We all know that the music industry is cyclical. Trends come and dominate the airwaves for a while before we get sick of them, and move onto something new. Currently, we’re seeing the sun set on the electro-dance craze, and shine new light on the forgotten styles of RnB and funk. This is a cycle we saw once before in the early 90’s, and it is happening once again! Let’s take a quick look at how we got to this point, and where we’re going from here…
For many years, soul and rnb music had been in a state of free fall. It seemed that the genre was, in fact, running out of soul (among other things like creativity and originality.) The number of RnB tunes began to dwindle until the genre rested solely on the shoulders of John Legend and the occasional release from Usher. Most RnB singers struggled to find a place in the pop charts, unless they turned to EDM beats. It’s not surprising that Ne-Yo and Usher ditched RnB jams to create dance-pop club tracks…
EDM seemed to have hit critical mass in the music industry sometime around 2011. With a new generation of club goers, the genre’s pulsing beats and throbbing bass became the backbeat of the night life. But how did it get this way? I think we saw it really take off after an eccentric little lady stepped onto the music scene with over the top fashions and a catchy, electo-heavy song called “Just Dance.”
Granted, while I would hesitate to call Lady Gaga the mother of modern day EDM music, she quickly became a pop culture icon, and one of the modern day dance divas. Songs like Poker Face and Bad Romance brought electronic sounds the very forefront of pop music, paving the way for many more to follow.
Soon, we had an explosion of new artists that featured heavily electronic sounds…and even more artists ditching their old styles in favor of electronic beats. Soon, Ne-Yo was making club tracks instead of RnB jams, and Rihanna “Found Love” in EDM. The Far East Movement has us flying like a “G-6”, LMFAO was “Party Rocking” in the #1 spot for months, and Ke$ha boldly declared “We R Who We R.”
However, the big names in EDM wanted in on the action too. While Tiesto’s pop crossover fell a little flat, suddenly Calvin Harris and David Guetta, became pop music icons by producing huge hits with some of the biggest stars! And of course, new electronic artists such as Deadmau5 and Skrillex had the perfect launching pad for their career. Never before had the world been tuned into EDM like this since the 90’s! Suddenly, DJ’s were the new rockstars!
And how can we talk about EDM without mentioning dubstep? In the midst of the electronic craze, this sub-genre managed to crawl out of the underground clubs, and into the mainstream, making names like Skrillex and Bassnectar a commonplace.
With its raw and intense sound, dubstep was a game changer in the music world that united vastly different musical genres. It infected pop music like Britney Spears and Justin Beiber. It’s glitchy sounds made their way into the rock world through Korn and Muse. It came into the indie world through Imagine Dragons and Lana Del Rey. Prominent hip-hop artists like B.o.B. and Lupe Fiasco even incorporated the sound into their music!
But that may have been a bit too much…causing something of an electro-overload. Despite the industry still investing heavily in EDM music, and new electronic tracks popping up every day, listeners are no longer seeing the genre as “new” or “exciting.” As with everything that becomes massively popular, audiences are looking for new sounds…an escape from the same styles that we can’t seem to escape.
And then…something amazing happened. Daft Punk, one of the most famous figures in EDM music, announced their long awaited return! After producing the soundtrack for TRON: Legacy, audiences were certain that we were about to be treated to a heavily electronic and digitized listening experience. What we received however…completely destroyed those expectations.
Their comeback single, Get Lucky, was the funkiest thing to be released since 1978! It was lush with instrumentals (actual instruments!), and soulful vocals! It completely revived the sounds of disco and funk, but with a modern twist. Get Lucky gave Daft Punk their first worldwide number one, and made them relevant in the pop world like they’ve never been before. This, for many, was the bridge the two genres needed, signaling the end of one era, and the beginning of another.
But Daft Punk wasn’t the first to revive the classic sound, just the first EDM artist to make the change. Before them, many had been slowly reviving more soulful sounds. For one, Adele scored huge hits with her husky voice and blue eyed soul style. Her style was definitely not the typical, and it seemed to resonate well with audiences and listeners, proving that one didn’t need electronic beats or catchy hooks if you just had talent….and a little bit of soul.
Bruno Mars debuted with an rnb-tinged pop sound, but his most recent album, Unorthodox Jukebox, really turned up the funk. He scored a huge hit with the sting inspired Locked out of Heaven, and continues to enjoy massive success with the album’s classic soul inspired singles.
Let’s also not forget the long awaited return from pop star, Justin Timberlake. His grand return to the pop scene turned heads with his classy take on a pop-RnB sound, Suit and Tie. This catchy pop tune captured audiences with its soulful melody, and refreshing beat, putting Justin on top of the pop charts once again!
With so much soul going around, you can bet that Robin Thicke is getting in on the action as well! His latest single is currently dominating the itunes charts. Blurred Lines definitely channels a modern day Michael Jackson with its funky beats, and falsetto vocals.
Similarly, new artists seem to be keying in on the trend. Recently, Ariana Grande has made the crossover from TV actress, to huge pop star with the light and airy ballad, The Way. Highly reminiscent of Mariah Carey, Ariana could potentially be the next huge RnB diva! She’s striking at the perfect time, given the direction that the industry is moving!
Looking ahead, we can look forward to even more soul and rnb! We can look forward to this generation’s battle of the divas, with upcoming RnB releases from Mariah Carey and Beyonce! Also, soul music’s most avant guard songstress, Janelle Monae, is poised and ready for a return with her funky new album, Electric Lady. The UK’s hit girl group, Little Mix, has even expressed their desire to make RnB music rather than pop tunes. With these divas ready to duke it out, we can look forward to some truly impressive and seriously soulful music headed our way in the near future.
While EDM is far from dead, you can’t deny that the genre has hit its height, and the pendulum is now swinging the other way. Funk and soul are quickly blossoming into the next worldwide trend! As more and more artists stop experimenting with dubstep, you can bet that we’ll see a surge in music with actual soul! Eventually, we will tire of this sound as well, but before we move onto arena rock or see a jazz revival, you can bet that the sounds of soul, funk, and disco are going to have a huge presence on the charts for a while!