I Haz Music: Choosing a Musical Genre to Define Millennials


When I was asked to write about what music defines the millennial generation, my first thought was: “What a reductive thing to try and do.” My second thought was, “Well what is the music that defined the generations before us?” Then I realized that I wasn’t even quite sure what a millennial was.

The term itself is almost as annoying as the entitled, over-validated group of kids that it belongs to, a group that I am admittedly a part of. We are the generation of Joss Whedon-loving, acid washed denim wearing, Clueless-quoting weirdoes born at the end of the 20 century. It was we who got to enjoy the last glimmer of awesome things like scrunchies, CD stores, library catalog cards, more scripted television than not, and economic prosperity in the United States. As I probed further, I learned that we are the most ethnically diverse generation thus far in the U.S., and economists are hypothesizing that we will be the first generation to earn less money than our parents. We also were destined to be the first generation to grow up with the sin wagon (Dixie Chicks forever) that is the internet. 

Now that we know who we’re dealing with, let’s take a step back and look at “The House That Built Us,” as Miranda Lambert would say. Obviously past eras can all be associated with certain musical accompaniments. The eighties had punk rock. The seventies had rock and roll. The 1960s had psychedelic rock. The 1950s had Motown. But in reality, nostalgia, or the unkindness of memory is allowing us to just lump these things together. Rock music, as an umbrella term, seems to define generation X, the generation preceding millennials, well enough. But, if you want to get technical, Elvis is slated “The King of Rock and Roll,” and his career began in 1954.

If you want to be fair, classic country music had just as big of an uprising at the same time as rock. And if you want to get real, rock is really just white people singing the blues, which goes back to the ‘20s and a lot of recordings that are still way cooler than anything that’s been produced since (which is probably why Third Man Records is re-releasing some of those monumental recordings). The point to this all is, the terms we use to define music are very fluid and ambiguous. 

As complicated as it is to make those distinctions for the past, the internet has complicated it even further by making the same distinctions for millennials. Because of things like YouTube, bandcamp, and Myspace, our musical exposure hasn’t been limited to the divine selection of record labels and radio waves. We have been inundated with (stolen, etc.) music. But we also have inundated music; we have flooded the market with so many mind-numbing subgenres (math rock, folk pop, nintindocore, shoegaze, lowercase, shoelace, whatever), that to even pick one to be our mascot is really impossible.

But wait, I managed to pick one. Hold your breath, because this one’s going to sting. Indie. I picked Indie music to define the millennial generation. Why would I choose one of the dumbest and indefinite genres ever to define us? Well, because the more you probe the higher self of the collective millennials, the more it comes to light that we as a group of young people are just as scattered, sub-categorized, self aggrandized and made famous by the internet as indie music. On a less self-deprecating note, retrospectively indie music really is where all of this subcategorizing began. The term “indie” came from “independent,” because independent record labels were releasing music that wasn’t mainstream, and otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance. But then we all watched Garden State and downloaded Bear Share. Indie music became well known, quickly turned into a lot of other things, and wasn’t cool anymore. Hipster, fair trade, odd future, retro, YOLO, readymade, fixed gear, pitchfork, beard, PBR. The End.