Music Through the Years

“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”

— Beethoven.

It is implausible to even think of a world without the existence of music. To some, music is the explosive sound of the breeze that hits against wind chimes and produces a melody, whereas, for others, music is the reason for their very existence. However subjective the definition of music might be, one can simply not defy its ultimate competency.


Evolution of Music Genres Over the Years

Evolution in music has been a crucial part of our lives since the dawn of human consciousness. People enjoy music that caters to their tastes, regardless of the genre. However, it is unequivocal that music genres help artists of every style and form showcase their musical intellect and talent; thereby, satisfying music lovers of all kinds while promoting each genre. Ranging from Pop, Rock, Jazz and Blues to Hip-hop, Heavy Metal, Punk Rock and Electronic Music, the metamorphosis of music has not only been a treat to every music lover but also had a glaring impact on society.

The roaring 1920s signalled the start of a prominent music era. With the replacement of records by radio, the modern music industry was just getting started — a slew of emerging innovations aided in the advancement of music creation and distribution. The 1920s through the 1950s is appraised as the golden age of radio as it was a low-cost platform that enabled audiences to participate in live events. Alternatively, the emergence of radio led to the production of a wide variety of music. No musical expertise and exorbitant equipment were required nor involved buying records to play on the gramophone.

Entrenched by New Orleans, musicians such as King Oliver and his protégé, Louis Armstrong, commenced the ascendance of Jazz and Blues in the 1930s. Any jazz bands performing in illicit speakeasies during the Prohibition period in the 1920s and early 1930s contributed to the genre’s image as depraved and threatening to the country’s conventional ideals. Although, during the 1930s, as White orchestras started to integrate jazz style into their compositions, Jazz became a legitimate entertainment medium. Former migrated African Americans adapted their African musical roots to the American environment to create the Blues with Jazz as its core.

Radios were on the verge of being phased out, as, in the 1920s, the advent of broadcasting posed a challenge to the traditional radio industry. With technological advancements gradually moulding music, the 1950s became all about the advent of Rock and Roll, which emerged in the USA. Rock and roll has been best described by many as an amalgamation of Rhythm and Blues and Country music. It gained immense popularity among teenagers, whereas widespread disdain among the older generation. Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll,” helped popularise rockabilly — a mix of rock and country Music — among Black audiences by making music written by Black people obtainable to mainstream White audiences. In the 1960s, Rock and Roll began to branch out from Rhythm and Blues (R&B) with the emergence of English bands such as Pink Floyd and The Beatles and surf music, which artists like Dick Dale, Beach Boys and Jan and Dean embodied.

After the wind-up of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, the shift in musical dogma resulted in glam rock comprising hard pop and rock elements due to artists like Elton John, David Bowie, etc., which turned out to be a precursor for the punk movement in the late 1970s. Equally vivacious, disco began originating in the 1920s from a more electronic sound as popular disco artists like the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, etc., helped spearhead its sound. CBGB, a small New York City bar where bands like Television, Blondie, and The Ramones performed, sparked the punk rock movement. Punk bands developed a minimalist, furious style of rock in response to the commercialism of disco and corporate rock, reverting to rock and roll fundamentals such as straightforward chord patterns, catchy melodies, and politically charged lyrics.

Hip-hop, a term used for the urban culture that incorporates break dancing, street art, and the musical techniques of rapping, sampling, and scratching albums, became popular among disenfranchised African American youths in the 1980s. Hip-hop gained popularity among Black teenagers in the late 1970s when vinyl DJs in the Bronx and Harlem began playing a small part of the tracks rather than the whole track itself (known as sampling).

Then came the 1990s, which witnessed the reign of artists like Mariah Carrey, Madonna, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Green Day, Nirvana, Backstreet Boys, etc. With the biggest curveball being ‘grunge’ during the 90s, guitar-based music fell into three different categories like classic-rock standbys, hair metal and alternative rock. Grunge’s greater sway on 90s culture was that it normalised what had previously been considered “counter-cultural.” Suddenly, middle-of-the-road music enthusiasts were urged to scrutinize what had previously been deemed the realm of indie-music lovers, who originally regarded these outsiders as “intruders.” The rise of feminism in 90s music began to trickle up the pop charts by the decade’s end, which led to the ignition of multi-platinum singer-songwriters like Sheryl Crow, Paula Cole, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, etc.

Lastly, in the 2000s, bands like Nickelback, Linkin Park, Coldplay, and Green Day, rock’s influence in popular music had waned by the end of the decade. However, Gwen Stefani, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga all achieved widespread popularity in pop music over the decade, and artists like Taylor Swift went from country musicians to bona fide pop stars by the end of the decade. In the 2000s, a new kind of hip-hop appeared—one with optimistic messaging and a social consciousness that had been oblivious from early hip-hop songs.


Difference Between Music in the 20th and 21st Century

Music is said to have existed for roughly 40,000 years now. However, the development of technologies in the musical world led to dramatic musical varieties and styles, marking the 20th and 21st centuries. The abrupt looming of new technologies like sampling, MIDI, CD players, cassettes, software, vocal synthesis, etc., began recording and transmitting music. No longer restricted to opera houses, clubs, concerts, and domestic music-making, the musicians started growing out of their comfort zone and began creating music beyond the fancies and confinements of clubs and opera houses by recording and selling their own albums. Consequently, they began gaining rapid international exposure and influence. Culture in the 20th century introduced new freedom and innovation with contemporary artistic trends and forms; thereby, challenging previously accepted musical laws. The 21st century, on the other hand, offered a plethora of incredible new sounds inspired by the music of the past century and resurrected them.

While experimentation and evolution of technology led to the birth of different genres mentioned afore in the 20th century, the first two decades of the current centennial have seen a drastic change in music and its lyrics alongside the technological advancements that support it. In this digital age, platforms like YouTube and Spotify have proved to be a boon for many artists, especially for the underrated and emerging ones. Even the kids born in the late 90s and early 2000s began listening to artists that not just fit their preference column of music taste but also incorporated lyrics, which were personally very relatable. Artists and bands like Lana Del Rey, Cigarettes After Sex, The 1975, Arctic Monkeys, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Adele, Frank Ocean, Ed Sheeran, etc., received international attention for their music in the first half of the 2010s. Whereas the other half of the decade saw the rise of The Weeknd, Sam Smith, Tyler, the Creator, Dua Lipa, Lorde etc., climbing the charts and making their way to the audiences’ list.

Therefore, people have often valued music in their lives, whether for listening pleasure, emotional response, performance, or development of the society’s mindset; it is also seen as an alternative to mainstream entertainment.


Evolution of Hip Hop Over the Past Decade

Hip-hop is one of the most popular genres of music in the world, with a global reach, transcending borders, and social classes. It is heavily linked with toxic hypermasculinity and heteronormative ideals. It isn’t a genre one would traditionally associate with sensitive and complex topics like mental health and LGBTQ+ rights. However, the landscape has changed significantly over the past decade.

We have seen a rise of LGBTQ+ artists like Frank Ocean, Lil Nas X, Kehlani, and Mykki Blanco. Frank Ocean came out as queer in an open letter that he posted on Tumblr just before releasing his debut studio album. It was unheard of for a mainstream R&B artist to be publicly queer in 2012. Tyler, the Creator has become a symbol of breaking archaic limitations of gender identity and sexuality.

Throughout the 2010s, artists have shown a more sensitive side in their music and public personas, which had almost always been missing earlier. Various artists have publicly spoken about their struggles with depression and anxiety. Meek Mill was one of the artists discussing mental health issues, describing his experiences in dealing with trauma in an urban environment and comparing it to post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by ex-soldiers. Angel Haze remixed Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet”, talking about the abuse she experienced as a child. Kanye West has bipolar disorder, which was undiagnosed for most of his life. He was also one of the first artists to talk about his feelings through his music.

Jay-Z on his album “4:44” talks about his experiences with therapy, highlighting the benefits of having an outside perspective. Kid Cudi has been open about his struggle with depression. According to him, it was difficult for him to self diagnose and initially suspected stress as the root cause of his issues. He has also been honest about using drugs to deal with his depression, making matters even worse. He spoke about experiencing survivors’ guilt over his success, and in October 2016, he checked into rehab. After being released from rehab, he talked about how music has been his source of joy throughout his struggles.

In recent years, rappers have actively encouraged people to seek out resources for mental health and to be open to the idea of seeking help. In 2017, Logic released a song titled “1-800-273-8255” in partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline about being suicidal and seeking help. He performed this song at the 2018 Grammy Awards, where he stood with suicide survivors on stage, and this helped the calls to the suicide prevention helpline triple.

From the earliest musicians playing instruments made of animal bones and twigs to music today being just a click and a swipe away, music has come a really long way. The musical landscape continues to change from generation to generation. Evidently, humankind and art cannot exist without one another, and the contribution of music to society has been nothing but impeccable. Needless to say, every music genre has refined over the decades; thereby adding more value to the music industry in every way.


Written by Aarushi Verma and Swagat Sarkar for MTTN

Edited by Adil Khan for MTTN

Featured Image by ‘Lorraine Music Academy’


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