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 Post subject: Pop music genres - help?
PostPosted: Sun Dec 03, 2017 7:37 pm 
Sanno
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Since I had at least a stab at trying to explain different sorts of classical music... could somebody help me with the reverse?

Now, I know, I know, pop music genre categorisation can get fractal and contentious. But I'm not looking for tiny dividing lines or controversial pedantries between subsubsubsubgenres. I'm just looking for some big-picture guidelines. Because I've realised that most categories, I'm not sure how to tell them apart.

So, if you could, could you point out a few of the most obvious characteristics that decide what genre something falls into?

Let's just start with Grammy top-level categories.

Question 1: what is "pop"?.

Question 2: what is "traditional pop", and how does it relate to pop? (recent nominees include Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson, Andrea Boccelli (!?), and Seth MacFarlane (who I didn't even know was a pop star, but he's been nominated at least four times))).

Question 3: what is "contemporary instrumental"? I don't think of pop as being about instruments. What makes it different from dance, electronica (the grammies conflate "dance/electronica", which surprised me), or indeed classical?

Question 4: what are the lines between "R&B", "traditional R&B", "urban contemporary", and "rap"? It seems as though many of the same people get nominated for all these categories.
b) Meanwhile, what's the difference between "R&B" and "pop" (a bunch of people have been nominated for both), and between "traditional R&B" and "traditional pop" (CeeLo Green, for instance, has been nominated for both).
c) What's the connexion between "R&B" and what used to be called rhythm and blues?
d) What's the difference between "R&B" and "dance"?

Question 5: what's the difference between "rock" and "pop" (or "traditional pop")? Is "rock" just old pop that Tony Bennet isn't involved in?

Question 6: what's the difference between "rock" and "metal"? Is it just the use of raspy/breathy phonation by the singers?
b) the category's been removed, but where does hard rock fit in?

Question 7: what's "alternative" music? How does it differ from "rock" and "pop"? The rubric says that it must "exist outside of the mainstream", which suggests Weird Stuff... but nominees include Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Radiohead, Sinead O'Connor, The Arctic Monkeys, Gnarls Barkley and David Bowie (i.e. many of the bestselling popstars?)

b) it's not a Grammy category, but a genre people seem to talk about: what's "indie"? how is it distinguished from pop, rock, or alternative?

Question 8: what is the difference between: country; bluegrass; american roots; americana; folk; regional roots? I'm kind of surprised to see that country is considered a different top-level genre from the one comprising all those other things.

Question 9: I'm also kind of surprised to see "blues" included with folk and americana, rather than with, say, jazz. what are the differences between "blues", "traditional blues", "traditional R&B" and "jazz"? And it's not a category, but where does soul fit in?

Question 10: "Latin". Is it just a racial/ethnic genre? Is it a linguistic genre (lyrics not in english)? Or is there some sort of musical distinction? In particular, is "tropical Latin" just a political place-of-birth distinction, or an actual stylistic genre? Why is "latin jazz" considered a type of jazz, while "latin pop" isn't considered a type of "pop"?

Question 11: Is there any clear definition of "world music"? I was thinking it would be things outside the european tradition, but nominees have included Irish, French, and even American music. Why is reggae, for instance, not considered world music? Are Latin songs automatically excluded? Somehow, Yo-Yo Ma IS included, though...




Thanks for your help...

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 03, 2017 9:51 pm 
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I'm not really a Music Guy, but maybe some impressionistic answers will be a start.

A very general answer, of course, is "marketing". If you're submitting a song for the Grammys awards, you try if possible to pick the category where you think you'll win.

To me, pop is lighter than rock. Or: it's rock that doesn't really offend anyone-- you and your mother can both enjoy it. More vocals, less drums, more danceable, arguably kind of insipid. Broadly and kind of unfairly, the Beatles are pop, the Rolling Stones are rock. Female singers, and male singers that teen girls love, are more likely to be classified as pop.

Whatever exactly you add to pop to get rock... if you add a lot more of that, you get hard rock. Louder, more banging drums, the singer sounds angrier, you can't play it for Mom at all. Add even more and you get metal, usually accompanied by raspy delivery and a whole lot of attitude.

R&B is rhythm & blues, but it's a broad term that changes over time. Early rock was an offshoot. These days it's mixed in elements of pop, gospel, hip hop, and soul.

Alternative is, well, good stuff that doesn't hit the top of the charts. Your geekier or artier stuff; played on college radio stations; thinks it's better than mere rock n roll.

Indie is supposed to be artists who aren't signed to a major label. As a Grammy category, I have no idea what it's supposed to mean.

I can't tell you musicologically how country / bluegrass / folk differ, but I could probably classify a song just by hearing a few bars. It's instrumentation, mainly. E.g. bluegrass relies heavily on the banjo and other acoustic string instruments. Folk is prototypically acoustic (preferably guitar or violin); it's supposed to resemble 1900s American music but obviously people compose new stuff in that style.

The "traditional" ones are probably referring to whether people actually try to make the song sound like it came from the 1920s (or whatever). So Ma Rainey was a blues singer, but if you try to sing exactly like her today it's "traditional blues". Regular "blues" would be more open to newer methods and influences. Jazz is kind of the intellectual, instrument-oriented development of blues, and if you tone it down for the mass market you get big band.

Latin is originally anything from Latin America... a huge mixed bag-- salsa, tango, merengue, rumba, rancheros, cumbia, samba, etc, etc. My parents' generation always listened to a bit of this. These days it's basically "stuff Latinos buy". My impression is that it's moved quite a bit toward pop. (There is a genre of Latin Pop, even if the Grammys don't call it that.) (Bossa nova was basically Latin music mixed with jazz.)

As I say, Americans knew some Latin American music existed, and of course European. But we were surprised to learn in about 1985 that the rest of the world produced music too. "World music" is basically everything we discovered after that time-- mostly African. Modern Brazilian music (i.e., post-bossa-nova) can be included. So basically, reggae isn't included because people already knew about it. There's a huge world of East Asian pop-- if Americans know it at all, it's probably thrown into world music, or into pop.

For almost all the American music, and some of the Latin, you could probably get most of the classifications by asking three historical questions: when did black people invent it? when did white people take it up? and do black people still listen to it? That'd make an interesting chart, in fact...


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 03, 2017 10:00 pm 
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I can really only answer one question, and only with a subjective opinion, but hopefully this will help at least a little bit?
Salmoneus wrote:


Question 5: what's the difference between "rock" and "pop" (or "traditional pop")? Is "rock" just old pop that Tony Bennet isn't involved in?
.
Pop music seems to be much faster-paced, with higher tones and a predominance of female singers. I had a compilation album once when I was young of ~20 pop songs and ~20 rock songs. I copied the pop album to my hard drive and I have brought it from one computer to the next over the years. i seem to have acquired some songs form elsewhere and mixed them in, but .... of the songs in the pop album, there are:

female singers: 18
male singers: 9
both in the same song: 5

even the ones with male voices are high pichted and "happy" though.

Pop music is much more likely to play at a retail store becuase of its softer and less intrusive sound, and perhaps also the general brighter mood. Some rocks songs will play, but they will be played quietly, and they will be the kind that you dont want or feel the need to turn up the volume as loud as possible to enjoy.

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I just remembered a meme img I saw once: "it's called metal ..... because it's harder than rock"

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:06 am 
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Salmoneus wrote:
Since I had at least a stab at trying to explain different sorts of classical music... could somebody help me with the reverse?


I'll give it a bash. I won't try to be objective, since that's not really possible anyway; much of the difference between genres has to do with perception and attitude as much as anything else. And I won't try to define them all.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 1: what is "pop"?.


Broadly speaking, what ordinary people actually listen to. More cynically, shallow fluff principally marketed at teenage girls; anything perceived as more trivial and vapid than one's preferred genre.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 2: what is "traditional pop", and how does it relate to pop?


Probably pop recorded before you were born, or which your parents grew up with. Tends to sound quaint and old-fashioned.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 4: what are the lines between "R&B", "traditional R&B", "urban contemporary", and "rap"?
b) Meanwhile, what's the difference between "R&B" and "pop" (a bunch of people have been nominated for both), and between "traditional R&B" and "traditional pop" (CeeLo Green, for instance, has been nominated for both).
c) What's the connexion between "R&B" and what used to be called rhythm and blues?
d) What's the difference between "R&B" and "dance"?


This is a minefield. As I understand it, rap is a style of vocal delivery, not so much a genre. And in broad marketing terms, R&B is black, pop is white; rhythm and blues was the popular black music of its time.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 5: what's the difference between "rock" and "pop" (or "traditional pop")? Is "rock" just old pop that Tony Bennet isn't involved in?


Rock is what you say you're into when you're worried that if you say "pop", people will automatically think of trivial vapid shallow teenage-oriented music.

Or, rock is male, pop is female.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 6: what's the difference between "rock" and "metal"? Is it just the use of raspy/breathy phonation by the singers?
b) the category's been removed, but where does hard rock fit in?


Metal is what sexually immature teenage boys claim to be into when they think if they say "rock" they'll be considered to be wimpy.

I'd putate a continuum of hardness: pop - pop/rock - rock - hard rock - metal - extreme metal. TVTropes can help you here.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 7: what's "alternative" music? How does it differ from "rock" and "pop"?

b) it's not a Grammy category, but a genre people seem to talk about: what's "indie"? how is it distinguished from pop, rock, or alternative?


This is an easy one to grok, but much harder to define. The classic definition is that indie specifically, and probably also alternative music, is made by bands who aren't signed to major labels and therefore are doing it for the love of the music and not for the money; the music is ipso facto better for one to be seen to be into. Of course it's actually a lot more nuanced and complicated than that; for some background on how the genre developed in Britain, I recommend the first chapter of The Last Party by Jon Harris.

Essentially, indie is what you have to claim to like if you want to seem cooler than you actually are.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 9: I'm also kind of surprised to see "blues" included with folk and americana, rather than with, say, jazz. what are the differences between "blues", "traditional blues", "traditional R&B" and "jazz"? And it's not a category, but where does soul fit in?


This is jazz. Traditional blues is a black man from the American South with an acoustic guitar playing 12-bars, notionally the most "authentic" of all musical genres; non-traditional blues is similar in some but not all details. Soul is emotional music performed by black vocal groups in matching outfits.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 10: "Latin". Is it just a racial/ethnic genre? Is it a linguistic genre (lyrics not in english)? Or is there some sort of musical distinction? In particular, is "tropical Latin" just a political place-of-birth distinction, or an actual stylistic genre? Why is "latin jazz" considered a type of jazz, while "latin pop" isn't considered a type of "pop"?


Latin is anything from Latin America. Think of elaborate stage shows where it's impossible to tell how many people are on stage at any given time, or music with clave rhythms.

Salmoneus wrote:
Question 11: Is there any clear definition of "world music"?


Anything made outside the Anglo-American cultural sphere. What you claim to listen to when you want people to think that you can acknowledge cultures outside your own.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:50 am 
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Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Never mind, I'll let it stand. Here are some more ramblings.

Perhaps it might be useful to consider a genre, or style, of music to be a collection of specific tropes. Then it's easier and probably more useful to describe the differences between genres in terms of the presence or absence of said tropes and to establish archetypes, which is probably what I was trying to do there.

Much of the problem is due to the fact that "popular music" (as a general cover-term) is, perhaps more than any other art-form, an expression of the multifaceted entity that is popular culture, and attempts to describe or delineate genres and sub-genres within it are bound to be affected by one's own biases as well as a variety of social, cultural, political, racial, and sexual factors. Not to mention that Grammy categories are bound to be somewhat arbitrary anyway; Jethro Tull, the inventor of the seed drill, once won a Grammy in the "Hard Rock Or Metal" category despite fitting very few people's idea of what either comprised.

Nonetheless, there is value in recognising that much of, say, Michael's work fits the definition of "pop", while Led Zeppelin's first two albums qualify as pretty much the definition of "hard rock" and Iron Maiden meet most people's criteria of "heavy metal". The fun part, of course, is establishing what those criteria actually are.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 10:29 am 
Smeric
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alice wrote:
What you claim to listen to when you want people to think that you can acknowledge cultures outside your own.

Or when you're like me and you're an American who just likes listening to music that's mostly folk but isn't limited to it and isn't American.

I have trouble with musical genres, too. I've been thinking a bit about how I feel about music lately. Once not so long ago, I made a big deal out of it on another forum. Having thought about it some more, I think that it's really just a heritage issue for me. My parents grew up in a time and place when movie songs were just beginning to be all the rage. Those movie songs tended to be strongly based on indigenous folk traditions that are slowly dying out but that my dad in particular is attached to. He's not a big fan of any kind of music, but sometimes, he'll hear a Malayalam movie song, say something like "oh, isn't that an interesting metaphor?" and explain it to me. As a result, I appreciate these songs, too, and that appreciation carries over to folk songs from other cultures as well. When I listen to songs from other cultures that people classify as "folk," I recognize that those songs are also part of someone's musical tradition, however different they may be from mine. Something comparable does exist in a North American context, but it also seems to be fairly unpopular, which I find somewhat understandable at times (for example, country songs apparently tend to have pretty sexist lyrics) but also somewhat unfortunate.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 11:26 am 
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Vijay wrote:
Something comparable does exist in a North American context, but it also seems to be fairly unpopular, which I find somewhat understandable at times (for example, country songs apparently tend to have pretty sexist lyrics) but also somewhat unfortunate.

Contemporary "country music" is essentially pop with steel-pedal guitar. Exceptions are generally lumped together under the moniker of "alt-country". This is dominated by punk-influenced bands from the alternative/indie scenes bringing in their own thematic concerns and experimentation (e.g. Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, The Waco Brothers). "Country rock" stands in much the same relationship to country as rock does to pop generally.

The other chief exception is the revival of "old-timey" country music spurred by the compilation soundtrack of the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? This overlaps with the bluegrass revival. As Zompist says, the most characteristic instrument for bluegrass is the banjo, but the fiddle and the mandolin are often prominent as well. (The latter two are common in alt-country and alternative music generally; REM popularised the latter and bands like 10,000 Maniacs and Arcade Fire prominently feature a fiddler.)

As discussed elsewhere, even country singers from up in Canada will adopt a stereotypically "country" accent when performing. For instance, despite the name, The Dead South are from Saskatchewan of all places: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9FzVhw8_bY.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 11:31 am 
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They're from Canada's South? :)


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 11:40 am 
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Vijay wrote:
They're from Canada's South? :)

To be fair, Regina is in the far south of Saskatchewan. (The fact that it still lies 1,000 miles north of Nashville is small detail.)


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 12:44 pm 
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zompist wrote:
Whatever exactly you add to pop to get rock... if you add a lot more of that, you get hard rock. Louder, more banging drums, the singer sounds angrier, you can't play it for Mom at all.

Maybe your mom, and mine. ;-) That criterion stopped working some point in the 90s. The first generation of e.g. Motörhead fans is now in their 60s, with lots of moms among them and probably quite a few grandmas. There even are Heavy Metal cruises...
As you say, timing is important. Things that were controversial and outside of Pop in, say, the 50s or 60s are now mainstream and inside Pop; that's arguably true for a lot of Classic Rock'n'Roll and for a lot of Hard Rock from the 70s and 80s.
Another thing that makes the classifications so fluid is that music often isn't classified on a piece-by-piece basis, but based on the artist who plays it - e.g., I've seen everything by Louis Armstrong being labelled as "Jazz", because he's a "Jazz musician", even if it's Musical tunes like "Hello Dolly" or blatant Pop like "What a Wonderful World". And musicians who started out as Alternative or Indie often keep the label, even if they've become mainstream years ago.
One question on Folk - one Folk tradition that's been quite influential in Germany and that's normally not put under "World Music"*1), because it started to become popular in the late 60s / early 70s, is Irish Folk. What's the status of this in the States?
*1)The German definition of World Music is much the same as in the States, minus German Folk; at least I assume that a German Band playing Schuhplattler would fall under World Music in America, while it certainly doesn't in Germany. (OTOH, some of the more "authentic" Americana / Bluegrass / Traditional Amercian Folk may be put under World Music in Germany; Country and Western, not so.)


Last edited by hwhatting on Mon Dec 04, 2017 1:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 12:59 pm 
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I tend to find folk music of any kind highly underrated in the US, but maybe that's just me. That being said, I also think Celtic Woman (if that's the sort of thing you mean by "Irish Folk") is overrated, just in general. :P My favorite Irish folk music is probably sean-nós.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 1:04 pm 
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Salmoneus wrote:
Question 7: what's "alternative" music? How does it differ from "rock" and "pop"? The rubric says that it must "exist outside of the mainstream", which suggests Weird Stuff... but nominees include Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Radiohead, Sinead O'Connor, The Arctic Monkeys, Gnarls Barkley and David Bowie (i.e. many of the bestselling popstars?)

When did Gaga ever get a nomination in the Alternative category?

I think this can best be explained by knowing just how incredibly pedestrian and anodyne Grammy winners tend to be. Their record for whiffing is legendary (The Kinks, for instance, have never even been nominated). So for someone from outside the world of popular music looking in, there is something of a parallax effect: You may not hear much difference between U2 and Coldplay, but to pop aficionados, they are worlds apart.

There's also the factor that popular music is a moving target. As tastes change, the scope of the categories changes with them. A best-selling album from an unexpected quarter will alter the definitions of "pop" or "rock". And artists generally evolve in the course of their careers: Coldplay sounded significantly different in 2001 than they do today (again, to someone who knows what to listen for). Notice that they haven't shuttled back and forth between categories; their last nomination for Alternative Album was 2003 for a release that initially sold less than 200,000 copies in the USA and eventually reached #5 on the album charts. The album after that, however, debuted at #1 and became the best-selling album anywhere in the world that year--and it was nominated in the Rock Album category.

hwhatting wrote:
One question on Folk - one Folk tradition that's been quite influential in Germany and that's normally not put under "World Music"*1), because it started to become popular in the late 60s / early 70s, is Irish Folk. What's the status of this in the States?

Depends who's doing the classifying.

When it comes to music store classifications and the popular categories people use when discussing their taste, it tends to get broken out into a separate category called "Celtic". Despite the name, Welsh bands are virtually never included. It's really "Irish plus Scottish and bands from elsewhere that play in vaguely the same style". ("Celtic rock" is occasionally distinguished, according to the same pop vs rock criteria mentioned elsewhere; confusingly, it can be extended to embrace acts with no Celtic folk features at all, simply an origin in Ireland, e.g. U2.) For instance, Chicago used to have an annual music festival called "Celtic Fest". One year, one of the featured bands was a group from Asturias called "Llan de Cubel". Asturias has an even more tenuous claim to being a "Celtic nation" than Galicia, but, hey, they use bagpipes and their fiddler is from Scotland.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 2:12 pm 
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zompist wrote:
Whatever exactly you add to pop to get rock... if you add a lot more of that, you get hard rock. Louder, more banging drums, the singer sounds angrier, you can't play it for Mom at all. Add even more and you get metal, usually accompanied by raspy delivery and a whole lot of attitude.

I have no idea what you're talking about: my mother's who got me into metal/hard rock.


Anyways, while this is true about most metal, the big thing is that the only real characteristic of metal is the instrumentation, especially in terms of the guitars. Metal vocals can run the gamut from raspy growl-a-thon to "clean" singing (or be absent completely).

Here's an example of an array of various metal songs that span a range of vocals (and all are generally considered "metal"):
Apocalyptica – Quutamo (zero vocals!)
Kamelot – Insomnia (clean male vocals)
Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills (clean male vocals)
Nightwish – Élan (clean female vocals)
Nightwish – Bye Bye Beautiful (clean female + harsh male vocals)
Epica – Storm the Sorrow (clean female + growling male vocals)
Opeth – The Leper Affinity (clean + growling male vocals, both from the same person)
Volbeat – Cape of Our Hero (clean male vocals)
Arch Enemy – War Eternal (growling female vocals)


alice wrote:
Perhaps it might be useful to consider a genre, or style, of music to be a collection of specific tropes. Then it's easier and probably more useful to describe the differences between genres in terms of the presence or absence of said tropes and to establish archetypes, which is probably what I was trying to do there.

Much of the problem is due to the fact that "popular music" (as a general cover-term) is, perhaps more than any other art-form, an expression of the multifaceted entity that is popular culture, and attempts to describe or delineate genres and sub-genres within it are bound to be affected by one's own biases as well as a variety of social, cultural, political, racial, and sexual factors. Not to mention that Grammy categories are bound to be somewhat arbitrary anyway; Jethro Tull, the inventor of the seed drill, once won a Grammy in the "Hard Rock Or Metal" category despite fitting very few people's idea of what either comprised.

Nonetheless, there is value in recognising that much of, say, Michael's work fits the definition of "pop", while Led Zeppelin's first two albums qualify as pretty much the definition of "hard rock" and Iron Maiden meet most people's criteria of "heavy metal". The fun part, of course, is establishing what those criteria actually are.

This is quite accurate. It's a bit tricky to differentiate genres in a vacuum; it's generally easier to go "this is pop" or "this is metal" and see how things compare. It also does depend heavily on how things get marketed and how bands portray themselves. (In general, the darker the colors they wear, the more likely they'll be classified as "metal".

Also, pop is quite country-dependent. (See: K-Pop and J-Pop.)

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 3:48 pm 
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Thanks everybody; I'm still mulling over what people have said so far, so sorry for not replying in detail yet. Please do continue contributing!

I did want to make one response, though:

zompist wrote:
Alternative is, well, good stuff that doesn't hit the top of the charts. Your geekier or artier stuff; played on college radio stations; thinks it's better than mere rock n roll.

Well, that was what I assumed before I looked at who 'alternative' actually was. But it turns out, this doesn't really make sense.
For instance, they literally nominated Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not for 'best alternative music album'. For context, that was at the time the fastest-selling UK album of all time (I think it's about #3 now, and still #1 by a band). Not only was it was #1 in the charts, but it outsold #s 2-19 put together. Two singles from the album hit #1. Even the poor Prime Minister had to pretend to like them in order to seem With It. They're like the definition of a pop phenomenon.

Similarly, Radiohead! OK, so maybe that made sense in 1998, when they were only #1 in the UK charts. But they've had 'alternative music' nominations up to this year - including for 'Hail to the Thief' (#3 in the US charts), 'Amnesiac' (#2 in the US charts) and 'Kid A' and 'In Rainbows' (both #1 in the US (and UK) charts). That doesn't exactly sound like the sort of stuff that doesn't hit the top of the charts...

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 4:47 pm 
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Salmoneus wrote:
For instance, they literally nominated Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not for 'best alternative music album'. For context, that was at the time the fastest-selling UK album of all time (I think it's about #3 now, and still #1 by a band). Not only was it was #1 in the charts, but it outsold #s 2-19 put together. Two singles from the album hit #1.

Yes: In the UK. But the Grammys are award by The Institution Formerly Know As the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and the "nation" in question is the USA, which is notoriously parochial in these matters. That album hit #1 on the Billboard indie charts, but only peaked at #24 on the overall album charts after being out for over two months.

(This blind spot is nothing new either. Most of the bands I listened to when I was in high school--Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure--were still considered "alternative" here even as they were selling out stadiums across the pond.)

I'll grant you that Radiohead is harder to explain. Evidently, most people hear something different when they listen to them. I remember when The Bends came out and US critics were spunking themselves over it, one went on to say that you couldn't imagine an album like that coming from a mainstream artist. Mind you, this was an album released by Parlophone by a band which had had a worldwide hit with "Creep" a few years earlier. I couldn't understand what the fuss was then and I don't understand it now.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:00 pm 
Boardlord
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hwhatting wrote:
Maybe your mom, and mine. ;-) That criterion stopped working some point in the 90s. The first generation of e.g. Motörhead fans is now in their 60s, with lots of moms among them and probably quite a few grandmas. There even are Heavy Metal cruises...


Fair point. Not only am I older than most of the board, but my parents were nearly 40 years older than me. They never developed a tolerance for rock n roll. You might have been able to slip "Yesterday" past them, but not "A Hard Day's Night".

Salmoneus wrote:
That doesn't exactly sound like the sort of stuff that doesn't hit the top of the charts...


Yeah, as Hans-Werner says, bands tend to be kept in a category even if they outgrow it. So alternative becomes something like "white-people rock that wasn't quite mainstream in the '90s, or whatever those same people are playing today even if it's really popular, or new bands that mostly sound like them."

Wikipedia suggests that "indie" and "alternative" were once synonyms, but now "indie" is more used for British acts, and "alternative" for American. I don't know if that actually holds up.

The Wikipedia articles on all these genres are good for finding prototypical examples. Their attempts at definition verge on the hilarious, however. The article on pop music is especially bad. Almost every attempt is either hopelessly vague ("professional music which draws upon both folk music and fine arts music") or a condescending value judgment ("produced as a matter of enterprise not art").


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:02 pm 
Sanno
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Salmoneus wrote:
zompist wrote:
Alternative is, well, good stuff that doesn't hit the top of the charts. Your geekier or artier stuff; played on college radio stations; thinks it's better than mere rock n roll.

Well, that was what I assumed before I looked at who 'alternative' actually was. But it turns out, this doesn't really make sense.
For instance, they literally nominated Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not for 'best alternative music album'. For context, that was at the time the fastest-selling UK album of all time (I think it's about #3 now, and still #1 by a band). Not only was it was #1 in the charts, but it outsold #s 2-19 put together. Two singles from the album hit #1. Even the poor Prime Minister had to pretend to like them in order to seem With It. They're like the definition of a pop phenomenon.

Similarly, Radiohead! OK, so maybe that made sense in 1998, when they were only #1 in the UK charts. But they've had 'alternative music' nominations up to this year - including for 'Hail to the Thief' (#3 in the US charts), 'Amnesiac' (#2 in the US charts) and 'Kid A' and 'In Rainbows' (both #1 in the US (and UK) charts). That doesn't exactly sound like the sort of stuff that doesn't hit the top of the charts...

There are other factors at play too. Some details that I can think of regarding these two specific examples:

- I would rephrase Zompist's definition as "good stuff that doesn't hit the top of the singles charts". Radiohead is a good example of this - they have had several big-selling albums, but most of their singles didn't make it into the top ten (and none ever reached #1 in the UK). Basically, they're a band where people primarily buy albums, not singles. This is not the only criterion for "Alternative", but to me it's an important part of the "Alternative" prototype.

- While Radiohead have been one of the big names for a long time, they have also been one of the more experimental bands for most of that time, constantly testing new musical elements and producing pieces that often fall outside of typical "song" structures (especially from "Kid A" onward). In some ways they're definitely a rock band, but in other ways they also have a lot in common with contemporary experimental "classical" music. Insofar as the latter is not "Pop" or "Rock", it does qualify as "Alternative" in some way.

- The Arctic Monkeys were the first band who primarily marketed their music via social media (MySpace) successfully, mostly through their own activities rather than those of a record company (or at least that's what was said about them). This strategy was then pretty much the definition of "Indie", which overlaps to a considerable degree with "Alternative".

- The Arctic Monkeys were also notable for their very raw, fast-paced style of music, which has a lot of influence from late-seventies punk. And punk is also more or less by definition at the heart of "Alternative", especially in terms of attitude.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:21 pm 
Avisaru
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It's at least true that people classify music intuitively through tropes and prototypes. If you are asked if a band or a piece of music counts as pop or rock, the typical way to answer the question is to compare it to other bands that are accepted to fall into these genres and see if it sounds similar enough. What counts as "similar enough" isn't very well defined at all but can be approximated by questions like "Would you accept these bands playing at the same festival one after the other?" The result of this type of classification is that there are groups that draw major inspiration from so many different genres, or just have a particularly unique sound, that it's not clear what's the best fit genre label for their music. This here, for example, is typically classified as pop and while I struggle finding a better simple genre label for it, that's not a terribly satisfactory one either.

Regarding folk and world music, these are both wide labels and their difference is to an extent artificial. I'd say that you can put any music under "folk" if it continues an old local musical tradition. When it comes to the modern developments like folk rock, the music may borrow a lot in style and instrumentation from other genres, but it still fits under this definition of folk. Living traditions have anyway always borrowed from their neighbours, so this shouldn't be a surprise. World music is then any music that you group together based on the fact that it's exotic. This means that it'll naturally cover a different selection of music based on where in the world you happen to be. It's a category that helps the discovery of new music since many world music records could otherwise be challenging to classify. Typically what you find under "world music" is folk from far away places and in the brick and mortar record shops you'd find "folk" and "world" side by side and blending into each other. You can also see that there are genre labels like blues or Latin that could be fit under folk or world. The easiest explanation for why they typically aren't is that they are both already recognised well enough as their own things so there's no reason for grouping them under further high level categories.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:47 pm 
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gach wrote:
Typically what you find under "world music" is folk from far away places

Disagree: Look through the Grammy nominations and at least half of what you see is mainstream popular music from parts of the world the USA doesn't particularly care about. It is a real stretch to call, for instance, Gilberto Gil or Salif Keita "folk musicians". This is consistent with the "World Music" sections of music stores I've been to and compilations of "World Music" I've bought over the years. Any African performer will be ghettoised there regardless what style of music they perform.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 6:36 pm 
Smeric
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Also, doesn't Mexican music count as "world music"? Is Mexico a faraway place? (And by whose standards? It sure isn't for me!).


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 6:47 pm 
Avisaru
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linguoboy wrote:
Disagree: Look through the Grammy nominations and at least half of what you see is mainstream popular music from parts of the world the USA doesn't particularly care about.


Maybe so. I haven't ever found music awards particularly interesting nor worth viewing them as authorities, so I can't comment on that. I've also never lived in the US myself, so differences in the use of terminology can be expected, especially for something as vaguely defined as world music. My own usage comes from visiting record stores around the turn of the millennium and I find that it more or less falls along the lines of the Wikipedia definition, i.e. the core of world music is music that continues one or more local traditions from around the world. It can be pop on top of that, but using the genre label as a residue class for all sorts of foreign pop does strike me as a misuse of the term.

Vijay wrote:
Also, doesn't Mexican music count as "world music"? Is Mexico a faraway place? (And by whose standards? It sure isn't for me!).


It can count, why not. It all depends on whether you have locally another handy category for it or not. Also isn't most of Mexico at least culturally not exactly next doors to most of the US?


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:40 pm 
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I'm not sure "continues local traditions" really makes sense as a definition of either 'world' or 'folk'. After all, everything everywhere continues traditions, and by definition those traditions are local to wherever they are. On the other hand, 'folk music' in the usual sense is mostly a mid-20th-century tradition, derived more from contemporary popular music than from genuinely old European traditions (eg the tonality is taken from art music, with the odd blue note added, rather than from the traditional modes).

To answer a question earlier about Irish music: both the Chieftains and Celtic Woman have been nominated for the "world music" grammies, so... maybe it just means "from non-anglophone, non-hispanophone nations"?


-----

I think the general gist here is that genres primarily denote the ethnicity and class of the performers and/or the perceived audience.

But, suppose I heard a piece of music and I knew nothing about the performer - where they came from, what race they were, which publishing label they were signed to, etc - how would I tell what genre the piece probably was? Are there any indicators in terms of orchestration, melody, harmony, structure, etc?


----

And pointed out above, another term: what is hip-hop? How is it distinguished from R&B and/or rap?



-----

Another question inspired by the above, though largely irrelevent to the thread topic: Irish music.
Irish music on youtube seems largely to belong to one of three categories:
- webcam footage of amateurs having a go, or camcorder footage of people singing at pubs, competitions, etc. All very well, but sound qualitiy tends to be poor. Ditto staticky records of old men recorded in 1920.

- people aiming for the "loud, drunken guys in a pub" aesthetic. Of course, loud drunken guys singing in pubs are a part of Irish musical tradition, but to be honest it's not my favourite style (and is less distinctive musically).

- (usually) women singing with so much artificial reverb that it sounds like they're sitting inside a bell, with an accompaniment of new age-y "relaxing" instruments, presumably produced as a fetishistic exercise for Americans. The word 'Celtic' usually appears on the cover somewhere.

Does anyone have any recommendations for traditional (not necessarily sean nós, but not contemporary in style) Irish music that isn't such a pantomime?

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 8:49 pm 
Smeric
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Sean nós is probably the only traditional Irish music I ever bother with tbh. Everything else I know in Irish is...not folk because I once had an Irish colleague and was desperately trying to find Irish songs that were not the kinds of folk songs she thought all Irish music was. I think most of what I ended up finding was Irish-language covers of American pop songs.

EDIT: Somehow, I managed to forget about Eurovision's one Irish-language nomination. I have no idea how good or bad the Irish in it is, though:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4M46Xf2Eik4

I also just ran across this, this, and this. And heck, here's some sean nós, too, because why not: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHa4jv7uOLo (video is slightly lower quality than the version that was taken down from YouTube, sorry). Nell Ní Chróinín seems to be a good sean nós singer in general. There's another clip of her I'm looking for (but I think that was taken down, too).


Last edited by Vijay on Mon Dec 04, 2017 9:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 9:14 pm 
Avisaru
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Salmoneus wrote:
I'm not sure "continues local traditions" really makes sense as a definition of either 'world' or 'folk'. After all, everything everywhere continues traditions, and by definition those traditions are local to wherever they are. On the other hand, 'folk music' in the usual sense is mostly a mid-20th-century tradition, derived more from contemporary popular music than from genuinely old European traditions (eg the tonality is taken from art music, with the odd blue note added, rather than from the traditional modes).


That's one legitimate issue, but can you think of any other useful definition that wouldn't turn into a list of constraints that fit a particular preconception of what we want folk to stand for? If you think of Finnish folk, for example, there's one significant layer in it from maybe around the 19th century and it's had several waves after that. But besides filtering in external influences, these have grown locally on top of older folk traditions. If you select the performed oral poetry as one subtype, this has clear roots that go back into prehistoric times. The meaningful use of "folk" stands here for identifying a bundle of development lines from the old music performed by popular players in the communities or by the people themselves.

Anyway, I don't think that it's a particularly useful exercise to try to formalise all music genres into a strict universal system. The way we use these terms in practise means that they don't really have clearly defined borders and that the definitions aren't necessarily even orthogonal, in that assigning one genre label for a piece of music would exclude all other categorisations as possibilities. Just think how broadly the term "world music" is used. Grouping music under it in no way means that you can't talk about that same music using other genre labels at the same time.

Music genres are a useful tool for grouping together music that shares certain characteristics. They make it easier to discover new music that's similar to what you already like and give you handy indication for what sort of music you should expect to hear when you tune to a radio station or go to a festival. They also make it easier to discuss the historical development of music. But I don't think that the genres have a meaningful independent existence so that each piece of music would always have an inherent genre that could be determined in isolation of other music.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 9:54 pm 
Sanno
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Salmoneus wrote:
To answer a question earlier about Irish music: both the Chieftains and Celtic Woman have been nominated for the "world music" grammies, so... maybe it just means "from non-anglophone, non-hispanophone nations"?

Sounds fair as a first approximation. I'm trying to recall where I've seen English folk music (and Scottish folk music outside the Celtic tradition, e.g. Jean Redpath, The Corries) classified by US retailers and I think it's always in "Folk".

Salmoneus wrote:
But, suppose I heard a piece of music and I knew nothing about the performer - where they came from, what race they were, which publishing label they were signed to, etc - how would I tell what genre the piece probably was? Are there any indicators in terms of orchestration, melody, harmony, structure, etc?

You mean besides the dozens we've listed already?

Salmoneus wrote:
And pointed out above, another term: what is hip-hop? How is it distinguished from R&B and/or rap?

As pointed out already, "rap" is, strictly speaking, a vocal style. It's been used by non-hip-hop artists in non-hip-hop songs. ("Rap rock" is a whole genre of its own, complete with heavy metal subgenres.) Musically hip-hop is distinguished by its heavy reliance on sampling. Hip-hop artists aren't instrumentalists; you have a producer, who is responsible for laying down the instrumental track, and then one or more MCs, who rap over it. There's a lot of variation in styles. Originally, the main regional divide was East Coast vs West Coast, but now there are several regional centres, including my own hometown of St Louis. One of the most popular subgenres currently, trap, originated in Atlanta. Here's an interesting video essay on how a particular feature of it, the "triplet flow", gained widespread popularity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3la8bsi4P-c.


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