Should musicians switch genres?

Our feature this week

Callum O'Callaghan
12th November 2018
Credit: flickr


For any recording artist or band, there comes a time in their career in which their sound begins to change, begins to develop, and in some cases, can even begin to cross lines of genre altogether. When this begins to happen, the recording artist faces a partisan reaction from their fan base; some will embrace the change, whilst some are alienated by it. This in part comes down to the very nature of music, being that it is subjective, and that one listener’s treasure may very well be another’s trash.

However, within modern music fans, there seems to be a change in the way we approach music and it could perhaps be linked to changes in the way our world operates. At one time, music was an industry dominated by career musicians, often classically trained in their craft, working tirelessly to attain fame and success as an artist.

[pullquote]If that album doesn’t adhere to expectations or preferences, it will be pushed aside by something that does[/pullquote]

Over decades the industry has transformed dramatically, and nowadays the artists at the top of the charts, and at the supposed pinnacle of the profession, are for the most part overnight success stories. Some went viral with a song online and kick-started a career, others won televised talent shows, or simply got bored of being film stars and decided to try their hand at auto-tune. With the increasing role of the internet in music, more and more overnight superstars and chart-topping breakthrough acts appear at a seemingly exponential rate.

And, seemingly, just as quickly as they emerge, they fade into irrelevance, becoming victims of a pop culture that is as fast-paced as it is fickle. It could be said that this widespread conveyor belt style of consumption has led to a lack of patience, or a shortening of the attention span within music fans. This, it seems, could play a role in the negative opinions people may hold on an album that sounds completely different from the rest of an artist’s discography.

If that album doesn’t adhere to expectations or preferences, it will be pushed aside by something that does, rather quickly for that matter, as it didn’t immediately grip its listener.  However, perhaps once the listener looks past that change and listens with no pre-existing ideas of what it should sound like, they would perhaps begin to appreciate the growth or maturity within the artist’s decision.

For the most part, deciding to experiment with one’s sound comes from a genuine desire to pursue creative diversity, harnessing the ability to master multiple disciplines or avenues of their profession. Therefore, do we not at least owe the artist a little depth to our critique of these sometimes daring shifts in style? Should we not at least try to understand this development? Far too often when an artist commits to this do we hear “That new album isn’t my cup of tea, I prefer their older stuff”, or words to that effect.

Everybody is entitled to their opinion and perhaps this statement has come from a proper, considered analysis of the record, however it seems that in many cases, as soon as people hear something out of the ordinary they lose interest. Whilst this is testament to the effect the original style of an artist has had on the listener, it is a shame, as any true fan of an artist should aim to listen to the music for what it is, not what they expect it to be.

Whilst some cases of bands shaking things up musically have played out badly, and indeed the music has suffered, some cases have been considered as moments of creative genius - it can go either way. So maybe it’s worth giving a second listen to that latest album from your favourite band that you thought was a little bit “too out there” for you: it might be genius after all.

- Liam Austen


Artists redefining themselves through genre shifting can make for exciting new projects. It keeps things fresh at a point where things are starting to sound a bit too similar. However, there is a fine line between successfully evolving your sound, gaining new fans in the process, as opposed to alienating your fan base and destroying your previous reputation in the process.

[pullquote] If an artist were to go through their entire career only ever releasing one style of music with no experimentation, then they are unlikely to go down in history. [/pullquote]

The obsession with demanding change from album to album has become too extreme. Some artists are well suited to emulating past success through enhancement and further exploration into a style or lyrical topic they already have started to perfect. The thematic and sonic approach songwriters and artists take to each piece of work they produce is usually going to reflect what stage they feel they’re at in their careers, i.e. singing and taking inspiration from personal experiences or perhaps a reflection of the current political climate they are writing in. Why ask them to change for the sake of changing if that means losing an authenticity to their work? Versatility should be applauded but not at the expense and downplaying of those who have found their niche.

The line of work of artists and songwriters is about creation, meaning there is obvious expectation to avoid repetition. Fans want a honing of skill and something innovative to come from each new production. However, that doesn’t mean a general theme cannot be repeated and adapted differently. A prime example is Blossoms. Their self-titled debut album and follow-up sophomore album Cool Like You have similar lyrical and sonic themes recurring throughout as they return to the melancholic pop that worked so well on their debut. The addition of the increasing synth riffs gives the album a more uptempo 80s feel; a welcome change, but the underlying romanticism of the lyrics ensures fans of the first album are likely to enjoy their follow up. I am not advocating for artists to churn out records remarkably like their previous work but merely that fans do not feel let down if artists decide to try and repeat their success in a similar field.

Impatience is seemingly a major factor in this area. If an artist were to go through their entire career only ever releasing one style of music with no experimentation, then they are unlikely to go down in history. Change is refreshing and when it comes off, it can regularly take artists to a new level and gain new admirers. Successful change is not the issue; for me the demand and pressure on acts to produce something completely different upon the release of each new LP is becoming excessive and can be detrimental to an artist’s progress.

Identifying the correct time for change is crucial and should only come when an artist no longer feels they are in the same headspace as they were previously, rather than from industry demands. Change creates and helps maintain longevity of an artist’s work, making it more applicable to those that have been around for a number of years. The genre-shifting of the likes of Brockhampton or Arctic Monkeys comes as a result of having gained a status where they know that whatever they do isn’t going to have a severe detrimental impact, as a result of how well established they are. For artists still in their infancy it should not be a necessity for them to change after one record - give them a chance to develop and decide what direction they want to take.

Ultimately, departing from the genre that has made you successful can be a risk but one worth taking as long as it comes as an internal decision and not the result of external pressures.

- Callum O’Callaghan

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