role in Culture
Music has always had a sizable impact on the culture that surrounds us. Everything from fashion to food can be shaped by current trends in the musical landscape. Music also provides us with an opportunity to express ourselves. Whether you're a goth or a mod, music enables us to forge an image for ourselves and become part of a community. But is music's impact on culture being affected by modern trends in streaming and personalisation?
Firstly, the way we interact with music has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Record shops have been supplanted by services like Spotify and Apple Music. Instead of your local record shop owner acting as your musical gatekeeper, highly intelligent algorithms now decide what best suits your taste. To many, these algorithms provide a convenient alternative to dedicating time and effort looking for new songs and albums to listen to. Why ask your friend for a recommendation when a sophisticated playlist based on your previous listening history can be generated at the drop of a hat?
Secondly, the idea of individual music genres is slowly being eroded. The Internet has enabled a rich, cross pollination of genres from across the globe. Artists now rarely stick to one style and often hop between whatever genre is popular at the time. Recently this genre bending has even caused controversy in the music charts. Lil Nas X's debut single "Old Town Road" was initially classified as a country music song in the Billboard charts, a tag the artist seemed to agree with. After debuting at number 19 in the country music chart, Billboard decided to remove it, claiming that it was miscategorised. Other complaints have also surfaced at the Grammy's with Tyler, the Creator and Justin Bieber both complaining about miscategorisation at the music awards. The muddied waters of musical genres mean that listeners rarely stick to one particular style.
Reduced emphasis on genres and the digital personalisation of music means that there is less room for music to have a direct cultural impact on the listener. Some niche scenes like death metal and K-Pop still strive on forging individual styles and aesthetics that fans strictly abide by, but they are becoming more and more rare in today's musical landscape. Even Spotify have made moves away from labeling playlists with a genre, instead opting for emotive names like "Chill Hits" and "Mood Boosters". The eroding of genres and the globalisation of the music scene isn't necessarily a bad thing. It enables musical artists to be more creative in their endeavours and not be constrained by the labels imparted on them by the studios and charts. But with that being said, it does limit the impact music as a whole has on culture, whether for better or worse.