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What Are the Most Revolutionary Genres in the History of Music?


Is it possible to find, statistically, the moment in which music fully exercised its revolutionary capacity?

Can music change the world? In its history we can find various examples in which rebellion has been expressed in songs to protest an unjust situation. Billie Holiday caused controversy with “Strange Fruit,” an anti-racist song that was also recorded by Nina Simone. According to Malik Bendjelloul in Searching for Sugar Man (2012), the music of Sixto Rodríguez was an important part of the movement that led to anti-Apartheid protests in South Africa in the 1980s.

This is, however, more random than anything, as the coincidence between a historic moment of protest and a musical genre that becomes its hymn is a little unpredictable. Only in retrospect is it possible to see and hear in a rhythm, in its chords and instruments, the concentration of a collective mood characterized by the desire to change the immediate reality.

A group of statistical researchers recently published a study in which they analyzed thirteen musical styles with the aim of identifying their revolutionary quality. The team took information from the US Billboard Hot 100, which contains almost 1,700 songs spanning 1960-2010. Among the parameters of analysis, they took into account the harmony and pitch of songs, starting with the premise that those have a relationship with the changes of the era to which they belong, both musically and socially.

Their results revealed that rock, new wave and hip-hop are, in that period, the three genres that best represent the desire for change in the sphere of music. Rock, with protagonists such as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, because its avant-garde melodies opened a new musical horizon practically worldwide; new wave because of its use of synthesizers and other electronic instruments and, finally, hip-hop for the speed with which it caused a sensation and garnered a good slice of the collective taste.

This conclusion could appear insufficient or incomplete, as it leaves out other genres such as jazz or punk, which are usually considered to be the result of disobeying the norm, but it also serves as a reminder that music is not detached from the social conditions that generate it and is often a glimpse of the socio-political future of our planet.

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