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Popular Music and Identity
Sound Clash-Popular Music and American Culture
Identifying through music is fantastic and creates social movements. People find music to be liberating, relaxing, and calming. Identifying oneself through music a person is able to have direct experiences in their body. This allows a person to place them self in an imaginary cultural narrative. Popular music has been analyzed as though it is a classical composition, which makes the analysts neglect the improvisational and performative aspects of popular music. Analyzing how audiences respond to popular music and how they identify with this kind of music is vital. This would allow people to better understand how different people identify with certain popular songs. Theodor Adorno viewed popular music as a culture industry, which is designed to appeal to society by creating a false need for entertainment. Simon Frith views popular music as a complex world where that values and attitudes constitute a symbolic system. They both discuss popular music, but have differing perspectives. Theodor is more inclined towards classical compositions, while Simon focuses on pop music. Understanding the impact of popular music is beneficial as it allows people to understand how people will identify themselves with certain music. Theodor Adorno and Simon Frith have some similarities and differences in their writings, and in this paper a discussion will be formulated based on these similarities and differences.
Theodor Adorno's argument
Theodor argues for standardization of both popular and classical music. The writer does not view popular music as serious music. This is because he uses the same measures for measuring the worth of classical music in measuring popular music. This is a big problem because classical music is very different from popular music and they both need different measures for evaluating their worth. Popular music he continues to say is used to influence people culturally, which distracts them from the exploitative nature of capitalism. Based on his works David Reisman identified two distinct categories of listener's majority and minority. Majority listeners only consume the popular music as a product and their source for light hearted fun. Minority listeners develop over elaborate standards for listening to this music.
The writer argues that popular music is manipulated by the promoters and inherent nature of the music. This is why people are able to identify more easily with popular music than classical music. Classical music is composed and requires the listener to understand each tone and line, but popular music has no such requirement. A classical song like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony shown in the musical example 1, cannot be listened to from the second stanza, one will need to start from the top in order to grasp and understand the song Adorno and Simpson ()
. Popular music has no such requirement, a person can listen from the second stanza and the listener will understand the song. Theodor states that this is why popular music is easy to identify with and has a cult following. The desire for people to identify with popular music is based on the publicity given towards the songs. Promoters have created influential ways of making people believe in the music, which they use in pushing for popular music. Playing on the need for people to be entertained, the promoters and producers have synthesized music production, and they exploit this human nature.
Simon Frith's Argument
Simon Frith is the writer with a better argument and this is the writer I agree with more. Frith ()
argues that identity rests on two premises namely mobile and self-in-process. Mobile identity is a process not a thing, and self-in-process can be summed up as a person's experience of music. There have been many assumptions before based on how people identify with music. Simon argues that it is not just African-American's who listen to African-American music. Simon looks at popular music in terms of how it creates an experience and how it produces them. He does not only concentrate on how popular music reflects the people. Popular music is easy to identify with as it has no barriers and it is applicable to a majority of people. African music has gained root in European countries, and no one can explain the exact reason, but since the music is popular and the beats are easily understood many people identify with such songs. People listen and identify with music that sounds right. Popular music has that feel good feeling that people seek from music. Popular music then creates social groupings through cultural activities. Critics have pointed out that certain songs like Spoonin Rap and Love Rap by Spoonie Gee are great songs, but the artist does not know what he is doing. The rapper is able to appeal to people's emotions because he is not trying hard to please people, but to express his own emotions.
Simon too notes that most measurements of music are based on academic qualities. This is because music was categorized as a performing art like theatre and dance. The academics were mainly concerned with what could be taught and stored, and that is why popular music is not considered serious music. Since popular music cannot be taught like classical music, majority of scholars have had a hard time in describing its influence on identity. Simon called this an idealistic attempt of grasping an experience, which could not be possible. An experience is something that a person will feel, and it is very different for two people.
Simon Frith's argument is more compelling as he analyses music in different perspectives. This is why I agree more with this writer, Simon is speaking about the experience that a person gets when they listen to music is totally on point, and it justifies why people will easily identify with popular music. His argument that identity is a process and not something that one can physically identify is easy to understand when compared to Theodor's argument that popular music is too commercialized, which makes Frith's argument one that can be easily understood and agreed. Commercialization is vital in our society as it allows people to feel free and have the freedom to express them through different popular music. Popular does not represent value, but rather it embodies these values Hill and Fenner ()
. Popular music is able to create an ideal social order as was the case with the Yoruba musicians. The musicians used music to create in the minds of people how an ideal social order should be like. Serious music is music that transcends social forces, and this is why it is considered important. Popular music since it is uninteresting to the socialites they determine that it is utilitarian.
Simon Frith does not insist that popular music should be forced to everyone, but rather he states that people consume and produce music that they are capable of consuming and producing. There been different social groups this would mean that each social grouping would produce music based on their skill and knowledge. This would ensure that the social grouping would make different music. Social conditioning might affect how a person identifies with music, but the person will only play the music that sounds good to them. Commercial manipulation might also influence the kind of music people listen to, but overall the people will identify with this music. The reason behind identity and popular music is based on different things, social norms, commercialization, or culture. Popular music is able to break down all this barriers and different people from different social groupings are able to identify with popular music. Tin Pan Alley songs influenced many popular music like jazz, pop, and rock. Their influence declined but they gained their popularity in the 20th century. The songs follow a set of standards with a sectional verse that is sixteen bars…[continue]
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