Looking At Genres On A Thematic Level – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by spending a while talking about my experiences with listening to punk music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

At the time of writing, I still seem to be going through a bit of a “1990s American punk music” phase. As I’ve probably mentioned before, this was the first “cool” genre of music I ever discovered and – although I’m more of a heavy metal fan these days – I still find myself returning to it every now and then.

This time round, I found myself discovering a new band or two, buying a few extra punk albums and listening to bands that I vaguely knew about in slightly more depth. This had some surprisingly mixed results (eg: I learnt that Green Day’s “Warning” is actually a good album [and so is “Insomniac” too], I discovered a band called “No Use For A Name” who I should have discovered years ago etc..). But, this slightly deeper look at one of my favourite genres of music completely changed my opinion of it.

Since the very first punk band I ever discovered (sometime in the late 1990s) was The Offspring, I’d always thought that 90s American punk music was all about fun and rebellion. After gradually discovering a few other bands over the years, I still sort of thought the same sort of things about the genre – but I realised that it could also include things like lyrical complexity, gothic elements, shock value, political rebellion etc…

But, after listening repeatedly to several of Green Day’s classic albums and No Use For A Name’s amazing “Making Friends” album. I realised something about the genre that I’d never really thought about too much before. For all of it’s energy and passion, it’s often a genre about failure and misery. For a genre that I thought was all about cheerful nostalgia, intelligent thought and the kind of rebellious attitude that the world really needs these days, it’s actually surprisingly depressing if you actually read the lyrics.

This, of course, made me take another look at some of my favourite punk songs and albums and – yes- this theme also seems to be present there, albeit in more subtle ways. Although the genre still sounds amazing and fills me with nostalgia, it’s become a bit less of a “feel good” genre than it used to be because I now know more about the genre than I thought I did.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs rambling about the punk genre?

Well, it’s because it’s about the importance of looking at genres on a thematic level. This is something that you can often only do if you research a genre as much as you can. Since, the more things (by different people) you see within the same genre, the easier it is to spot common themes.

This might sound pretentious or overly academic but there are some good practical reasons to look at genres thematically if you’re an artist, writer etc…

If you understand the common themes in a genre, then you’ll find it easier to make things in that genre. You’ll find it easier to come up with ideas for stories, comics, paintings etc… since you can ask yourself “if I made something about [this theme], what would it look like?” This is especially true if it’s a genre that you really love, but don’t know how to make things in it.

In addition to this, if you know what the common themes of a genre are, then it’s also a lot easier to include elements from other genres. After all, if you make something that looks like it belongs to another genre, but contains the themes from one of your favourite genres, then you’ll probably come up with something a lot more original that will still be recognisable as part of your chosen genre.

Likewise, studying the themes in other creative works can show you how to include “difficult” themes in subtle ways. For example, if you watch the music video for “Soulmate” by No Use For A Name, it seems like an “ordinary” song about a failed relationship. But, if you actually listen to the lyrics, it isn’t a song about romantic relationships at all. It’s an incredibly depressing song about a life of paranoia, worry, despair etc.. since the “soulmate” in the title is shown to be those emotions rather than a romantic partner.

Finally, looking at the themes of your favourite genres can help you to think about the types of themes that you want to include in your own creative works. Yes, you’ll probably end up doing this without realising it anyway. But, thinking about it more consciously will probably allow you to make your creative works have more emotional impact, depth, complexity etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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