EDM has become one of the most popular genres among Gen Z audiences — but what does that really say about us?
It’s no secret that I align myself with the hip hop generation — I even founded a record label with my sister, Misha, just for purpose-driven hip hop artists. However, I’m not blind to the biggest trends among my fellow Gen Zers. Over the past decade, EDM (“Electronic Dance Music” for the uninitiated) has been one of the most popular genres for teens and young adults. And when you think about it, Gen Z and EDM go together pretty well.
Gen Z and the Internet
Though Millennials may take issue with the following claim, the facts are on my side: Gen Z was the first generation to grow up with the Internet. By the time I was old enough to start asking important questions about the world around me, I already had a device in my hand that could help me answer many of them. This technological and cultural shift is often painted negatively; you might hear people (or media outlets) say that Gen Z is a generation addicted to technology and lacking in real-world social skills. Of course, these stereotypes are ridiculous. Every generation has new inventions, fashion, music, and trends that set them apart from their parents. My generation happens to have the single most influential invention in human history as a defining feature of our upbringing.
So, what does any of this have to do with Electronic Dance Music? Well, EDM wouldn’t exist (at least not in its current form) without the Internet. Though various forms of EDM existed way before personal computers, the recent iterations, including Dubstep and Trap, came about once audio mixing had already moved from analog to digital. This opened the door for artists across the globe to create entirely new sounds with computers — and then share them with fans online.
This is also how many of the most well-known EDM artists connect with their audiences. Here’s a common scenario among EDM fans: you follow a music promoter or famous artist on social media. Your phone buzzes, and you see the notification; there’s an impromptu party happening in an hour. You drop all of your plans and join the massive crowds that have all gotten the same information through the digital grapevine. The lights come up, the beat drops, and everyone starts to go wild. You have the time of your life, dancing for hours on end to the ear-splitting, trance-inducing reverberations of EDM.
For Gen Z, EDM Is About More Than Partying
Naturally, EDM is and has always been linked to partying and, depending on who you talk to, drugs. But when you think about it, most kinds of dance music are associated with parties, festivals, and celebrations. Whether they’re fueled by drugs, alcohol, or just pure adrenaline, social gatherings with dance music have existed in one form or another for a long, long time.
DJs and other artists who specialize in EDM often serve as the headliners at large gatherings and music festivals, solidifying the connection between EDM and modern party culture even further. And while EDM does have a significant following among people who like to party hard — it takes on greater significance when you look at it in the context of our times.
At the risk of sounding like a “complainer,” American Gen Zers (as well as younger Millennials) have been to hell and back in a very short period. We’ve lived through 9/11, two major wars, the Great Recession, an ever-increasing number of mass shootings, and — most recently — a global pandemic. I know every generation has to deal with its crises, but it’s hard to look at all of that and think that Gen Z doesn’t need a break.
In light of these difficulties, it’s no wonder that my generation wants to cut loose with seemingly mindless dance music. We aren’t stupid; on the contrary, we are hyper-aware of our circumstances. Rather than wallowing in self-pity or just giving up entirely, why not dance and try to forget about all of the horrors for a while?
The Bottom Line
EDM is made for entertaining large crowds. Sure, you can have it playing at a small house party to get people moving or just as background music playing through your headphones if the mood strikes you, but it’s designed for a festive, social atmosphere. Lyrics are often removed or deemphasized in favor of trance-like sounds and fast-paced beats. It lends itself to gatherings where people, particularly young people, can get together and just let go — physically and mentally.
It’s often said that Gen Z values experiences over material possessions more than nearly any other generation — and that’s precisely what EDM provides. It allows us to have real, authentic, in-the-moment experiences. In this way, EDM is so much more than the wild parties. EDM is a way for Gen Zers to close their eyes and transcend reality, even if just for a moment. Everybody needs a way to escape from time to time; EDM happens to be one of Gen Z’s favorite routes.
Originally Published on Medium.