Music has always been a vessel for mankind to tell their stories. Not just through its lyrics, but with melody and style. As one notes the rise and fall of various music genres throughout the course of the last century, an intriguing pattern begins to take form – one that mirrors modern history almost identically, highlighting both catastrophe and controversy, as well as joy and accomplishment.
While many subgenres and musical trends from around the world came to fruition, it is important to note that especially in the last century, Western culture (as well as its music) exerted incredible influence over the rest of globe. As a result, we’ll take a dive into the musical history of the West.
1920s – 1940s – Swing Jazz
Swing Jazz arose in the 1920s as a venture into a wilder diversion from classical and vocal music, utilized mainly as an upbeat medium for the public to dance to. Its celebratory feel fit right in with a time period that saw tremendous prosperity and economic expansion for the West, and the lyrics of many popular Swing Jazz songs corresponded well with how much consumerism was rising at that time.
The genre developed into a means of relaxation and stress-relief for Western society as it struggled with catastrophes such as the Great Depression and the Second World War in the 1930s and ‘40s.
1950s – Modern Jazz
However, as the Second World War came to a close, war veterans and impacted citizens soon began to connect Swing Jazz with the difficulties they had faced in such troubling times. In the 1950s, the once prevalent music of the Roaring ‘20s was abandoned to make way for a rebirth, forming Modern Jazz.
Along with Country music, which became popularized by the widespread prominence of Hollywood cowboy films, Modern Jazz (or Bebop) dominated the 1950s music scene in a world that was still trying to get back on its feet after a catastrophe on a global scale.
“…war veterans and impacted citizens soon began to connect Swing Jazz with the difficulties they had faced in such troubling times.”
1960s – Psychedelic Rock
Soon after, the 1960s saw the blossoming of the post-war Baby Boomer generation, and consequently, a musical genre known as Psychedelic Rock. Evolved and shaped to express the popular ideals of counterculture among the Western youth of the time, its lyrics often contained little-to-no objective meaning to reflect an alternate reality.
Notorious for being associated with and influenced by hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, mushrooms, and Cannabis, Psychedelic Rock is often frowned upon today. Regardless of its reputation, it still remains as a fitting representation of the happenings and movements in First World culture.
1970s – Disco
As the Sixties came to a close and 1970 swung around, Disco burst onto the dance floor. A departure from the ‘utopianism’ of the previous decade and the rise of escapism led to Disco’s sudden entrance into mainstream music.
With the economy in decline once again, and numerous new wars popping up across the globe, people wanted to dance and move their bodies to forget about the negativity in the world and in their lives. Disco provided them with an avenue to take a break from the drabness of the times.
1980s – R&B and Pop
Disco eventually fell out of fashion, and the 1980s introduced R&B and Pop into the main spotlight. Metropolitan Hip-Hop culture exploded in popularity in this era, driving the demand for urban music sky-high. Like its predecessor, this decade in music emphasized dance and modernity, but with its own twist – technology started playing a major role not only in the recording of songs, but also in their structure and make-up. ‘80s music redefined electronic sound and melody through heavy use of the synthesizer keyboard, a sign of a society ready to dive deep into future levels of technology.
1990s – 2000s – Rap and Teen Pop
The 1990s and 2000s saw an increase in variety amongst successful music genres. But while Hip-Hop, Country, and Rock still enjoyed substantial attention from the public, the true conquerors of the music charts were Rap and Teen Pop. The next generation of youth had seen little-to-no direct economic hardship and political strife, and thus no longer used music as a form of escape from the world’s problems. Instead, youth pursued to emulate the swag of Rap artists and glamor of Teen Pop idols, propelling both genres to the top of the industry.
“The next generation of youth had seen little-to-no direct economic hardship and political strife, and thus no longer used music as a form of escape from the world’s problems.”
The development of the internet and digital online sales also saw a rebirth of the music single in the late 2000s, with record companies being able to market individual songs to the public without the wasted cost of producing physical discs.
2010s – Electronic Dance Music
In the present day, popular music has shifted back towards catering for dance and party settings, although we now see greater diversity in music trends more than ever before. Electronic dance music has been revitalized to include heavy usage of percussive and bass elements, and oversaw the re-popularization of DJ mixes amongst the younger crowd.
With many of its songs featuring sounds that imitate machinery and robotics, EDM stands as a monument of a time when technology is no longer merely on the rise, but already swinging in full force.
The Future and Beyond – Unknown
The world has seen the rise and fall of countless music genres, but enthusiasts of older subcategories are also actively trying to bring their favorite music back onto the scene. Some have tried to guess the next big trend in popular music, but in truth, no one really knows what the theme of the next decade will be. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future has in store for us.
Music isn’t just a jumble of sounds and words – it’s a world of narratives and dreams waiting to be explored. Take yourself deeper and journey with us at Believer Music. Together, we’ll go beyond mere musical pedagogy and raw technique, to discover the relationships between music and the world around us, past or present.