Strike a chord: Genre-inclusivity grants freedom to artists, listeners

Drawing of the spotify logo slowly changing colors
(Yasmin Elqutami • The Student Life)

When I ask people what type of music they listen to, I am often disappointed if they respond by saying “I listen to everything.” The lack of specificity usually signals to me that people do not know the true definitions of the music they listen to and do not have a coherent idea of the music that pleases them the most. 

However, now more than ever, there is a growing presence of genre inclusivity in many artists’ music, sometimes making it impossible to specify the genre a song is a part of. This means I may have to become accustomed to this vague response and understand it does not signify a lack of knowledge. 

One of the biggest ways in which people find new music is through playlists, which are typically grouped by genre to help the listener easily choose a playlist. However, the Spotify playlist “Pollen” is breaking all those rules and more. The playlist’s description is concise and simple: “Genre-less. Quality first always.” “Pollen” has had a groundbreaking amount of success. Since debuting on the app in September 2018, the playlist has amassed 1.3 million followers. 

Furthermore, listeners are often much more engaged with this playlist compared to others. Jamal Hadaway, the producer of one of Hope Tala’s EPs, said that she garnered three times as many streams from being featured on “Pollen” compared to other playlists that had double the followers. 

“Pollen” is also unique in how it seamlessly includes popular and well-established artists, like Tyler the Creator, with an artist like 1010 Benja SL, who has 28,344 monthly listeners on the app. Even having one song on a playlist like “Pollen” can be life changing for artists. 

The success of “Pollen” inspired the creation of another Spotify playlist, “Lorem,” which employs the same idea but focuses on “bedroom pop gone to the mainstream” as explained by Lizzy Szabo, “Lorem” curator and Spotify editor. Similarly popular, “Lorem” currently has 887,705 followers after being made available to listeners about a year ago. 

These playlists are driven by culture and community instead of a specific genre. It is interesting that a playlist that cannot be as easily categorized is able to produce such a distinct sound: the sound of “Pollen” is groovy and soulful, and “Lorem” is playful and synth and guitar heavy. These playlists welcome all artists and listeners with their lack of labels to create a continuously evolving community. 

This phenomenon has continued with the quick emerging popstar Lil Nas X. He came onto the music scene, turning heads and breaking records, with his song “Old Town Road” that unconventionally blended rap and country — two genres that before seemed to operate in completely different spheres. It was so unfamiliar that Billboard decided to remove the song from their Billboard Hot Country Song chart because it did not “embrace enough elements of today’s country music.”

Lil Nas X continues to push genre boundaries with the release of his highly anticipated debut album “MONTERO.” While it includes songs that would be expected of Lil Nas X’s involvement in the rap genre, like “INDUSTRY BABY (feat. Jack Harlow),” “DOLLAR SIGN SLIME (feat. Megan Thee Stallion)” and “SCOOP (feat. Doja Cat),” it also includes multiple songs ranging from pop-punk to a stripped down song with only guitar and strings apart from the vocals.

This trend is mirrored in WILLOW’s debut album “ARDIPITHECUS,” which is characterized by toned-down synths that mirror those in hyperpop songs, groovy melodies and percussive beats. Similarly, Billie Eilish’s sophomore LP “Happier Than Ever” includes the stripped down acoustic guitars and airy vocals that prompted Eilish’s rise to fame in “Male Fantasy” along with unapologetic, speaker-shaking guitars and drums coupled with Eilish’s bellowing refrains to be left alone in the song “Happier than Ever.” 

The declining presence of categories encourages artists to not label their own sound. Instead they aim to create a unique piece of artwork that does not need to be boiled down to a single genre, allowing them to further their sonic exploration. It also grants listeners the ability to easily be exposed to all types of music and establish a greater understanding of the state of music today. This keeps the music industry on its toes and pushes artists to combine elements from genres that may operate on completely different axes. 

​​Ava Hinz SC ’25 is TSL’s music columnist, and she’s from Los Altos, California. Follow her on Spotify, @avahinz, for some ultra-specific playlists.

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