What does 'ethereal' mean in the world of music?

·2-min read
Canadian artist Grimes, also known as Claire Boucher, has been advocating for "ethereal" to be recognized as a true musical genre since 2019.

It's hard to not find what you're looking for on music streaming platforms, especially if you like genres like deep house, discofox and even "ethereal." This style of music, whose name refers to lightness, has just been recognized as a genre unto itself by Spotify. But what exactly does it refer to?

Over the years, Grimes has championed many causes such as feminism, the climate emergency and the place of women in the music industry. Her latest? Getting "ethereal" recognized as a musical genre in its own right. The Canadian singer has been campaigning since 2019 for streaming platforms to recognize this experimental style, which borrows elements from "pop and universal beauty" in her own words.

At the time the artist spoke out on Twitter about her personal reasons for asking for the micro-genre to be recognized as such. "We petition that ethereal should be an official genre on streaming platforms! We are constantly told that Grimes doesn't fit into any existing format or genre and therefore cannot be on playlists or radio," she wrote. "We argue that there is a long lineage of auteur-artists [belonging to this genre] often producing their own music and/or directing their own music videos. Oft with a heavy visual component and fantasy, sci-fi or literary elements ...often very ethereal, otherworldly and futuristic in nature."

One genre among 5000

Statements that have not gone unheard by Spotify. Grimes recently announced that the Swedish music streaming giant now recognizes "ethereal" as a real style. And every self-respecting musical genre on the platform has the right to its own playlist. The one dedicated to "ethereal" lasts almost 7 hours and a half and contains emblematic tracks of this micro-genre like "So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth - Art Mix" by Grimes, "Hyper-ballad" by Björk, "Spill the Milk" by Eartheater and "mary magdalene" by FKA Twigs.

"Ethereal" is the latest music genre to be recognized as such in Spotify's catalog. To date, more than 5000 styles and micro-genres are listed on the streaming giant's platform, including "Escape Room," "nintendocore" and "vaporwave."

A diversity that Glenn McDonald, a "data alchemist" at Spotify, has illustrated on Everynoise. "Every Noise at Once is an ongoing attempt at an algorithmically-generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analyzed for 5,325 genre-shaped distinctions by Spotify as of 2021-04-07," he outlines on the site. "The calibration is fuzzy, but in general down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier."

It's enough to make you want to dive into the nitzhonot, the dark psytrance and, of course, the "ethereal."

Caroline Drzewinski