The Music Genre Kids Like

Posted on: 03/14/13 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Rock, Hip-Hop, Pop… Country? Which genre is young people’s music of choice?

I always hate to answer that question, because it never ceases to make people angry. Maybe that’s because some people don’t like the answer: Rap/hip-hop.

I remember teaching at the National Youth Workers Convention in 2005 and 2006. In one of my seminars about outreach events, I challenged youth workers about their recurring choice of rock bands at all their venues. “How come every time I go to a big Christian event, the band playing is rock or even metal?” I asked. “Do you really think we’re accurately targeting our audience when we bring in a grunge band to try to attract neighborhood kids? Is this really what they are listening to?”

I backed up my inquest with the most recent data at the time, the 2005 Generation M Media report from the Kaiser foundation about media in the lives of 8-18-year olds (which comes out every 5 years- see our summary of the 2010 report here). The researchers did something pretty cool that year, posting a chart revealing what music genres 7th-12th graders in America listen to each day:

(Isn’t it funny how technology changes… note the results from “those who listened to CD’s, tapes, or MP3 players.” Tapes? Hilarious. I remember those days.)

Side note. In the summary they even provided an additional chart and broke it down by race (page 29). Even 60% of white kids listened to Rap/hip-hop each day, the second genre being Alternative rock, which 38% of white kids listened to each day.

So has that changed in 8 years? Has the Hip-Hop influence vanished along with the tape player?

Take a look at iTunes today, as I write this. If you look at the song charts… how much of Hip-Hop/raps’ influence do you see in the top 10 alone? If you were to go by the official definition, only 2 of the top 10 are actually labeled Rap by iTunes (Thrift Shop and Started from the Bottom), but with closer examination, I think you’ll find Hip-Hop permeating throughout the top 10.

Let’s take a closer look at the list…song by song.

  1. Bruno Mars’s song When I Was Your Man is No. 1 right now and has been for a while. Bruno is the Michael Jackson of today. His soulful voice is amazing; unfortunately his lyrics are often a little too racy for teenagers. iTunes labels him Pop. I probably wouldn’t argue with that, but he definitely has an R&B sound. This isn’t just because of his race; after all, this next guy on this chart is white and also has a clear R&B sound…
  2. Timberlake’s Suit & Tie (feat. Jay Z) is labeled Pop by iTunes, and I wouldn’t argue with the description… but it also has Jay Z “rapping” in it. Hmmmmm… wouldn’t want to label this Rap, would we? I’m not saying we call this song Rap, but the influence is undeniable. SIDE NOTE: Justin’s new album comes out next week (with Hip-Hop beat master Timbaland thanked on about every song). I predict this album being huge. Justin was just on SNL last week and it had the best ratings in 14 months. His album is streaming on iTunes for free this week building momentum. Your kids will be talking about this.
  3. Thrift Shop is labeled Rap by iTunes. Nuff said.
  4. Rihanna’s song Stay is appropriately labeled Pop. She definitely has an R&B sound and has collaborated with numerous Rap artists (think of her hit Umbrella with JayZ). So she has a Hip-Hop influence, but is probably accurately labeled Pop.
  5. Pink’s song Just Give Me a Reason is pure Pop and labeled so. Although it’s worth mentioning that Pink got her start on a R&B label, LaFace Records (who also launched the recording careers of Usher, OutKast, TLC…)
  6. Harlem Shake is labeled Dance. But the dance move Harlem Shake has roots in break dancing, an old move called the body quake. Rapper P. Diddy explains it here back in 2002. I would argue strongly that this song and MOST dance songs played in high school dances today have a huge Hip-Hop influence.
  7. Pitbull’s Feel This Moment is also labeled Dance… even though he raps (hilarious to me). Moreover, click on his name on iTunes and he’s under the Hip-Hop/rap category. If this doesn’t have Hip-Hop/rap markings, I don’t know what does.
  8. Started from the Bottom is labeled Rap, appropriately so (as inappropriate as the song is). More on this song, Lil Wayne’s hit and others in our Youth Culture Window article on music this week.
  9. Demi Lovato’s Heart Attack is unarguably 100% Pop.
  10.’s Scream & Shout (I recently blogged about what kids are gleaning from this video) is labeled Dance. However, the remix of this song features Diddy, Lil Wayne and other rappers. Hmmmm… Dance?

So we have two songs labeled Rap (Thrift Shop and Started from the Bottom), three songs that I’d add to that list for the reasons stated above (Suit & Tie, Feel This Moment, and Scream & Shout), two Pop songs by people who have a clear R&B sound (When I Was Your Man and Stay), one Dance song with total Hip-Hop influence (Harlem Shake), one truly Pop song from a girl with a R&B start (Just Give Me a Reason), and one all out Pop song (Heart Attack).

What common denominator do you see on the top of this chart?

Hmmmm. And where are the rock songs?

3 Replies to “The Music Genre Kids Like”

  1. Some of this is the Evangelical Culture’s strange musical aversions that have gone on for decades. In the 90s when everything was grunge, rock, and rap, the big “youth” magazines and gatherings trotted out inspirational vocal pop acts like 4Him or Point of Grace. Decent pop groups like the Newsboys and DCTalk were inexplicably considered “alternative,” or at least edgy.

    That and evangelicals are still freaked out over rap and R&B. It’s filled with metaphors, extreme statements, bragging and swagger, and attitude. It makes you want to dance (say what you want about metal, but headbanging isn’t that sexy compared to bouncing around to Lady Gaga), and we’re still ambivalent about dance.

    And listen to “youth” oriented CCM radio if you can. It’s a mess of outdated rock styles (Kutless and Jeremy Camp = Nickelback lite) and sedate worship music. I can’t imagine anyone under 25 listening to it who hasn’t been fully indoctrinated in the Evangelical/CCM subculture.

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