“Collage” Music Styles and the Expanding Musical Self Expression


by Kiana Reid

Now I feel I should preface with the fact I am not a music studies human, nor have I looked into research on the topic, but to me, this was a novel and neat discovery I have come to recognize as a true trend in the past year. I would like to talk about the rise in what I refer to as musical “collaging” in mainstream music and lower-key artists as well.

 By “collage” I mean the mixing of elements such as voice memos in the general music of the song as seen in “nonsense” by Sabrina Carpenter, for example.  This kind of mixing or “collaging” can be achieved in a variety of ways, this includes recycling old song choruses (“Vegas” by Doja Cat) and even breaking from singing into spoken poetry to add a personal note to a piece (“Anxiety” by Anna Clendening).  But a common aspect shared by all types of “collaging”, is the expansion of the possibilities of musical self-expression and capacity for the exploration of a plethora of subjects.

Growing up in the early 2000’s I wasn’t a stranger to the repetitive bopping lines of the pop music sphere and even the song fade, rendering the song a true earworm as a result of its unfinished conclusion.  Each pop song was its own entity and a very refined and polished little experience. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came across the song “No Angels” by Bastille ft. Ella Eyre, a cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs”, where I noticed this “collaging” and my fascination began.  The song weaves a snippet of dialogue from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, using it as an intro and outro to the song. The dialogue is a conversation between Norman and Marione, the two leads of the film, where they are discussing Norman’s feelings of being trapped.

At the time I hadn’t seen the film and it took a couple years before my curiosity got the better of me and I researched the source of the clip. I loved how the film audio broke up the general feel of the song, the aged audio almost crackling came through the contemporary manufactured song and between stylized vocals. By placing the clip in the song the words sadly singing about “scrubs” is then placed into conversation with the song’s lyrics, creating a deeper look at the sad themes of not being who you want to be and falling victim to circumstances. In a way, the “collage” creates a short story and argument, using the film as an example for the message of the song.

Another interesting use of “collaging” I’ve found is a type of breaking of the fourth wall.  I think one of the first places I saw this in childhood would have been “Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake, where a voice pipes up announcing the transitions to “take it to the chorus” and “bridge”, providing a unique breakdown of the musical structure, and creating a sense of chapter endings to the song. This allows for even more mobility and possibility for the artists by catching the listener off guard.

The fact that a number of songs now have a speaking introduction and or end gives a unique sense of spending a moment with the artist themselves, hearing them outside of a purely sung personae and experience. This largely reminded me of live recordings of groovy songs I was raised with as well, a key example would be “Zoom” by The Temptations.  At the start of the recording, the members have a conversation until slowly delve into the full vibe of the music.  In my experience, this adds a certain kind of ease and window into the process and the personalities of the band members.  Ultimately, the voices create a sense of intimacy with the artists that cannot otherwise be achieved.

At the end of the day, music and its possibilities are ever expanding, as new means of creativity, mixing, and rule-breaking are explored to express individuality, ideas, and capture experiences in new ways, and I know I can’t wait to see where the “collaging” may go next.


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