What Color is Music?
It's a question avant-garde producer and N.E.R.D front man Pharrell Williams attempts to answer in a collaboration with artist/filmmaker RAE in a new video series called "Stereotypes: What Color is Your Music?"
The video opens in Brooklyn with several bystanders and the host of the video, Ryan Hall, gazing at a young man singing Opera. Of course, the catch here is that the guy looks like the quintessential Brooklyn hipster, with black-rimmed wayfarer glasses, a plaid scarf, and a thick black beard that could have housed any number of small birds.
Throughout the video, Hall interviews various Brooklyn residents about what music is currently on their iPod. Some answered R&B, while others confidently shared their love of underground bands that only a true hipster could appreciate.
One woman, however, stood out to me in the video. When Hall asked her what color music is, she said that music shouldn't have a color in 2012.
And she had a point.
Today, when the current trend seems to be "the more unconventional, the better," most would answer that music doesn't have a color. To some, the apparent idea of a color in any aspect of our culture seems like a myth.
But can music be distinctively one color? Many respondents in the video agreed that there was indeed "black" music, such as R&B. Looking at the genre's history, the forerunners in R&B, such as BoyzIIMen, Baby Face and Toni Braxton, have paved the way and inspired many artists today. But the faces who ruled the R&B charts ten years ago are not the same today. With techno rap becoming more mainstream and powerhouse voices coming more from songs by Adele over R&B ballads, music isn't necessarily colorized.
In my personal experience, music has never necessarily had a color, but the culture identified with listening to a particular genre has. I attended a predominately white school up until the 7th grade, and my first iPod was filled with Shakira and the first CD of N.E.R.D. My musical taste was not cultivated by my school environment, but more so from my older sister, who I admired in every way possible. She was the epitome of "cool" to me at that young age, so anything that she found entertaining I did as well.
When I finally made the switch from private school to public school in midtown Memphis, my particular taste in music and style wasn't received so well. The teasing I received for my musical preference was based upon a stereotype of "white" and "black" music. And so my adolescence was shaped between a constant decision to choose between black and white and cool and un-cool, depending upon the crowd I was hanging with.
Luckily, as time progressed and I neared the end of high school, a new culture of people started to emerge. Hipsters, once regarded as the outcast and underground groups, were not becoming a mainstream trend, despite their best efforts to keep themselves strictly independent from conventional societal movements. However, "hipsterism" might have saved my dignity as well as how color in music is perceived.
Today, most 20-somethings' iPods are filed with an assortment of artist ranging from Coldplay to Big Kritt. Artists like Wiz Khalifa appeal to a diverse audience due to his free and unapologetic lyrics about marijuana.
Genres of music are merging too. The once recognizable sounds of R&B have transformed into a mix of house music influences, hip-hop, and pop. It seems that in music, in general, no line can really be drawn.
Perhaps the question isn't what color music is, but rather what genre is music going to?
I only have so much space in these columns, and unfortunately, I'm reaching my word cap. Pharrell posed an interesting question, but in order to look at where music is going, perhaps it's best to look to the past. Later, I'll write more about how music has evolved from a colorized platform to a shared cultural experience.
Until then, I'll continue blasting my Coldplay during my morning commute to work. I don't care that the song doesn't have bass. I like the band. Period.
— Victoria Wright is a junior in journalism and electronic media. She can be reached at email@example.com.