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date: 14 July 2020

Popular musiclocked

  • Richard Middleton
  •  and Peter Manuel


A term used widely in everyday discourse, generally to refer to types of music that are considered to be of lower value and complexity than art music, and to be readily accessible to large numbers of musically uneducated listeners rather than to an élite. It is, however, one of the most difficult terms to define precisely. This is partly because its meaning (and that of equivalent words in other languages) has shifted historically and often varies in different cultures; partly because its boundaries are hazy, with individual pieces or genres moving into or out of the category, or being located either inside or outside it by different observers; and partly because the broader historical usages of the word ‘popular’ have given it a semantic richness that resists reduction. The question of definition is further discussed in §I, 1, below.

Even if ‘popular’ music is hard to define, and even if forms of popular music, in some sense of the term, can be found in most parts of the world over a lengthy historical period, in practice its most common references are to types of music characteristic of ‘modern’ and ‘modernizing’ societies – in Europe and North America from about ...

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