Is Rolling Stone’s 20 Best EDM and Electronic albums of 2017 an ill considered attempt to showcase obscurity for obscurity’s sake or an apt proclamation concerning the current status of electronic music?
The list at hand has sparked collective controversy among the EDM community due to its off-kilter inclusion of some of electronic music’s most remote auteurs — and an apparent exclusion of some of the mainstream’s most prominent producers.
While some feel the list misses out on some of 2017’s key artists, the analysis begs relevant questions regarding the dissemination of electronic music over the past few years, as well as the increasingly ambiguous boundaries between genres. After all, what exactly defines “EDM” in the first place?
Rolling Stone’s exclusion of any major EDM pop stars — read: The Chainsmokers, Odesza, Galantis — marks a prodigious shift from their inclusion of electronic pop music in years past via Flume & Kygo in 2016 and Disclosure & Jack Ü in 2015. In fact, the closest 2017’s list came to showcasing pop music was through UK grime superstar Stormzy and Long Beach’s own Vince Staples on their respective albums Gang Signs & Prayer and Big Fish Theory, neither of which can accurately be described as pop.
Furthermore, while both Stormzy and Vince Staples utilize electronic elements in their tracks, is it accurate to classify these albums as EDM or even “electronic?”
Have the constructs of electronic music completely collapsed, or has the umbrella-esque genre simply become defined by the technicalities of digital production? The inclusion of “niche” artists could be a way of acknowledging EDM’s infiltration into contemporary pop and the jarring effects that move has had on the way that listeners contextualize electronic music as a whole.
One could go so far as to gesture that EDM and electronic music are entirely distinct entities. While everyone knows EDM is technically defined as “Electronic Dance Music” the genre is applied liberally and without any real distinction.
Though it would be easy to get upset at perceived “snubs” for the mainstream or even mid-range artists operating in the EDM-relative space, Rolling Stone’s decision to include albums within any and every degree of electronic music’s diverse range of styles is a testament to the genre’s versatility, and, perhaps its saving grace: its ambiguity.
EDM is more fluid than most would care to believe, and for many, contextualization of the genre depends entirely on their own experience with it.
The exclusion of such massive albums as Chainsmoker’s Memories…Do Not Open and Galantis’ The Aviary can’t be an accident. While it throws the article’s titling into question, the logic is solid. For starters, the former failed to garner support from even the most devout EDM enthusiasts. Barring the exception of an outstanding album in Calvin Harris’ Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, Rolling Stone’s decision to prohibit EDM pop stars from its list seems entirely justified considering the apparent lack of authenticity among EDM pop in 2017.
Though Harris’ record is an obvious standout, it seems that the efforts of most major artists in this space are becomingly increasingly uninspired. Once a genre that challenged notions of what electronic music can be, popular EDM now seems devoid of any risk takers among its mainstream sect. So goes for any of its notable sub-genres that have been beaten beyond death—future house, we’re looking at you.
While Rolling Stone may have benefited from including the more innovative album releases this year from artists like Emancipator, Floating Points, Barclay Crenshaw, Amelie Lens, Jamie Jones, Kelela, Perc, or Yaeji to name a few, the coveted spots are not infinite, and their current standings do help shed a stark light on EDM’s lack of audacity over the last year.
As the genre bubbles into mainstream consciousness, it has yet to exit its immature, money-grabbing mindset, rewarding chintzy efforts to gain streams while forsaking the same genre-bending behavior that has consistently defined electronic music. After all, if it’s not easy to define, it can’t easily fit on Billboard charts.
EDM, as a genre, is nearly impossible to characterize formally and the music that comprises any of electronic music’s myriad sub-genres can reflect a multitude of various styles and sects in just one track: after all, the inherent genius in electronic music lies both in its malleability and its unique ability to evade easy definition.
Some may deem such rankings as unnecessarily obscure but, despite missing out on a few key albums, Rolling Stone’s Top 20 EDM List stands as a relevant statement about the genres current state.