Ask someone what they listen to today and you’ll get the same basic answer (“I like a bit of everything really”) with the same basic preface (“but I know everyone says that”).
It’s easy to assume this was always the case but it really wasn’t. People were defined by the music they consumed – skinheads, punks, hippies, goths, teddy boys. You bought into a scene. Musical magpies still existed of course – your dad probably has records by The Police and Otis Redding in the loft – but music created sub-genres and with them came sub-cultures with their own distinct outlook.
What they believed in, what they wore, what they smoked and who they voted for were defined to a greater or lesser extent by not just the music they loved but by other people who felt the same. Now everyone listens to everything. K-Pop blended with metal. Kanye sampling King Crimson.
Which explains how genres as far-flung as country and hip-hop can end up in the same track.
‘Old Town Road’ got big off of a viral craze on TikTok. The ‘Yeehaw Challenge’ (yeah really) quickly took off and led to the track climbing to No.19 on Billboard’s Hot Country chart. However much to the consternation of fans, Billboard removed the track from this listing on the grounds it did not “embrace enough elements of today’s country music”.
Moral outrage quickly spread through Twitter, eventually reaching the ears of Miley-spawning and one-time country star Billy Ray Cyrus, who likened the track to outlaw country. A remix followed featuring a verse from Cyrus, which has gone on to be a monster hit.
In all their saltiness Billboard have still not accepted ‘Old Town Road’ as a country song, despite the track going on to be a huge worldwide hit. I can see their point. This does not really feel like a country song. In fact the trap beat and cash-money bragging would probably get the back up of your average country fan, if indeed there is such a thing.
However regardless of the merits of the song it really is a blend of the two genres. It’s split right down the middle – you have the attitude of rap with the motifs of 70s outlaw country. And it’s a damn sight better than that Nelly song.
‘Old Town Road’ is just another black eye to the idea of genre as signifier. What’s popular now isn’t pop – at least not as we know it. The flavour of the month right now is Billie Eilish – whose sound perfectly encapsulates this pre-genre sound. ‘Old Town Road’, Eilish’s ‘bad guy’ & ‘Royals’ by Lorde can be seen as three important steps towards a sort of indeterminate monopop sound.
The sub-cultures of the 20th century are gone and listeners no longer confine themselves to just one sound or scene. This is a good thing. Genre isn’t important anymore. The genre charts are a joke – the UK Rock charts currently features eight Queen songs. Genre isn’t important anymore – as tastemaker it’s been replaced by the infinite possibilities of curated streaming, as scene-setter it’s been rendered obsolete by the bleeding together of culture, music and art via the internet and online communities. Time to bury the hatchet.