R-Rated: Exploring the music tastes of Rafflesians (Part 2)

By Lim Shaomin (14S03K)
Additional reporting by Jayne Chan (14S03D)

Raffles Press is back with the second portion of the two-part feature, R-Rated! Previously, we explored and analysed the popularity of Pop and Rock, the predominant genres of music many Rafflesians enjoy. This time round, we explore the popularity of two genres that have received recognition only in recent years, namely Indie and Acoustic. The two genres performed exceedingly well in the polls conducted, tying for third place. Here’s what we think about the acclaim of the two genres. We’ve continued with the creation of genre-specific playlists for your enjoyment as well.

Indie Music

Tying for third place with acoustic music, the popularity of indie music among Rafflesians is indeed growing. However, it is admittedly hard to define Indie music. On one hand, you have a “sound”: an eclectic mix of synthesizers, guitar strings, and out-of-the-box lyrics sung in an unconventional fashion. On the other hand, you have a “style”: a combination of various styles that are too lyrically intimate, too soft, too dreamy, too angular.

One or two years ago, if you picked out a random stranger on the streets and asked him or her ‘What is your favourite Indie band of all time?’ or something along those lines, you would probably be met with a furrowing of brows and a flurry of ‘Umm…’s and ‘Uhhhh…’s. Fast forward to 2013 – Indie has almost become a norm in today’s music scene. You see indie bands such as fun. holding full-house showcases here in Singapore, while in August, the much-anticipated indie band The xx will be making their way to our sunny shores for a concert. The popularity of indie music could also be largely credited to the Internet, where websites like Spotify allow singers and bands from independent and major record labels alike to share their music with millions of account users.

Back in the day, indie music merely meant music produced independently, that is, not released by big-name record labels like Sony. Through the years, Indie music has evolved into a philosophy advocating the ‘importance’ of retaining musical integrity, leading ardent fans to term indie music as “true music”. Today, it is a foil to mainstream music (and naturally, pop music comes to mind). More and more young upstarts are dipping their toes into indie waters, hoping to immerse themselves in a world where freedom of creativity is celebrated. So much so, that sometimes, it might seem that the weirder the music, the better it is. An anonymous respondent on our survey commented, “Indie artists are more experimental with their songs, which makes listening to them more interesting.” Another respondent also added, “ Florence and the Machine, Iron and Wine, Turning Page, The Smiths’ song lyrics are more literature-based; their songs are unconventional and beautiful compared to mainstream songs on radio.”

However, indie music is not without its critics. Loyal followers of indie music websites such as Pitchfork believe in obscurity. This goes back to the rising trend of ‘hipsterism’ among youths nowadays: in order to level up against other hipsters, you have to discover new indie artists (albeit, extremely obscure ones) before they become popular. This, of course, raises questions about whether ‘fans’ of indie music are merely trying to outdo each other by listening to bands which are more and more obscure, or are actually enjoying the music they are listening to. To take it a step further, obscure bands are termed ‘obscure’ for a reason.

Another major piece of criticism would be the “mainstream vs. indie” comparison. Indie fans argue that not belonging to a major label makes the music more genuine and sincere. Is that really the case? Sure, pop music is veering towards superficiality and not making much sense, but does that mean there aren’t any good pop songs being produced? Go-to artists for meaningful songs include Michael Jackson (R.I.P.), The Script, and Linkin Park (pre-Living Things).

Lastly, indie music has also been slammed for laziness, resulting in the passing off of ‘boring’ music as ‘credible’ music. You know the kind of song: the one where it all ends strangely, almost as if it were unfinished? Well, the artist would probably argue that finishing a song is ‘just too mainstream’.

Indie music does have a unique blend of melodies and rhythms, and should ultimately be considered an acquired taste. Personally, I started out hating indie music, having been accustomed to cheerful, up-tempo pop beats for far too long. However, it was The Weeknd that first got me hooked. Its sensual melodies and blatant discussion of controversial topics made it a fascinating listen. However, if you’re a little more reserved, a good place to start would be by giving bands such as Angus & Julia Stone (e.g. “The Devil’s Tears) or Passion Pit (e.g. “Take A Walk”) a listen. Who knows, you might just learn to appreciate it!

Acoustic Music

It may be strange to some – how this particular genre of music has seemingly captured the hearts of so many of the Rafflesians who participated in the polls. Though, if you think about it, the expeditious rate at which acoustic music has become one of the most popular music genres among us is hardly surprising. With the inception of YouTube in 2005, many budding singers and music producers took to the video-sharing website to showcase their vocal and instrumental prowess, increasing the exposure of today’s teenagers to acoustic music.

Acoustic and indie music might overlap, but acoustic music is more narrowly defined. It involves the use of non-electronic instruments such as guitars and pianos, as opposed to electric guitars and synthesizers. It is conventionally produced in two forms: through acoustic artists, or oftentimes, through cover artists on YouTube.

The term ‘acoustic artists’ is contestable, since artists with popular ‘electronic’ songs do make acoustic versions of them. However, there are strictly acoustic artists, such as Ben Howard. His more popular songs include “Only Love” and “The Fear”. The other form of acoustic music is through popular Youtube artists such as Kurt Hugo Schneider, Tyler Ward, Boyce Avenue and Conor Maynard (before he was signed to a record label). They rose to fame primarily because people enjoyed their version of popular songs. In fact, Conor Maynard’s cover of Chris Brown’s “Next To You” has received more than 11 million views to date.

However, acoustic music without vocal input also enjoys its fair share of popularity. The Piano Guys, a five-member American musical group, perform and produce their own instrumental arrangements from popular songs, ranging from One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful to The Hobbit theme song. The millions of views generated on YouTube show that viewers are becoming increasingly receptive to classical instrumental music. It also helps that The Piano Guys are constantly coming up with quirky and innovative ways to bring acoustic music to life, proving that acoustic music can be flexible and fun.

The only downside to acoustic music that we could imagine would be if the cover sounds worse than the original song (the horror!), or if it is dull. For the former, the outrage is understandable. For the latter, it really depends on the artistic direction of the artist.

Overall, acoustic music is a good option as ‘study music’ as it does not include the thumping (and oftentimes, distracting) beats of the original songs, and it has a pleasing, soothing quality to it. This view is reinforced by an anonymous respondent who said, “Acoustic. Perfect study songs and soothes the mind”, when asked to name a favourite genre.

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