Vaudeville acts, for instance, had tunes for just about every major immigrant collected critical current essay family issue marriage series: the Italian number, the Yiddish number, the Irish one, the Chinese. Sometime in the 1950s, the mainstream saw its last great gasp of this habit. There was a simple notion behind all this stuff, and it was the belief that music, like food, came from someplace, and from some people.
Even when it was played in a condescending ethnic-joke burlesque of who those people actually were — even when it was pretty aggressively racist — the notion remained: Different styles sprang from different people. But music is still, pretty obviously, tied to people. How else do you create a situation in which, after decades of hip-hop’s being the main engine of pop music, it can still be a little complicated when nonblack people rap? In 2017, identity is the topic at the absolute center of our conversations about music. But if you look through the essays in this magazine, you may notice two things. Does it make you picture the black Chicagoans who helped invent it or the club-going Europeans who embraced it? How does it work when a queer woman matches the sexual braggadocio of male rappers, when L.
This is what we talk about now, the music-makers and the music-listeners both. Not the fine details of genre and style — everyone, allegedly, listens to everything now — but the networks of identity that float within them. Maybe decades ago you could aim your songs at a mass market, but music does not really have one of those anymore. Artists have to figure out whom they’re speaking to and where they’re speaking from. The rest of us do the same. Nitsuh Abebe is a story editor for the magazine. Loving Adele shouldn’t be that hard.
When a chorus brings her voice to its cruising altitude, it’s like you’re up there, flying with it. But even Adele knows that loving Adele is complicated. Richter scale — and didn’t win any of the big awards. Black people have never been necessary to make black music.