Words by Thomas-Bradey Riseley
Authenticity is widely misunderstood for emotion in performance. There is no scientific factor which makes one genre more authentic than the other. Authentic, by definition, is “of undisputed origin, and not a copy; genuine.” While some genres of music deliver more emotive and humanised performances, they cant be considered authentic and genuine if they aren’t 100% original like niche sub-genres and sub-cultures of music. This report will delve deeper into these and separate authenticity with emotional connection.
A study into music psychology and music authenticity at Yale University splits authenticity into two types; type authenticity and expressive authenticity and you can read it here.
Type Authenticity is the evaluation as to whether something is true to its category. Yale use the example of a Ming Dynasty vase, it can only be a Ming Dynasty vase if it fulfills certain characteristics. If a punk song has hard thrashing guitar leads and yelled vocals of refuting establishment and rebelling then it is true to its genre, no matter how ‘mainstream’ it can be – something of which punk stands firmly against. The same goes for Pop music. If a Pop song is catchy, easy to listen to and gets lots of radio play it qualifies to be authentic to the Pop genre. When one claims a Ming vase is not a Ming vase, it fails to meet the criteria needed to be a Ming vase and isn’t a Ming vase at all. If you claim a song isn’t a rock song, you claim the song doesn’t belong to the rock genre at all.
Expressive Authenticity is defined to be “the true expression of an individual’s or culture’s values and beliefs”. It is defined to be; “To phrase the concept colloquially, a true scientist is someone who embodies what science is all about. Broadly speaking, a true scientist really wants to get at the bottom of things, looks for empirical data, and revises old beliefs in light of new evidence. This notion of the true scientist is quite different from being a good scientist.” To be a ‘true musician’ and to define expressive authenticity is to create an art which can be emotionally evocative and enjoyable to listen to, in any sense.
A noise artist, such as Merzbow, who often gets vilified for making what can literally only be described as harsh noise, can be deemed authentic in both senses of the word. The music he creates is definitely noise and he is a true musician. He creates something genuinely unique and something people authentically connect with. Plus noise music, white noise in particular, can be soothing for people with autism who suffer with sensory overload. Even if one is to refute the fact that noise music can be authentic, making it this practical confirms its authenticity beyond reasonable doubt.
Sub-genres can be held responsible for blurring the lines between whats considered an authentic genre. Because rock music has been at the precipice of music popularity for so many years they have suffered with thousands of sub-genres and cultures. British ‘rock’ band black midi who released their first album Schlagenheim in 2019 have successfully blended; noise, math, experimental, black, kraut and alternative rock. Classic rock music fans would not appreciate or recognise black midi as standalone rock music despite it falling under the span of sub-genres under rock. This does not mean it is any less authentic than; Appetite For Destruction, Master Of Puppets, Nevermind and Ok Computer.
Covers can be considered authentic too, while not being 100% original. After Johnny Cash covered ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor admitted after watching the powerful and significant video for Johnny Cash’s version “that song isn’t mine anymore”. Covers themselves can be transcomposed to better suit the artist and their style. Kelly Lee Owens’ cover of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ is a completely electronic cover that de-instrumentalises the song’s arpeggiated guitar ensemble with no lyrics. It takes a song and crosses it into a new genre and new style to make it a completely different song.
I don’t think one genre can be considered more authentic than others. So long as the genre is true to the category it falls in and at least one person connects with it on a personal and emotional level. If a genre is labelled to be inauthentic or bland and generic, one needs to give it context and background or the music is then lost on basic listening.
Here find a playlist of my favourite covers: