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What Is Postmodern Music?

By Angela Farrer
Updated May 23, 2024
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Postmodern music is a specific genre that developed during the late 1960s largely as a product of the large-scale social changes at that time. This type of music is characterized by its adherence to the same ideas and points of view found in other areas of postmodernism. The postmodern philosophy and art movement embraces the absence of one defining structure or ideology. Musicians who create in the postmodern style often draw stylistic inspiration from a wide array of contradictory areas. Creators of postmodern poetry tend to disregard formal rules that they believe constricted the creativity of written verse in the past, and this same principle naturally applies to postmodern music as well.

A definitive description of postmodern music can sometimes be challenging for music scholars to pinpoint because many postmodern pieces of music borrow artistic elements from a multitude of sources. Some musicians can even have goals of redefining the criteria for initially assigning music its artistic value. One piece of postmodern music can be written in several styles from contrasting cultures. It can also have changing major and minor keys as well as unusual lyrics or sound effects. Instruments used for this music genre are quite varied, and postmodern musicians often embrace technology as a medium for their work.

Postmodern forms of art and culture are frequently designated as reactionary responses to the era of modernism that precedes postmodern times. Artists who create with postmodern ideas often want to refute, discredit, or even attack the materialism and conformity that characterized the modern era. These objectives in postmodern music are sometimes presented in forms of irony, hyperbole, or social criticism. Shock value elements are occasionally included in this music as well in order to have a lasting impression on listeners.

Just as with postmodern fiction and poetry, this genre of music contains plenty of contradictions and style elements that can sometimes appear to clash with one another. Postmodern popular music is often an attempt to blend styles that are traditionally considered exclusive from one another. Another key component of postmodernism in music is one of relativism, as musicians often create with the idea that their messages are likely to have quite different meanings to various people. Postmodern music is also frequently associated with other cultural trends that happen to be dominant at the time of a certain music piece's composition and recording.

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Discussion Comments
By Certlerant — On Jan 01, 2014

You are right about the broad definition fitting just about any changing genre, Glasis.

However, I think it is safe to say that postmodern music, especially the music resulting from the revolutionary thinking of the 1960s, means folk music and other war protest music.

In the 1980s, the popularity of rap music grew out of a similar idea.

By Glasis — On Dec 31, 2013

It seems like the term postmodern, based on the definition given in this article, could essentially be applied to any form of music, art and writing that encourages the artist to think outside the box, so to speak.

The further we move into the 21st Century, the more emphasis is placed on non-conformity, even in creative endeavors. No one wants their work to look or sound like anything you've ever seen or heard before.

With entertainment-related technology constantly improving, artists have more and more tools with which to work to make their sound or look unique.

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