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Popular Music: Art, Formula Or Product?

2530 words - 10 pages

Popular music is popular again, and it's everywhere. Whether its the idols, the stars, the rivals or the academy, the pop music industry has never flaunted itself to such a large extent. But how can we label pop music? Where is its place? Many would argue that it belongs solely littered across the floors of teenagers bedrooms worldwide. Others would say it is most at home listed on the bank balance of a major multinational organisation. A lot of people would insist that pop music has no home, and is just a fad applauded by the culturally inept, those who are only capable of enjoying a pre-formatted, formulaic product of the 'culture industry'. Or is it infact a diverse and artistic phenomenon, allowing a socially and culturally rich expression? Maybe pop music will never be 'pigeon holed' as such, but I hope to identify the arguments surrounding popular music and determine its place within popular culture and within modern society.The FormulaThe subject of pop music seems to have been lightly touched on by many writers when talking about popular culture, but none have theorised on the topic as much as Theodor Adorno. Adorno's approach, which is bound heavily by its Marxist leanings, is based largely on observations of 1930s Germany, and subsequently, the United States when The Frankfurt School re-located to New York in 1933. Adorno talks about popular music as a product of 'the culture industry', a formulaic and stubborn master-plan to which all pop music adheres. He suggested that pop music "hears for the listener" and is "pre-digested" and he closely collaborates with Marcuse's theory of 'The One-Dimensional Man' when the culture industry is viewed as 'an irresistible force'. In light of these statements Adorno went on to conclude that pop music lacked the potential to be rebellious and subversive, a quality which he regarded music of a higher culture to possess. Adorno's 'On Popular Music' may identify some interesting points on the construction and distribution of pop music as well as highlighting common traits of the 'sound' of pop music but ironically his theory is itself very rigid and has some major flaws. Adorno did not feel it necessary to update any of his theories on pop music before he died in 1969 even after a period which many would call the birth of 'modern' pop music. He doesn't accurately identify the way in which subcultures and social groups embrace popular music and how even a 'pre-formatted' piece of music can be used to motivate political, social and cultural reform.If Adorno was correct in talking of popular music as a standardised and conformist form of entertainment, we would only need to mention briefly a few examples to totally discredit this. The Spice Girls and the new breed of post-feminist rebellion known as 'Girl Power' they brought about. Free love and the use of drugs in the 60's. The early 90's saw the birth of Ecstasy, glorified by Happy Hardcore, Techno and now Dance music, while kids were singing along to...

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