Why do we love so many different genres of music?

Image provided by Harper Smith/Press.

There are hundreds of genres of music, from country to K-pop. Why do these categories exist, and which are Washington’s favorites?

Music has become a major part of our daily lives with the popularization of digital streaming, a privilege that we take for granted. Unlike our parents, who had to buy physical vinyls, CDs, or tune into radio stations, we can pop on some Airpods to instantly stream the latest music on platforms like Spotify or Apple Music.

With this increased accessibility, many of us find ourselves listening to a wide variety of genres. According to everynoise.com, a website that catalogs every genre of music, there are 1,264 different genres that comprise all the tunes we enjoy. This vast array can be liberating, giving us the opportunity to experience new sounds. But sometimes, genres can feel restrictive, forcing artists and listeners into boxes. Tyler, the Creator expressed frustration upon receiving Best Rap Album at the 2020 Grammys. The album, IGOR, was his first to feature more vocals than rapping. Thus, he felt the award was ill-fitting.

On the other hand, famous rapper, singer, and songwriter Doja Cat must remind fans that she’s a rapper. Her TikTok famous track Say So is mainly composed of vocals, earning it a nomination at the 2020 Grammys for Best Pop Solo Performance. But her latest album Planet Her proves her ability to genre-bend, with rap, R&B and hip-hop in every single track. Hopefully, in the future, you’ll see her earn awards for those songs, too. 

While consuming so much music, we feel drawn towards some genres over others. Many of us find ourselves choosing a favorite genre as a teen and sticking to it for the rest of our lives, but why? Personality psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic Ph.D. believes that music preferences are heavily dependent on our personality, age, gender, and socio-economic status. Someone raised hearing Bollywood at home is more likely to enjoy it than someone raised hearing country music. We listen to music to express ourselves and, most importantly, because we simply enjoy it.

Neuroscientist Robert Zatorre found that dopamine is released into our nervous system in response to identifying patterns. From an evolutionary standpoint, humans needed to find patterns in order to survive as hunter-gatherers, thus any we encounter nowadays will still make us happy. Music happens to be entirely made up of patterns–which is why your head bops to a good tune, even when you’re unaware of it. 

Which genres are most popular here at Washington? I talked to three students with varying tastes to get their opinion on genres in music.

R&B from Anon

I love the stories that R&B tell. They’re super relatable to me and lots of R&B reminds me of high points of my life!

What are some genres that you could never listen to? 

There’s really nothing I won’t listen to, even country because my dad and my boyfriend are into it so I have no choice haha. If I had to choose I might say hyperpop. I can only listen to hyperpop in moderation.

Do you think genres are an arbitrary concept?

I do think genres are an arbitrary concept! At the end of the day, we’re all just some people enjoying some sounds.

Recommend an artist/song.

I think more people should listen to T-Pain haha! We’re all really used to his super heavily autotuned hits, but I really enjoy watching his Tiny Desk Concert because he’s actually really talented!

Pop from Sakina, a senior

I like pop because of the relatable lyrics. It’s easy to understand and I’m more drawn to the lyrics than anything.

What are some genres that you could never listen to? 

Jazz. It’s so boring and slow, it’s just music, no lyrics.

Do you think genres are an arbitrary concept?

I think it makes sense to categorize music because the sounds are all different. 

Recommend an artist/song.

Bruno Mars. His music is just so down to earth. You can never go wrong with Bruno, he’s a classic.

Rock from Anon

I like the history around rock. It was technically invented to go against the establishment, to criticize the government and things such as racism and homophobia. But I also like the instruments used, especially the guitar solos. I tend to like fast-paced and upbeat music.

What are some genres that you could never listen to? 

Definitely country, sorry to all the country listeners, I don’t like country. I think it’s probably the voices. If a voice doesn’t sound good I don’t like it. And I don’t like acoustic music in general.

Do you think genres are an arbitrary concept?

I don’t necessarily think that music needs to be categorized. My personal favorite artists tend to merge different genres together. There’s even a lot of different genres of rock, like psychedelic rock.

Recommend an artist/song.

“Thank God I’m Not You” by the Himalayas.

Renée Diop has spent all four years here at Washington, but before moving here, she grew up in the Midwest, in Chicago, Illinois. This is her first year writing for The Hatchet, exploring topics in the arts, entertainment, and controversial breaking news fields. Her hobbies include teaching debate to novice members as the captain of the team, listening to all genres of music (except country), and reading philosophy. She plans to major in psychology in college and pursue a career in writing.

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