NEO 10Y considers their position as an independent, non-binary artist working in the playlist-obsessed contemporary music space.
The recent fallout about Taylor Swift's music—music she actually wrote herself and was seemingly held at ransom by two businessmen who have nothing to do with her artistic process—is alarming at best. It really made me think about how lucky I am to be fully independent and in control of my entire creative existence. At the same time, this autonomy can be an artist’s biggest strength and weakness because of the levels of corruption within the “industry”. Glass ceilings are still so difficult to break through for independent artists.
Streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music are still quite archaic in terms of “genre” (something I literally don’t even believe in anymore). And because huge swathes of Spotify are controlled by major labels, there's still a tonne of nepotism involved with regards to playlisting. This puts independent artists (who are not Drake) at a huge disadvantage for breaking the algorithm—especially if they don’t fit the generic and easy-to-place genre lists.
That said, nobody can hold our art ransom or bully us out of our own creative ideas to fit a mould that can only have a limited shelf life, particularly as listeners become more aware of how “genre” is often rooted in racist and non-individualistic constructs.
I describe my sound as genre-bending, and myself as a post pop*. That’s because “pop” has always visibly been white, blonde and female. In my role in society as a rule-breaker of norms within the arts, I wanted to be that queer, brown, non-binary person who also happens to be a full 360º performer and creator of their universe that deconstructs “pop” for what it traditionally has been seen as: a dated concept built by men who've had authoritative control over what is “popular” since the day that music became a capitalist entity as opposed to, say, the God-given right to create sound that every human should have access to.
If I have to divulge with descriptors, I say that I make cinematic grunge/industrial R&B with conscious lyricism. But surely I can’t be the only person that finds genre stereotypes reductive and boring.
Lizzo and Billie Eilish are two artists who have also publicly aimed to deconstruct “genre” and prove to the world that authentic realness is actually what connects humans through sound and emotion (i.e. songs). That is still the past, present and future of music as far as I'm concerned. The same went for David Bowie, Freddie Mercury (who died on my birthday) and any other artist who transcended the norm.
Cementing “genre” in a playlisting era not only has historical and problematic connotations embedded in systemic racism but is now also spilling into the segregation of queer artists from the mainstream. As incredible as it is that queer art is being lifted up from within the LGBTQ+ community with our own platforms, there is absolutely no doubt that queer artists are also being sidelined by mainstream press and playlists because the heteronormative nepotism-addled bullies that govern the majority of playlists see LGBTQ+ artists being supported by “their own kind”. They therefore feel there's no need to in turn support them any further.
It’s awesome that Billboard have a dedicated LGBTQ+ platform but, once again, isn’t this just sidelining all queer artists into a separate concentration camp that cannot be a part of the mainstream? Speaking from my personal experience, I'm obviously grateful that I receive support from LGBTQ+ outlets but do I really want it to be at the expense of my songs that clearly transcend sexuality boundaries? Being subcategorised as queer art only based on who I fuck as opposed to what I sing about? Not really.
So where does this all net out? It’s amazing to be independent: to know that I'm in control and that nobody—no label, no bitter and talentless executives—can take that away from me.
But at the same time does the war on consciousness ripple into the music industry? Most definitely. Do major playlist controllers want to see artists who are here to deconstruct and inform the public of the truth have access to millions? Probably not. As consciousness grows, I think we will see many more major artists take the independent route and regain control of their money, art and marketing. Does this mean the end for the traditional institutions? Probably. Will we see more label closures? Most definitely. Does it mean that the artists of the future have to be literal artists and not products of a boardroom or a team? I hope so.