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Music Is A Form Of Art

3125 words - 13 pages

‘Pop music can be described as standardised and formulaic. Critically assess this claim.’

With numerous reality television shows focusing on the music industry, such as Pop-Idol and Fame Academy, it isn’t difficult to imagine why ‘popular music’ can be described as standardised and formulaic. These shows base themselves on finding the right formula of image, sound and charisma in order to become successful in the popular music market, suggesting that success in the market is reliant on conforming to a specific formula. However, ‘Popular Music’ itself is a contested term, and so I shall begin this essay by examining two varying definitions, that of the Positivist and that of the ...view middle of the document...

However, the term in this instance was replaced by the term ‘folk’, and ‘popular’ music came to mean those songs associated with the mass market around the 1930’s and 1940’s. Middleton (1990) outlined two approaches to defining ‘popular music’. Firstly, he demonstrates the Positivist approach, focusing on a song’s success in the mass market, typically judged through the pop charts, radio/television airplay, sales, etc.. Positivists take as their ‘Primary level of analysis to be that characterised by the question of size and by the phenomenal form of the series’ (Middleton, R., 1990, p.5). To Positivists, commercialisation is crucial to understanding what is meant by the term pop music. There are problems with this approach, though, for it is an approach based on measurement, but the implements used to measure ‘popularity’ (charts, radio/television, sales, etc.) are, at best, unreliable. Also, by solely focusing on measurements, Positivists are ignorant of the wider social context of popular music. The second approach outlined by Middleton is that of the Essentialist, and is more based in sociology. They see popular music as being associated with a particular social group, either from ‘above’ or from ‘below’, and this has an effect on its meaning and usage. From ‘above’, popular music is seen as manipulative and exploitative, from ‘below’ it is set as mass or commercial. What is common in both fields is that the meaning of popular music is reliant on comparison with the absent Other, with what it is lacking. However, this approach ignores the wider cultural processes of society, especially historically. For the purpose of this essay, I feel a simple, straightforward definition of ‘pop music’ would be most suited. Therefore, at its most basic, pop music is ‘Commercially mass produced music for a mass market, and including the variety of genres variously subsumed by terms such as rock ‘n’ roll, rock, dance, hip hop and R. & B.’ (Shuker, R., 1994, p.x). All forms of popular music contain elements of other styles, traditions and influences, thrown together in a commercial salad. There is also traditionally a tension between the creative elements of music making and the productive elements, with a simple compromise often being reached. The term ‘standardise’ literally means ‘To make or become standard’ (Collins Dictionary, 1993). When applied to popular music, ‘standardisation’ refers to the growth of the music market into a mass market whereby all products follow the same basic structure. The term ‘formula’ is the means by which the music industry becomes standardised. The ‘formula’ is based on the standards and fashions of the day in order to sell songs, and must adhere itself to public desires.

The German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (1903-69) was a member of a group called ‘the Frankfurt school’ who critiqued ‘genres’ in the 1940’s, and concluded that all genres are standardised products. It was Adorno’s analysis of the working class ‘false...

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