I’m sure it began with the best of intentions. The rebellious child of Blues and Country, Rock & Roll was a complete departure from the Hit Parade. New, different, shiny, this music needed its own name. Then, like Protestants after the reformation, the splits just kept coming.

In the first wave of these changes, the new names made sense: Motown from the studio that produced the signature sound, Acid Rock from the drugs needed to enjoy the music, Disco for the place where you would hear and enjoy the music. With the exception of Prog Rock (Progressive Rock, the granddaddy of unclearly labeled music) most genre labels were straightforward.

The shift began in the 80s, when American pop culture went to high school and stayed there. The Breakfast Club, Saved by the Bell and other teen focused entertainment had the world thinking in terms of cliques, with clothing and music being the chief markers for identity. The pop tarts did their best Madonna impressions while the metal heads wore T-shirts emblazoned with flames, skulls and large angry fonts, which nicely complimented their unwashed hair. Alternatively, the new wave kids listened to the Smiths and wore their fan club buttons as badges of honor. New wave, referring to exclusively to music—not dreadful fashion mistakes—was the designation for music not in heavy rotation on MTV. The B-52s, The Violent Femmes and The Cure, having little in common, have been lumped together in this category. As with Alternative in the 90s, or Indie Rock today, it was essentially a catchall term for music outside the mainstream. The labels said more about the music than what it actually sounded like. Subsequently giving rise to the use of sub-genres. Continue reading →