Talking about new popular house music releases and the genre’s history
By Arthur Michelstetter
Editor-in-Chief of Verbatim
February 9, 2024
Ariana Grande just dropped, was my only conclusion after waking up to my For You Page on TikTok about a week ago. I ignored the news, but eventually, I rolled out of bed and continued on with my day, brushed my teeth, and ate some breakfast, where I opened TikTok again. The first video I saw was accusing Ariana Grande of just wanting to be Beyoncé. That’s the moment I decided to give “yes, and?” a listen.
The song consists of sampled vocal tracks and percussion pulsing on off-beats with hi-hats to match. The lyrics reflect those of a basic love song, but overall, it’s a fun dance song, good enough. It’s just not the Ari we’re used to since she has worked more with trap beats in the past, but her high-pitched vocals match perfectly with a house song.
House music is a genre of dance music that comes from dance clubs in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, so how did it end up in Ariana Grande’s hands? That question lingered in my brain for some time.
If you track house music back to its origins, it, like nearly all genres of African-American music, originates from work and protest songs from times of slavery. After slavery ended, secular Black music grew into early forms of Jazz and Blues, Blues later becoming the classic R&B sound that carried through the ‘60s and ‘70s, when DJs were added.
Two developments happened. First, in the mid-’60s, Terry Noel performed at a New York City club named Arthur. Before him, most dance venues would queue songs one by one, but Noel was the first Disc Jockey to mix two records together, expanding the scope of live music. Second, the new dance music coincided with the rise in gay, Black, and Latino club culture (Noel being transgender herself,) which also influenced the sound of live dance music. Thus, disco was born.
To die fairly quickly. In the wake of house music, disco died due to the heavy commercialization of disco, a genre originally based on unique sounds and representing marginalized groups. The connection to the genre was lost as disco became mainstream. House, on the other hand, has remained relatively underground over the course of its existence.
Musically, both genres have similar features. Both feature a four-on-the-floor beat, where all four beats of a measure are played by the bass; and both make heavy use of hi-hats to characterize the beat. According to Carnegie Hall, House, however, didn’t follow the pop formula nearly as much as disco; house encourages the use of “multiple rhythmic and melodic patterns” to make songs, unlike rap, where the song is mostly based on beat. Furthermore, house beats range from 120 to 135 bpm.
The technology that was used also shaped house as a genre. The original instrument creating house music was the digital drum the TR-909 (referred to as a 909.) The 909 made very accented percussion sounds, the beats that quickly go from loud to quiet that you hear in every house track. Another technology used was samples, usually samples of loud, belting female vocals that were integrated into so many house songs, most notably Loleatta Halloway’s song “Love Sensation” which has been reused hundreds of times. All of these factors create an extremely unique and unforgettable sound.
A sound that has found its resurgence in recent years, first most notably with the release of Lady Gaga’s 2020 album “Chromatica” (you might recognize the song “Rain on Me.”) Every single song on the album is an upbeat dance track, and with her diva attitude and voice, Lady Gaga seals an iconic album.
Even more iconic, though, is Beyoncé’s 2022 album Renaissance. Renaissance is a quintessential house and dance album, and in a way, it acts as a protest album through its unapologetic celebration of queerness and queer culture. It’s personal where it’s glamorous, notably in “Heated,” which I’ll use as a case study.
“Heated” starts off with Beyoncé going band for band with an imaginary man, but in doing so, she implies her sense of self-worth. She needs to fan herself off to “cool it down”—Beyoncé, what a femme icon! Musically, the singing is soulful like most house tracks, but the song also takes advantage of layering vocals to create complex melodies and countermelodies. Around 3:06, a distorted falsetto juxtaposes Beyoncé’s rap over a strong four-on-the-floor beat, a rap that had been playing pieces earlier throughout the song. I’m not sure whether or not a 909 was used to create the beat, but at the very least, the beat is written to mimic other house beats with accented notes.
Looking forward, house music is going to have a mainstream revival if it hasn't started already. It’s easy to understand why—house music is designed to be pure fun, but the resurgence of the genre reminds us of the political power of music. Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” became a protest track for pro-choice protestors after Roe v. Wade was appealed, for example. It’s proof that what is playing on the radio really does matter.