It’s all R&B. Like, all of it. If it’s American and mainstream, chances are it’s better categorized as R&B than anything else. It doesn’t matter what genre of music you’re talking about. Of course R&B sounds like R&B, but so does hip-hop these days. Modern rock? Yeah, it’s pretty much just R&B. Country music? That may be the most convincing case. Jason Aldean’s biggest recent single, “Burnin’ It Down”? R&B. Luke Bryan’s “Strip It Down”? R&B. Carrie Underwood’s new single “Heartbeat”? R&B. The entire direction of the careers of Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge, Sam Hunt, Old Dominion, Eli Young Band, and even recent singles from artists like Gary Allan? All R&B. It doesn’t matter where you turn your radio dial, R&B is the flavor of 2015.
The new single from rock perrenial Coldplay, “Adventure of a Lifetime?” Totally an R&B song. COLDPLAY is now releasing R&B singles. Leon Bridges and the Alabama Shakes, who are sometimes designated in the rock and Americana categories? Completely a product of R&B. Big new acts in the hip-hop world like The Weeknd? They’re much more R&B than hip-hop. Nick Jonas, formerly of the Jonas Brothers? He’s out there singing in falsetto like everyone else. So is Sam Smith. And how about Queen Bee Adele with here 3.38 million debut album sales? You would certainly call her R&B before you would call her anything else.
On Monday (11-30), a band called Prophets & Outlaws from Texas released a video for their song called “Country Music Gold.” The song outwardly criticizes Bro-Country, and the current direction of modern country music. Hey, props for the message, but guess what: It’s an R&B song. And what’s funny is, Bro-Country has pretty much gone away. It’s been replaced by guess what, R&B; just like everything else. Granted, Prophets & Outlaws have always called themselves a “Texas soul” band, and this isn’t about picking on them or even the song “Country Music Gold.” It’s a fine song. But it’s R&B. In the video, the band is even dresses in suits, which is the tell tale marker of an artist or band jumping on the R&B bandwagon.
Even country music’s new golden boy Chris Stapleton—listen to the music, and most of it is country and Southern rock, with a little blues mixed in there. But his voice, which is the most overriding element to his music? He totally sings like a soul/R&B singer, not a country crooner. We’d all love to fool ourselves into thinking it’s Stapleton’s songwriting and traditional leanings that have put him on top. The truth is, he the perfect country performer for our time because he can sing like a soul/R&B singer.
Hey, R&B is much more bearable to listen to than Bro-Country or the other machinations that can be found out there in the popular music world, even for a country music fan. R&B is not necessarily a bad thing, even with it creeping into country. But who wants all of music to sound exactly the same? This whole singular R&B craze sparked by the success of Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” and the mass appeal of Justin Timberlake is the mono-genre in action. There’s no more hypothesizing what mainstream music may sound like when all the natural barriers between genres, regions, and influences are eaten away. It’s here, and it all sounds the same.
When you have a British rock band, a country artist from Georgia, a hip-hop artist from Canada, and a Texas soul outfit all making music that sounds so incredibly similar, this isn’t “creativity” or “evolution” in action like we’ve all been sold, as if these artists are finally unfettered from the restrictive bounds of genre. This is all the concerns about the loss of autonomy between music’s separate genres coming into full realization, with the outcome being the death of contrast, and a complete homogenizing makeover of popular music into one same-sounding blob across every format. There was more distinction between the sound of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson in the 70’s than there is in the entirety of popular music today, regardless of genre. It’s all just a narrow version of soul/R&B.
And what will it be next year? With everyone playing R&B, it will fall out of favor like all hyper-trends do. But now that all of the barriers have been broken down, it will be replaced by some other hyper-trend that everyone plays. And the distinct musical dialects that once made American music one of the most healthy, strong, diverse, and vibrant forms of creative expression to ever grip the earth will be gone.