The Mainstreaming of Dubstep and the Rise of Trap Music (Wait, What Is Trap Music?)
Skrillex, when dubstep was cool, circa 2011.
Photo by Son Lam.
Mainstream music has a history of taking musical genres, smoothing out the rough edges and turning them into something easily digestible to the masses. Punk rock went from being the music of rebellion to the music of crying about failed relationships, and rappers went from rapping about what was happening in the streets to rapping make-believe stories of violence and drug running.
For the last two years, much has been written about the rise of EDM, and dubstep in particular. While dubstep was never threatening or edgy in the way that punk and hip-hop were, there was a certain hardcore bent to it that was exciting. It was aggressively modern, the perfect music for our ADHD culture.
I'm speaking about it in past tense because we have to face the fact that mainstream music has had its way with dubstep, and the results aren't pretty.
Dubstep isn't dead, it's just completely toothless.
I find the above video to be absolutely fascinating. For the first 15 seconds, it's every boring advertisement that any political organization has ever put out, completely safe, familiar and forgettable.
And then then there's the drop.
Consider for a moment what a dubstep track, however generic, appearing in an official White House video means. It means that someone working for, and thus close to, those in the highest positions of power in our country made this video and had it signed off on.
A group of people whose every decision is endlessly debated and commented on approved this ad with that song. Someone, somewhere, is getting government money for the use of this song in the spot.
And the amazing part of all of it is that once the drop hits, the video remains completely safe, familiar and forgettable.
While it's true that the only reason anyone is talking about it is because of the novelty of a dubstep track popping up in a White House ad, no one is saying what they did was edgy or cool. It's the kind of thing someone does when they want to appear cool but don't know how to do it without being completely transparent.
The truth is that dubstep hit peak coolness about 30 minutes before Taylor Swift released "I Knew You Were Trouble." When the safest artist in pop music is riding a sound to the top of the charts, it's safe to say that all the bite has been stolen from it.
The White House video is just the final proof needed to point out dubstep's status as completely safe for mainstream consumption.
And that's fine. Good dubstep music is going to continue to be released. True artists in the genre are going to continue to put out new tunes and pack clubs. Punk rock and hip-hop didn't die because people discovered they could make money from it and neither will dubstep.
But that does leave us looking for a new buzz genre to overanalyze. If only there was a new sound bubbling under the radar, waiting to explode into the mainstream.
While it's only a coincidence that the White House dubstep video came out the same week that Harlem Shake videos spread like wildfire across the Internet, it's fitting that these two events would happen at the same time. If you've spent any time at a dance show or read any EDM blogs on the regular, you're well aware of the growing sentiment that trap music is just waiting to blow up, it just needs the right song to come along.
Even if you believe the videos themselves are already played out, the song itself is finding an audience. "Harlem Shake" went from an obscure track in a genre most people don't know about to the top of iTunes in less than a week. Now bloggers are hard at work putting together posts about what trap music is, other trap producers to check out, and, most amusing, how trap music is different from dubstep.
Because right now people don't know. They don't know why it's called trap music, its connection to Southern hip-hop, or who Baauer is. They just know there's this song in this video that makes them laugh and kind of sounds like what they think dubstep is supposed to sound like, and they want more of it.
And somewhere down the line, maybe a year from now, maybe two years from now, after Britney Spears and Flo Rida have put out their own bad spins on trap, we'll be having this same conversation, only now about trap music instead of dubstep, and whatever new genre gets the kids going.
So on and so forth, for as long as people are making music.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.