Advertisement

Craving a Different Kind of Buzz: How Music Has Evolved Over the Last 15 Years

Music has undergone a massive transformation since Consequence's birth in 2007 -- here's a quick tour

Advertisement
how music has changed
Illustration by Steven Fiche

    It’s Consequence’s 15th anniversary, and all September long we’ll be publishing a series of retrospective pieces encompassing our publication’s own history — and the entertainment landscape in general. Today, we’re examining the ways in which music has changed since Consequence‘s start in 2007.

    Like this essay? Check out our ranking of the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time, and then snag some of our “Legends” merch (posters, T-shirts, and tote bags) at the Consequence Shop.


    Back in 2007, when Consequence was born, the site offered a personalized approach to music outside of the typical structure of entertainment blogging. The mission was to combine a penchant for the underground and independent with the undying fervor for mainstream music. Fifteen years later, that mission isn’t as black and white as it once was, because the lines between “underground” and “mainstream” have been blurred and redrawn over and over again. And yet, as music has shifted and boundaries changed, Consequence has continued to find ways to reassess how those changes have impacted music and the industry as a whole.

    Advertisement

    And boy, has music changed since the early days of Consequence. Since we started, we’ve experienced massive trends that have changed the tides of music forever, we’ve lived through significant political eras that deeply impacted our culture, our own consumption of music has transformed, and our tastes and needs as fans have adjusted. Whether or not those changes are “good” or “bad” is up to the consumer, but one thing is for certain: Music has expanded, in every sense of the word, to be more inclusive, diverse, and specific, and less restricted, inhibited, and rules-driven.

    Perhaps the biggest shift in terms of actual sonics and melodies over the last 15 years is evident in the explosion and embracing of one genre: hip-hop. During the birth of hip-hop in the ’80s to its subsequent evolution in the ’90s and ’00s, this was a tradition of Black art that was just becoming inseparably tied to Western culture at large, but now, it’s completely dominated — and predicted — the conversation. Hip-hop no longer exists as a sectioned off genre, divorced from the stylings of pop and rock; it is pop and rock, because its dominance is so undeniable that it becomes a go-to move for artists and producers alike.

    This is not to say that every pop star is rapping now (though many, many do), or that every rock musician is spitting rhymes about the hardships of street life (see: Machine Gun Kelly) — it’s a testament to hip-hop’s global ethos and the way our culture has become more aware of and enthusiastic about the intricacies of Black art. As streaming came to dominate the way we consumed music in the mid 2010s, hip-hop became the most listened to genre in the United States, and eventually, the globe.

    Advertisement

    But where exactly did hip-hop’s undisputed reign begin, and where does it live in the music we hear today? For starters, there were quite a few pre-2007 pioneers that entirely reimagined popular music’s scope. Perhaps one of the most prescient choices was T-Pain’s insistence on using Auto-Tuned vocals. Inspired by dominating ’90s producer Teddy Riley and funk musician Roger Troutman’s use of the “talk-box,” T-Pain saw the aesthetic potential of pitch-corrected vocals to create a futuristic sheen, and his use of Auto-Tune became an instantly recognizable trait.

    The general public may have criticized T-Pain’s almost impersonal use of the technology at the time, but nearly 20 years later, it’s one of the most significant contributions made to popular music, and T-Pain deserves the credit for seeing artistic value in Auto-Tune’s digitized expression.

    From 2007 onward, Auto-Tune became a frequently-chosen aesthetic, and began dominating not just the hip-hop and R&B genres, but every genre of popular music, period. Another facet of hip-hop that became increasingly replicated came in the skittering 808 beats of Southern hip-hop and trap. Hip-hop had always revolved around a laid-back groove, but producers like Lex Luger and DJ Mustard found a way to re-popularize trap’s ominous synths and double time hi-hats on songs like “H.A.M.” by JAY-Z & Kanye West and “Rack City” by Tyga.

    These songs were, of course, extremely popular at the time of their release in 2011. But the rest of the music world hadn’t quite caught on yet — that is, until a few more “indie” artists began their own experimentation with hip-hop’s sonic fundamentals. One of the biggest contributors came from Canadian indie pop duo Purity Ring, whose 2012 debut Shrines featured spritely, ethereal pop vocals over gargantuan trap beats.

    Speaking to Consequence earlier this year about the tenth anniversary of Shrines, Purity Ring’s Corin Roddick claims he was “super inspired by a lot of the drum programming that I was hearing in hip-hop, especially in Southern rap, and a few years later, it would be very common to hear these trap hi-hats over everything. He goes on to reflect that “there was a lot of instrumental music that had those types of hip-hop drums and electronic elements combined, but I hadn’t really heard it used in a pop context yet.”

    Advertisement

    Indeed, Purity Ring’s unique concoction of pop with a significant hip-hop influence became a precursor to the overall sound of the genre. But it wasn’t just them — TNGHT, a duo featuring Canadian producer Lunice and Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke, also doubled down on the using the sheer power of southern hip-hop beats to create explosive, psychedelic dance music that sways and edges against its own backbeat.

    These contributions came at a unique time for music at large. Around the turn of the decade, the boundaries between “indie” and “mainstream” began to blur significantly, allowing for sweeping changes to the overall sound of popular music. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when, or how, this transformation took place, but there are a few factors that contributed to an increased cultural consciousness towards “hipster” music.

    For one, hip-hop artists started paying attention. JAY-Z was one of the biggest champions of indie rock in the late 2000s, speaking publicly about his interest in bands like Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors. It was one thing to start hearing indie artists like Phoenix and Vampire Weekend on the radio, but another to see artists three times their size validating the medium, showing, like it had been in the ’90s, that it was “cool” to be “alternative.”

    Advertisement

    But it was another, more risky move to actually include indie artists on hip-hop records. Kanye West, ever the taste maker, included Justin Vernon — a.k.a. Bon Iver — on his 2010 opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a symbolic choice that put Vernon’s delicate folk and vulnerable falsetto in an entirely different light. Vernon now possessed not just indie notoriety on blogs (like this one), but a hip-hop swagger that eventually would become the norm for artists in his position.

    The rapidly increasing fervor towards artists like Bon Iver and Arcade Fire — who respectively took home consecutive honors at the Grammys in the early 2010s — as well as the expansive, experimental pop vocabulary from artists like Purity Ring and Grimes contributed to the ethos of indie becoming inseparable from popular music’s future. From there, every genre began to loosen its ruleset, encouraging cross-pollination across styles and eventually leading to the current genreless music landscape on which streaming so eagerly capitalized.

    But perhaps one artist in particular is responsible for the sound of a great deal of music we hear today: Drake. While Kanye, Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, and Kendrick Lamar have been massively influential in their own right, Drake’s 2011 album Take Care capitalized on a more sensitive, introspective approach to hip-hop while retaining his usual braggadocio, fostering a hybrid, genreless sound that has since characterized a large part of the music we hear today.

    The album’s title track, which features a meditative hook from Rihanna and production from Jamie xx, seemed to hit two burgeoning markets: The Jamie xx nod scratched the “hipster” itch, while Drake’s low-key style and lyrics were more emotional and yearning, fraught, incomplete. Mix that with his catchphrase swagger (“The Motto” — remember “YOLO”? We have Drake to thank for that) and Take Care’s hazy cocktail of R&B, hip-hop, and pop became one of the most sought after styles in all of music.

    Advertisement

    There are notes of Take Care in Justin Bieber’s 2015 rebrand to sensitive hot boy, but he’s aloof about it, in the woozy, ethereal sonic backdrops that would eventually become distorted and warped in the Soundcloud Rap era, and in the now-ubiquitous combination of hip-hop and emo. But at the time of its release in the early 2010s, the grand genre expansion and subsequent melting pot had just begun to simmer.

    As hip-hop’s futuristic ideals, 808 rhythms, and cultural cache began to rise in the early 2010s, it wasn’t long before pop music began its transformation, too. It was the summer of 2013 when a teenager from New Zealand became one of the most talked-about artists in the music landscape. Yes, we’re talking about Lorde:

    With the release of “Royals,” which combined sleek hip-hop production with lyrics about rejecting the excess of pop culture, Lorde encompassed the direction that music was heading in. Her debut LP, Pure Heroine, continued by demonstrating an indie sensibility — her approachable, personal lyrics, her layered, ambitious sections of vocal harmony, her distaste for the then-current conventions of pop — while also being, like Take Care, slightly removed, aloof, too cool, you wouldn’t understand. 

    Advertisement

    On Pure Heroine, Lorde expressed her disillusionment towards the Obama-era pop ideals of partying until the world ends, the way the public underestimates teenage girls, and the way our culture reinforces arbitrary rules for women in pop music. As she so wisely sang in “Team,” “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air.” Nearly 10 years later, Lorde’s buzzy debut laid the framework for dozens of pop artists to achieve their own authentic statements, not to be divorced from the Top 40 prism entirely, but with a penchant for more alternative, urbanized sonics.

    Like Purity Ring and Grimes before her, Lorde’s debut gave way to a significant expansion of pop. Perhaps the biggest export of her specific sonic brand is Billie Eilish, whose music and aesthetic has frequently been in conversation with hip-hop: the sharp trap beats of “You Should See Me in a Crown”; her and Finneas’ insistence on the dark, ominous synths that characterized mid-2010s hip-hop; and the way in which Eilish subverts expectations by juxtaposing her lithe, jazzy voice with haunting, insular rhythms.

    But Eilish furthered pop’s expansion by embracing her generation’s experience of growing up online. Her music is designed to be heard not on the radio, but on headphones; her beats are not turbo-charged, but sticky and malleable.

    Advertisement

    Billie Eilish’s pop culture explosion arrived at a time when listening to music was being online. Streaming has completely changed the way we consume music, prioritizing certain sonics and attention-grabbing tactics to keep us on the apps for as long as possible. The industry has shifted to promote younger artists via singles, rather than albums; it’s a better idea to now release multiple individual songs that have the potential to appear on Spotify playlists as opposed to unified bodies of work. These playlists are a big factor in the rise of the “Spotify Sound,” which is characterized by a conglomeration of genres, shorter songs with stickier hooks, and hazy sonics that are simply meant to imply “vibes” above all else.

    Of course, the rise and dominance of social media has also contributed to music’s transformation in the last 15 years. When Consequence began in 2007, MySpace was the dominant way to find new music. It helped promote the careers of “alternative” artists and scenes, like 3OH!3, Owl City, Bring Me the Horizon, and even pop “outsiders” like Katy Perry, Lily Allen, and Paramore. Fast-forward to today, and MySpace’s personal approach to sharing music on a social media “profile” has changed a great deal; now, the dominant platform is TikTok, which has reduced large swaths of music to shorter, bite-sized cuts, encouraging artists to create with those portions in mind.

    Another significant way that music has shifted comes from a more complicated place: our distinct political age. Culture responds to political shifts with art that either rails against the prevailing values or finds a way to distract and sedate its people. The last 15 years have featured both responses.

    Advertisement

    On the one hand, the Obama era and the 2008 financial crisis established a carefree, bombastic era of music. The maximalist peak of 2007-2011 pop gave way to the rise of Electronic Dance Music (EDM), full of turbo-charged beats from David Guetta, Skrillex, and Afrojack, all culminating in a unique music moment in 2016, where more EDM singles charted on Billboard’s Year End Hot 100 Singles list than ever before.

    But even EDM shifted to reach our culture’s more distanced ears. The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” is a perfect example: The sensitive, specific lyrical approach, combined with The Chainsmokers’ hip-hop-leaning bro step, is a time capsule to the sound of 2016. Though the EDM bubble may have “burst” around that time, certain sonic elements made their way out of the fray to survive; there are still trap beats that serve as drops, and Diplo’s affinity for fractured, manipulated, and up-the-octave vocal lines still appear in today’s pop landscape.

    As the Obama years have given way to Trump’s presidency, rising economic inequality, even more climate disasters, and eventually the COVID-19 pandemic, artists have responded in a myriad of ways. On the one hand, music just got… sadder. Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski’s dominance and influence over the last five years, the rise of the “Sad Banger,” and Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore rebrands are a testament to consumers demanding content that reaches them where they are, rather than where the controlling interests feel they should be.

    Advertisement

    And then on the other hand, there’s been a drastic shift of awareness in cultural discourse that has lately also made its way directly into music. Along with Trump’s election, movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have resulted in songs that are no longer afraid to address the elephant in the room, with ideas that seek to empower, rather than sedate. Both Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar laid the framework for music that provides a nuanced exploration of their experiences as Black individuals and artists, and dozens of women have incorporated empowering sonics and lyrics that seek to unite their listeners against the trappings and prejudices that our culture has enforced for too long.

     

    Overall, every genre of music has transformed in the last 15 years, because the speed at which art progresses is correlated to the tempo of our society and culture. It’s safe to say that with the seismic expansion of both the Internet and social media, as well as our own shifting ideals towards consumption, that tempo is moving faster than ever before, and it’s not slowing down.

    It’ll be fascinating to look at how music will continue to shift throughout the next 15 years — which current artists will be the pioneers of the future? Personally, my bet is on 100 gecs; their incredibly absurd concoction of hyperpop seems both nostalgic and prescient, as chaotic as our current age, internet-centric, distinctly genreless, and wildly futuristic. Only time will tell if we are indeed on the precipice of another transformation, but given the way things have been going, it’s bound to happen. But luckily, at Consequence, we’ll always have time for the new, the bold, the pioneers, and the legends of the future.

    Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement