Genre blending and the evolution of musical styles: How artists are breaking genre boundaries and creating hybrid sounds

Karishma Jangid
Updated On
New Update
Genre Blending

Hamza Kazi, Head of Music at Dharma Cornerstone Agency, discusses the increasing trend of genre crossovers in the music industry in 2024. He analyses how international collaborations are reshaping musical boundaries.

We are six months down in 2024, and the music industry across the world is hopping on the trend of genre crossovers, which has been brewing but latent for a while now. One of the most impressive examples of this genre-blending music is Beyoncé's album ‘Cowboy Carter'. The aesthetic that the Grammy-winning artist presented was conventionally Country. However, the overall experience was a mixed bag of Gospel, Blues, Folk, Soul, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and others. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, leading to a wide-spread, diverse sonic resonance that was intended through the album. 

While cross-genre collaborations have proven beneficial for the artists, providing unique and fresh musical ideas to the audience across generations, cross-cultural collaborations have created revolutions. The rise of Latin artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalía, and others who have refurbished Reggaeton with contemporary Pop collaborations has opened a new avenue for Latin culture to cater globally. These cross-cultural projects have helped niche music and non-mainstream artists gain a worldwide audience. 

In the Indian context, Grammy-award-winning composer and sitar virtuoso, Ravi Shankar, pioneered the global Indian Classical movement, and his album, ‘West Meets East’ with Yehudi Menuhin, is a testimony to this cross-cultural collaboration phenomenon. The album became a chart-topping classical masterpiece! The Delhi NCR-origin band, Peter Cat Recording Co., has gained a cult-like following abroad. The band reintroduced heartland listeners to Psychedelic, Alt-rock, Gypsy, Disco, and Electronica, infusing Indian aesthetics into Western indie music. On the other hand, Diljit Dosanjh has become a megastar, staging his Punjabi pride on global platforms through international collaborations like Saweetie and Sia

Spotify released a report highlighting 40 of the biggest crossover collaborations' performance on the platform six months post-release. The report suggested that 75% of these artists witnessed a 10% surge in Spotify streams in comparison to six months before the release of the collaboration. The genre-blending model also helped artists like Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus have a 390,000% increase in collective listeners after their hit track ‘Old Town Road’.

The credit for these impressive numbers goes to streaming platforms like Spotify, which have transformed the listening behavior of music enthusiasts. After changing the global music consumption pattern, it has tailored the music preferences of its listeners, promoting multi-genre music through curated playlists. These lists are determined by various factors, including listeners themselves. Streaming platforms use data to form playlists as per their listeners' tastes but also by tracking their activities while they listen to music. These curation activities mash genres together so well that the songs have a certain seamlessness. Now music purists might say it has also worsened the traditionally focused music listening experience. But Spotify has clarified that their AI-backed services are only a reactive catalyst; they do not decide what music seeps into the collective consciousness of the listeners. 

Theoretically, categorizing music into genres is difficult. It is subjective as it depends on social and emotional experiences. For instance, labels have always pushed Blues, during the initial days of its mainstream production, as a white-man genre while it has its roots in rich black history. A division based on categories happens because of an established, formulaic structure. This clear distinction is necessary for commercial purposes to list a track on the radio in a specific category, making this categorization essential.

In today's day and age, genres have become an archaic system of categorizing music, no longer serving the purpose they once did. The conservative structure has even resulted in problematic ideological affiliations. As mentioned above, Blues has become a significant part of black history. It originated from the rural southern parts of the US, where black people were enslaved. It was more than a genre for them. They sang songs to present their yearnings most optimistically. The music represented the pain and melancholy that they carried in their hearts, masquerading as sweet hymns. In the years when record labels were capitalizing on Blues, it was predominantly produced for a white audience, simply to get a wider reach. They produced records for only white people, as there was a perception that black people could not buy records as they were priced high in the early 20th century. However, Mamie Smith changed the trajectory with ‘Crazy Blues' when Okeh Records produced the track in 1920, reclaiming the black roots of the genre born out of social justice and resistance. 

While the genre-blending phenomenon has existed for a long time, it has now become even more prominent with the advent of the internet and globalization. Jazz was born due to the confluence of the European harmonic system and the sound of the Blues. Later, Jazz permeated into Hip-hop, which was a cultural reset. Hip-hop, in turn, seamlessly fitted into other genres. In 1986, the Hip-hop group Run D.M.C. collaborated with the rock band Aerosmith, re-recording ‘Walk With Me’ which became the first Billboard top-ten charting Hip-hop track, further popularising the already-hit track. The track set the tone for many cross-genre collaborations that followed in its footsteps. The latest example is Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Old Town Road', a Country-themed song that sampled a Nine Inch Nails track and became a sensation. There was, however, a major controversy when Billboard removed ‘Old Town Road' from the Country chart, citing that it was miscategorized. Since the Country genre was also gatekept for years by white artists, the label’s prerogative took the lead rather than the artist’s. The rapper deemed the song as ‘Country Trap’. Despite the clarity, the magazine removed the song from the said category. 

Powering through all the issues, genres are still relevant for labels to brand their artists and market their music. For major labels, genres present an opportunity to place their talents in the market as per the interested demography. Relevant factors like radio promotions, album rollouts, press releases, tours, and other activities propel the career of a talent and most of these require some form of classification. The Indian pop sensation King was re-branded as a pop artist after he was signed to Warner Music India, deviating from Hip-hop, which helped him reach a much wider mainstream audience.

Technology has revitalized the vigour in the music industry, with new artists emerging who are at the forefront of new sounds and innovative audio production. In the 2000s, music production software became cheaper and more widely available for people to access. The industry adopted Tinker Theory, where newer artists in the 2000s, like Kanye West, played with various genres, birthing a distinct identity for Hip-hop production. These genre-blending efforts not only helped artists, but also production companies. One of the examples is Jingle Punks. Jared Gudstadt employed a brilliant strategy to promote his production house. He hired a string ensemble called The Hipster Orchestra, which would cover songs from various genres. They kept the original flavour intact, but a classical music twist helped them garner popularity so much that the ensemble became the company's brand identity. 

A Genre is not a static entity; it has brought together both formal and cultural contexts that associate a platter of artistic expression with the content. It is not absolute, as it can be perceived differently based on composition, lyrical themes, production, and sometimes even delivery and performance. It is more like a spectrum with multiple dimensions and the final classification is the one with the maximum convenient overlap. But genre-blending is the new future. The advent of technology and AI has made music production accessible to the world, and platforms like TikTok, SoundCloud, and Instagram have democratized the music space. While some may argue that genre has become obsolete, it remains a crucial marketing tool, injecting fresh energy into the industry while satiating the diverse tastes of the audience. 

This article has been authored by Hamza Kazi- Head of Music- Dharma Cornerstone Agency (DCA)

For more such content, follow us @socialketchup

Hamza Kazi Genre Blending Music