Genre is a Construct

In his book Every Song Ever, Ben Ratliff correctly writes:

"Genre is a construct for the purpose of commerce, not pleasure."

“Genre is a construct for the purpose of commerce, not pleasure.” – Ben Ratliff, Every Song Ever

I am reminded of this every day by my four-year-old, who will bounce directly from Cats to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony to What a Girl Is by Liv and Maddie (Disneypop). A day of listening might include James Taylor/George Gershwin/Taylor Swift/Stephen Sondheim/Gene Puerling/Yannick Nézet-Seguin/Lin-Manuel Miranda/Pentatonix/Bruno Mars/Adam Gwon/The Muppets/Bock & Harnick.

It’s me that makes these hierarchical. His personal playlist (in his head and on the computer) is simply music that moves him. Of course he can hear the similarities between Mozart and Haydn, Pentatonix and The Real Group, Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars. But he correctly understands that there’s a lot more that connects Taylor Swift and Schubert than divides them. The question is: does it move you?

We would all do better to take a page from this young sophisticate and think of other ways to categorize music than by the construct of genre.

Check out Ben Ratliff’s book for more thoughts on how to listen now that every song is available all the time.