Visualize a tetrahedron
(a pyramid with a triangular base). Label each corner: "Metal", "Techno", "Singer/Songwriter", and "Rap". It is my theory that almost every "pop" or "rock" musical artist or group can fit somewhere in this tetrahedron. For instance:
- Marylin Manson: almost at the very tip of "Metal"
- Rage Against the Machine: About 1/3 of the way along the "Metal" + "Rap" edge, closer to the former than the
- KMFDM, NiN, and other industrial rock groups: About halfway along the "Metal" + "Techno" edge.
- Most "Rock" groups and artists (from Gamma Ray to Pink Floyd to Nirvana to REM to Eric Clapton to Aerosmith to Elvis to Buddy Holly) range somewhere along the "Metal" + "Singer/Songwriter" edge.
- Punk and Third-wave ska could go on the "Metal" + "Singer/Songwriter" + "Hip-hop" face. Granted, these guys are kinda hard to place in the system.
- Brian Eno (the Ambient artist), The Orb: almost at the very tip of "Techno". Orbital is close, but they incorporate so much other stuff that they're a little more out into the middle of the tetrahedron.
- The Chemical Brothers and The Crystal Method: Along the "Techno" + "Rap" edge. Closer to the former than the latter.
- Hip-hop acts like The Beastie Boys: also along the "Techno" + "Rap" edge, but closer to the latter.
- Dance groups like Ace of Base and Real McCoy: along the "Techno" + "Singer/Songwriter" edge.
- Teenybopper pop artists like Britney Spears and Christina Agulera: on the "Techno" + "Singer/Songwriter" + "Rap" face; Agulera being closer to rap than Spears.
- Gangsta rappers: almost on the "Rap" tip.
- Most R&B (as it's currently defined) and boy bands: falls on the "Rap" + "Singer/Songwriter" edge;
- Mary Chapin Carpenter, Indigo Girls, and James Taylor: almost on the "Singer/Songwriter" tip. Other popular artists, especially those that are known as individual singers and not as being part of a group are also closest to "Singer/Songwriter" but partway to other genres (like Beth Orton towards "Techno" in some cases, Sting towards "Metal" and Mariah Carey towards "Rap").
Most artists aren't single points, but a sort of blob; their sound ranges around, depending on songs/albums. Some are rather limited (like Britney Spears), whereas some are pretty expansive (like Moby).
Within this theory, individuals are either "conservative" or "liberal" and "point", "edge" or "face" people. Me, I am a liberal-edge person, with the edge being "Techno" + "Singer/Songwriter": I love the extremes of these two genres, as well as stuff pretty close to the extremes in "Metal" and "Rap" -- but I just don't like getting down with Snoop Doggy Dogg or Pantera. My brother is a conservative-face person; he likes the extremes of Rap, Metal and Singer/Songwriter, but just doesn't like Techno at all. My parents are conservative-point around "Singer/Songwriter," with the "Metal" shared side being a little more liberal than the others; it's very difficult to get them to listen to our music.
Get the general idea? Okay, yeah, it's not a perfect system. Some groups are hard to place (like the Punk/Third-wave ska/Swing guys), some don't fit in period (the system makes no accomodations for orchestra/classical, jazz, or various ethnic influences, but most people can't visualize more than 3 dimensions without getting a severe headache), and sometimes two very different groups (like early REM and Simon and Garfunkel) will be right near each other on the scale. But for those groups/artists who do fit into the tetrahedron, it works remarkably well, especially as a rule of thumb for determining people's music likes and dislikes. If your head stops spinning long enough for you to start visualizing all of this.