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What Is Postmodern Music?

Postmodern music is a tapestry of eclectic styles, blending traditional and contemporary elements to challenge classical norms. It often defies genre, embracing irony and complexity to reflect our diverse cultural landscape. This artistic rebellion creates a soundscape as varied and vibrant as society itself. How does this genre-bending music speak to your own experiences? Join the conversation and explore the sounds of postmodernity.
Angela Farrer
Angela Farrer

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.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What defines postmodern music?

Postmodern music is characterized by its eclectic approach, blending styles, historical references, and cultural elements. It often challenges traditional notions of genre and hierarchy in music, embracing pastiche, irony, and a sense of playfulness. Postmodern composers may juxtapose classical forms with popular idioms or incorporate multimedia elements, reflecting the fragmented, diverse nature of postmodern culture.

Who are some notable composers of postmodern music?

Notable composers of postmodern music include John Cage, whose avant-garde works like "4'33"" challenge the definition of music itself, and Philip Glass, known for his minimalist compositions. Other influential figures are Steve Reich, with his phasing techniques, and Meredith Monk, who combines vocal work with performance art. These artists have pushed the boundaries of music, questioning and redefining what it can be.

How does postmodern music differ from modernist music?

While modernist music sought to break away from traditional tonality and explore new structures and forms, postmodern music often revisits and reinterprets the past. Modernism in music was about innovation and the pursuit of the avant-garde, whereas postmodernism is more about deconstruction and pluralism, mixing high and low art, and often employing irony and eclecticism as artistic tools.

Can postmodern music be easily categorized?

Postmodern music defies easy categorization due to its inherent diversity and resistance to singular definitions. It can cross boundaries between classical and popular genres, incorporate various cultural influences, and utilize unconventional methods. This resistance to categorization is a hallmark of postmodernism, reflecting its challenge to traditional artistic classifications.

What impact has postmodern music had on contemporary culture?

Postmodern music has had a significant impact on contemporary culture by influencing the way we think about genre and artistic authenticity. It has encouraged a more inclusive and expansive understanding of music, allowing for greater experimentation and cross-cultural collaboration. The blending of styles in postmodern music has also paved the way for contemporary genres that are similarly hybrid and eclectic, reflecting the globalized and interconnected world we live in.

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Discussion Comments


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.


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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      Man playing a guitar