- Richard Middleton
- and Peter Manuel
Updated in this version
updated and revised, 13 January 2015
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 1800, and even more from about 1900, and in Latin America and ‘Third World’ countries since the 20th century, and even more strongly since World War II. The focus in this article is on these musical types; the emphasis is on the main themes, debates, and historical trends, and, in particular, on the USA and Britain, since 20th-century styles and practices originating in the USA (together with styles originating in Britain since about 1960) have come to dominate popular music worldwide. The period after about 1955 is discussed in more detail in Pop and in other entries on specific genres. Further information will also be found in articles on individual countries.
I. Popular music in the West
- Richard Middleton
A common approach to defining popular music is to link popularity with scale of activity. Usually this is measured in terms of consumption, for example by counting sales of sheet music or recordings. While it seems reasonable to expect music thought of as ‘popular music’ to have a large audience, there are well-known methodological difficulties standing in the way of credible measurement, and – perhaps more seriously – this approach cannot take account of qualitative as against quantitative factors: for instance, repeat hearings are not counted, depth of response does not feature, socially diverse audiences are treated as one aggregated market and there is no differentiation between musical styles. Thus sales figures, however useful, measure sales rather than popularity.
Another common approach is to link popularity with means of dissemination, and particularly with the development and role of mass media. It is true that the history of popular music is intimately connected with the technologies of mass distribution (print, recording, radio, film, etc.); yet a piece that could be described as ‘popular music’ does not cease to be so when it is performed live in public, or even strummed in the amateur’s home, and conversely it is clear that all sorts of music, from folk to avant garde, are subject to mass mediation.
A third approach is to link popularity with social group – either a mass audience or a particular class (most often, though not always, the working class). In the first case, the theory is usually ‘top-down’, portraying the group as undifferentiated dupes of commercial manipulation; this tends to accompany pessimistic scenarios of cultural decline. In the second case, the theory is ‘bottom-up’, representing the group as the creative source of authentic (as opposed to ersatz) popular music; this tends to accompany populist scenarios of leftist opposition. The distinction is between production for the people and production by the people. This catches a real tension in the concept of popular music, not to mention the fact that so often it is defined by negation, that is, in terms of what it is not (e.g. popular music is not folk music, art music, commercial music, and so on). Always positioned as subordinate in the musical field as a whole, popular music seems condemned to be an ‘other’. But musical categories commonly cross social boundaries (e.g. jazz could be described as ‘popular music’, as could arias by Puccini when sung by Pavarotti, or the music of Jimi Hendrix when played by Nigel Kennedy, or Elton John’s Candle in the Wind, sung after works by Verdi and John Tavener at the funeral service of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997). Even if ‘the masses’ or particular classes can be given precise sociological definitions, which is doubtful, the structure of the musical field cannot be mapped straight on to the social structure, and musical categories do not walk on to the historical stage in socially or musically pure forms.
These three approaches identify important tendencies. Yet all are too partial, too static, too prone to essentialism. For most popular music scholars, it is better to accept the fluidity that seems indelibly to mark our understandings of the ‘popular’. From this perspective popular music has no permanent musical characteristics or social connections; rather, the term refers to a socio-musical space always in some sense subaltern, but with contents that are contested and subject to historical mutation. Stuart Hall, drawing on the theories of Antonio Gramsci, insists that it is impossible to understand the popular in any given moment except by placing it in a broader cultural context (the other categories it is working alongside and against) and that it possesses no essential content or social affiliations; rather, ‘it is the ground on which the transformations are worked’ (Hall, 1981, p.228). Frith (1996), emphasizing that the discursive formation of the popular is itself marked by internal distinctions and hierarchies, adds that the criteria for these are often drawn from neighbouring musical categories (notions of aesthetic value from art discourses, for example).
It follows from this argument that understandings of popular music have changed with time. Indeed, while all but the simplest societies probably have some sort of hierarchy of musical categories (as pre-modern Europe certainly did), the resonances now attached to the term came to the fore during the late 18th century (with the beginnings of late-modern society), and sedimented themselves into general awareness during the 19th. During this period a gradual but ultimately dramatic reshaping of the socio-cultural topography brought into being, in symbiotic interrelationship, hugely increased audiences for music; publicly accessible apparatuses for musical education, criticism, and propagation; an emergent canonic repertory of ‘classics’; and (as an apparent mirror image of this) a sense of low-class, ‘trivial’ genres as being problematic. On the one hand, this constructed what is now commonly known as classical music as, in a sense, the first modern popular music, laying the foundations for what would subsequently be its installation as the core of middlebrow taste; on the other, it imposed a new, explicitly moralistic pressure on ‘low’ music. Research by DiMaggio (1982), Levine (1988), Broyles (1992) and others has revealed many of the ways in which, in the USA, an earlier, easy, populist mixing of tastes was replaced, through the influence of the institutions of ‘good music’, by a sense of hierarchy, linked to social class. In Britain Haweis arranged the whole field into a moral-aesthetic ladder, with German symphonic music at the top and street entertainers at the foot (with ballads just above them) (Music and Morals, 1871). In the early 20th century the split intensified, the modernists defiantly esoteric, the emergent Tin Pan Alley defiantly commercial; the macabre dance of the Modernism–mass culture couple can now be seen as ideologically self-sustaining. On a broader front, the drive by the new mass media, especially radio, to identify and supply a fully national market brought all the musical categories into the same socio-technological space and also, as a result, revealed their differences: the BBC, for example, ‘undertook the standardisation, classification and placing in rank order of the whole field of music’ (Scannell, 1981, p.259). By the 1920s the now familiar highbrow–middlebrow–lowbrow model was fully in place. This ‘sandwich’ structure (a bifurcation with variable middle-of-the-road or light music fillings) remains fundamentally intact, even if by the late 20th century the boundaries blurred easily, crossovers abounded, new sub-terms (pop, rock, beat, etc.) appeared, and the content of particular categories became increasingly unpredictable. The ‘globalization’ of the cultural economy may engineer a further shift – perhaps, as all music is further commodified and deracinated, towards an erosion of category distinctions. However, so long as cultural capital remains an important tool of social positioning within capitalist society, the principles seem unlikely to change significantly.
The history of popular music, then, can be described in terms of a sequence (somewhat variably dated in different societies) of three spatial metaphors. First there is an ‘each to his own’ model, with different musical categories located in different social spaces, though in some circumstances mixing unselfconsciously. Then these spaces start to be connected to a ladder, which may be climbed through techniques of social mobility and moral self-improvement. Finally, this ranking is consolidated into a unitary ‘virtual space’. What is striking is how late, relatively, this final stage – the one we tend to take for granted – occurred. It was established fully only in the first half of the 20th century; in Britain, the restructuring of BBC programming into highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow channels after World War II marked its complete acceptance. In most European countries, it coincided with the first large-scale incursion of American styles, in the shape of the new products of Tin Pan Alley (in Britain this process had begun somewhat earlier); indeed, in the USA itself it is these products that often are associated most closely with the term ‘popular music’, the characteristic post-1955 styles being covered by ‘rock’ or ‘rock and roll’. Significantly, during the same early 20th-century period, translations or equivalents of the English-language ‘popular music’ appeared, taking over wholly or in part from previous terminologies. In German, for instance,Populärmusik gradually replaced the older Trivialmusik and Unterhaltungsmusik. By the 1960s, throughout Europe and North America, interrelated terminologies focussed on equivalents of ‘popular’ and ‘pop’ music reflected the consolidation of a socio-musical field that was increasingly internationally unified.
2. Mass media and the cultural economy of popular music.
(i) The main historical shifts.
The most significant feature of the emergent popular music industry of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the extent of its focus on the commodity form of sheet music. During the 19th century music publishers’ catalogues and output grew enormously, and the products – many of them in ‘popular’ genres – were disseminated increasingly widely. Demand rocketed as an expanding, ambitious middle class (joined in due course by more affluent sectors of the working classes) bought pianos, which were falling in price and increasingly targeted at a range of social groups, and entertained themselves in the home. A variety of educational institutions and strategies promoted musical literacy. Song sheets, instrumental pieces and arrangements, cheap editions, music supplements in magazines, albums, and part-works poured from the presses. New transport networks created national markets and speeded up supply, carrying the latest pieces quickly around Europe and much of America. At the same time, the provision of and access to public performances also increased. In pleasure gardens and dance halls, popular theatres and concert rooms, ordinary people – no doubt for the first time, in many cases – could enjoy music commercially provided by professionals. The first ‘star’ performers promoted publishers’ products, for example through the British ‘royalty ballad’ system; one of the earliest, Jenny Lind, toured the USA in 1850–51 to great acclaim, a beneficiary of the pioneering publicity techniques of P.T. Barnum. Amateur choirs and bands mushroomed. Copyright legislation was in place or came into being in most countries, though enforcement was difficult and piracy abounded. Yet publishers profited from most of these activities, and thus, with the emergence of incipiently symbiotic music businesses, centred on the sale of compositional products and their performance to large markets, themselves marked by a variable balance between ‘listening’ and ‘participation’, consumption of musical pleasures and mastery of musical knowledge, and linked to the spread of ‘leisure’ as both a concept and a reality, a new kind of musical economy came into being.
In the 1880s and 90s American music publishing became centred in New York, in an area of the city later called ‘Tin Pan Alley’ (see Printing and publishing of music §II 4.). These publishers developed a new method of production: aiming to construct a national market, they surveyed potential taste, contracted composers, established successful compositional formulae and assiduously promoted songs through ‘plugging’ techniques. As Charles K. Harris, one of the most successful Tin Pan Alley composers, wrote (1926, pp.39–40): ‘A new song must be sung, played, hummed, and drummed into the ears of the public, not in one city alone, but in every city, town and village, before it ever becomes popular’. Within a decade or two the American model was copied in European countries. Copyright protection and royalty collection were tightened, especially in relation to performing rights (in the USA the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and in Britain the Performing Rights Society (PRS) were both formed in 1914: see Copyright).
Automatic player pianos (which, at the peak of their popularity, before succumbing to competition from radio and records, accounted for 56% of American piano production; Theberge, 1997, p.27) spread home music-making even more widely. The expansion and streamlining of sheet music production (American sales were around 30 million annually by 1910; Sanjek, 1988, iii, p.32) were linked to growing demand from vaudeville and variety theatres, to the popularization of dancing across all social classes (especially after World War I) and to the emergence of the gramophone record as a new medium of musical dissemination (see Recorded sound §I). After the success during the 1890s of publicly operated coin-in-the-slot machines, record players for home use took over from around the beginning of the 20th century, and the growth of production – much of it centred on ‘popular’ genres – was extraordinary. By 1920 there were almost 80 record companies in Britain, and almost 200 in the USA. American production reached about 27 million records in 1914, and peaked at 128 million in 1926, before the Depression devastated it (ibid., 27; Chanan, 1995, pp.54, 65–6). From the start radio transmitted music, from both recordings and live performances (see Radio). In the USA radio broadcasting was organized commercially (the first station, KDKA, opened in Pittsburgh in 1920), while in Europe public monopolies were the norm (the BBC was formed in 1922). By 1927 there was a radio in about a quarter of American homes; the number increased by about 10% on average each year during the 1930s, and by 1950 virtually every household possessed at least one radio (Sanjek, 1988, iii, p.87; Ennis, 1992, pp.101, 132). Electrical recording (introduced by record companies in 1925) transformed sound quality and increased the appeal of the new media. The first sound film (The Jazz Singer) was released in 1927, and thereafter many films (and not only musicals) incorporated popular songs (see Film music §2 and Film musical). By the mid-1930s 60 million cinema tickets were sold each week in the USA.
These inter-war developments reconstructed the economy of popular music. Radio and film were now at its centre, supported by records and music publishing, and the market was re-imagined in terms of anonymous consumers populating a space that spanned classes, regions and even nations. The same star performers appeared on film, radio and recording. Turnover of songs accelerated, as did media permeation of almost all corners of society. Record sales and radio plays became more important to revenues than sheet music, and the first ‘charts’ appeared, in trade magazines; so too did the first radio chart show, ‘Your Hit Parade’, in 1935. The interdependence of the various sectors is clear (even if their interests did not entirely coincide), and took institutional form: for instance, in Hollywood, Warners took over Tin Pan Alley publishers Witmark in 1928, and later, in Britain, EMI bought into leading music publishers Chappell. Similarly, in 1927 the Columbia record company set up CBS, and in 1929 RCA bought the record company Victor. The trend towards oligopoly drove the mergers that created EMI in 1932; by the outbreak of the war EMI and Decca between them controlled all record production in Britain, and in the USA the entire record industry was in the hands of three giant companies, RCA Victor, American Record-Brunswick, and Decca. The entertainment conglomerate, with transsector and transnational interests, had arrived.
Intrinsic tensions within this symbiosis led to several conflicts in the 1940s, for example, between ASCAP and the American radio corporations, and between the American Federation of Musicians and the record companies. This led to new opportunities for publishers and composers from outside the mainstream (especially in the fields of country music and rhythm and blues), and, along with a reduction in production costs following the introduction of recording tape and cheap vinyl, also facilitated the emergence of a new wave of small, independent record companies, often aimed at new markets. At the same time, the general hegemony of the big corporations continued, increasingly on a global stage; by the 1970s, this dominance was in the hands of five huge transnational organizations, three American-owned (WEA, RCA, CBS) and two European-owned (EMI, Polygram), who between them probably covered about two-thirds of the world market, slightly less (on average) in North America and European countries. Within a general picture of startling and continuous growth (British sales increased from 60 million units in 1955 to more than 200 million in 1977; the value of American sales increased from just over $100 million in 1945 to $3·5 billion in 1977; Harker, 1980, pp.223–6), the vicissitudes of the relationship between the large companies (‘majors’) and the smaller independent ones (‘indies’) became an important feature.
After World War II television began to take over some of radio’s role, and, partly in response, radio (first in the USA, then elsewhere) cultivated new functions, notably specialized music channels (including ‘chart radio’), whose presenters were increasingly prominent disc jockeys (DJs). The transistor increased radio’s portability and ubiquity. The economic ‘long boom’ (1945–73) resulted in widespread increased leisure and spending power, disproportionately so among the young of the postwar ‘baby boom’ generation, at whom much of the expanded record production and its radio, television, and film mediations were aimed. Musical production was now centred on the recording studio. Multi-track recording (from the late 1950s) and the development of more sophisticated equipment in the 1960s placed producers and engineers at the centre of the process, and the requirements and potential of this process increasingly affected the sounds and textures of the music. A plethora of charts on radio and television and in magazines focussed attention on record sales. The role of specialist composers was reduced as producers and performers increasingly wrote their own material, with the requirements of recording in mind. Increasingly, too, a performance was judged by its ability to reproduce the sound of the recorded version through which it was first known. As the sounds of recorded pop music permeated the soundscape, especially in cities, a further step towards the complete commodification of leisure was taken, and a new sort of virtual aural space – created through highly technical mixing together of varied sounds and musical products into inescapable media flows – started to come into being.
From the 1970s the tendency towards conglomeration and globalization intensified. The musical products of the majors continued to be dominated by American (and to a lesser extent British) performers, but although these companies were responsible for 90% of American record sales in the 1990s (Burnett, 1995, p.18), only Warner remained American-owned, the others being based in Japan (CBS-Sony, MCA) and Europe (EMI, BMG, Polygram). In 1994 total world sales of recorded music were valued at about $33 billion (ibid., 3), of which the majors took the lion’s share; yet for them, both capital and markets were transnational. Moreover, all the majors were part of much larger media-entertainment conglomerates, and increasingly sought synergy between their activities (tie-ins between recording, radio, television – including terrestrial and satellite music-video channels – publishing, merchandising, and advertising for other leisure products), if possible unified around a ‘mega-star’ performer and creating what has been called a ‘total star text’. In the 1990s ‘entertainment’ accounted for a huge proportion of economic activity in developed societies, and its products were pushed into almost every social and geographical corner. And because music could be re-used so easily in different media contexts, recordings became not just commodities but ‘bundles of rights’; back catalogue items were reissued in new formats (on cassette or compact disc or in ‘greatest hits’ compilations), and well-known recordings were used in television commercials, in movie soundtracks and for ‘background music’ in places such as supermarkets and airport lounges (see Advertising, music in,Television and Environmental music).
At the same time, the introduction of digital equipment (mixing desks, synthesizers, samplers, sequencers) not only offered new sound worlds and new ways of creating music, accessible to people with little conventional musical training, but also drastically reduced production costs. As a result, ‘do-it-yourself’ home recording studios, tiny independent labels, and small (often illegal) community radio stations formed the opposite extreme of the music economy.Sampling technology and the ease with which records could be remixed (see Remix) raised questions about the very identity of a composition and about its ownership. Similarly, the audio cassette made home taping easy, and cheap production technology prompted a huge increase in pirate compact disc and tape copies of commercial recordings. The potential threats to the existing structure of the music industry and to the hegemony of big capital and the potential for democratization of music-making were clear. Yet most ‘indies’ depended on the majors for manufacture and distribution, or, if successful, were bought by them or contracted as independent suppliers; alternatively, their innovations were copied and ruthlessly exploited on a bigger economic stage. The basic picture in the 1990s was of large and small, global and local, in uneasy but mutually advantageous co-existence. Thus the homogenized global pop style and the ‘underground’ dance club, the international multi-million seller and the niche market (catering for specific age groups, ethnic or regional tastes, or youth subcultures), seem to behave like different aspects of a single system.
These developments seem to represent a new stage in the aural compression of time and space. A constant search for novelty rubbed up against back-catalogue nostalgia; individualized consumption through the personal stereo threw into relief the global exploitation of markets and musical materials in ‘world music’. Unprecedented amounts of exchange value streamed out of musical labours; yet the ease with which fans, performers, and entrepreneurs could, using new technology, exchange roles offered at least the possibility of a new relationship between listening and participation.
Even if the main contours of the history of the mass media and popular music are reasonably clear, much of the detail of the developments, and their implications and effects, is less so, and has been the subject of lively debate among scholars, performers, and listeners. Several arguments draw on the central idea of ‘technological determinism’ – that particular cultural practices owe their character to the nature of the technology they use. Marshall McLuhan’s proposition (The Gutenberg Galaxy, Toronto, 1962; Understanding Media, New York, 1964) that different media, especially the broad categories delineated by oral, written, and electronic modes of transmission, have intrinsic properties that condition diverse forms of consciousness and culture has been developed by John Shepherd and others in an attempt to explain distinct approaches to musical structure and process. To many, such views seem to allow too little room for other factors, including political struggle and human agency. Yet it is plausible to suggest, for example, that the ‘rational’ structures of many 19th-century popular-song genres and their explorations of major–minor tonal harmony are at least connected to their notated form; that this helps to differentiate them from orally transmitted folksongs (which are often monophonic, modal, and more iterative in structure); and that the recording process facilitates the recontextualization of some techniques typical of oral cultures (particularly performed nuance – tiny pitch and rhythm inflections that cannot be notated – hence the success of such genres as black American blues), and at the same time introduces new approaches to sound, texture, and form (e.g. montage, or repetition through computer-sequenced ‘loops’). The historical model, rural (folk memory) – urban (sheet music) – cosmopolitan/global (electronic pop), makes some sense described in these terms, even if it is often too crudely drawn.
In an argument more sociologically sensitive than that of McLuhan, Walter Benjamin, writing about film in the 1930s (‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, 1936, repr. in Illuminationen, Frankfurt, 1961; Eng. trans., New York, 1968, pp.216–53), suggested that mechanical reproduction had drastically changed the status of the work of art, by destroying the ‘aura’ of the unique, authentic object, creating new processes of ‘distracted’ reception and thus empowering the viewer. At the same time, technically and collectively highly organized production demystified creativity, and turned passive consumers into critics. Applications of this analysis to music have become common. It is certainly clear that owners of a record, who can listen to it when, where, in whatever mental state, and as often as they want, stand in a different relationship to the music from that of traditional concert-goers. Some, following Adorno, point out the ease with which new forms of ‘aura’ can be created – through the fetishizing of the musical commodity or the glamorizing of stars – and argue that, in actual musical practice, passive listening is still the norm. Similarly, while digital technology has the potential to democratize production and ‘de-throne’ the stars, it can also be used to create new stars, such as producers and DJs (see DJ) as well as performers. Nevertheless, Benjamin’s inspiration continues to be evident in the stream of work that began in the 1970s on music subcultures, and in subsequent research on the ‘active fan’.
Adorno believed that mass production is an adjunct of what he took to be the main ideological function of the ‘culture industries’ (including the music industry) in late capitalism, namely tying standardized products to equally standardized consumer (listener) responses; this maximizes profits (homogenized pieces can reach huge markets) and keeps people in their place. Many writers (for instance, Jacques Attali, in his concept of ‘repetition’) have advanced similar arguments. Given the financial rewards record companies gain from a large international ‘hit’, their desire to use the full array of mass media and marketing techniques to achieve the maximum possible market control is understandable. Nevertheless, research makes it clear that the market is not fully controllable (most record releases lose money); that music industry operations inhabit a field of conflicts among the various sectors, many of which mirror conflicts among musicians and fans; that new agents, new styles, and new tastes can never be outlawed – indeed, the logic of the economy requires them; and that, in any case, musical values cannot be regarded as mere epiphenomena of economic exchanges: interpretation and use cannot be fully policed. In this context the most influential model for the popular music economy draws a relationship between the balance of industry concentration and diversity on the one hand and the degree of musical standardization or innovation on the other; the history is viewed in terms of cycles: periods of oligopoly and conservatism are broken up by new energies coming from independent sources, which are in turn incorporated and made safe by the major players. Some qualifications are necessary: late 20th-century technology loosened somewhat the connection between industry structure and musical innovation; there are numerous examples of innovation in the outputs of major companies; and the model does not necessarily apply in the 1920s and 30s before the tendency to oligopoly really developed. Nevertheless, given that musical production here takes place in the context of the imperatives of a capitalist industry, the basic perspective of the model seems persuasive, suggesting that the history might be pictured as a spiral in which each stage strives to achieve an equilibrium that is nevertheless inevitably unstable.
Implicit in all these arguments are diverse views of what modern society is and what part mass-mediated music plays in it. It is a commonplace that each expansion in the scope of music markets, each increase in the speed of turnover, tends to intensify a process whereby metropolitan norms replace or absorb older, indigenous and peripheral styles and traditions. The trend is to rationalize and democratize by flattening out difference. Thus the promotional discourses around many 19th-century genres focussed on talk of fashion, the ‘latest’ composition, the ‘talk of London’ (or New York, or Paris, etc.), performed ‘with great success by …’. In the early 20th century J.B. Priestley described the appearance of ragtime as ‘drumming us into another kind of life in which anything might happen’ (Baxendale, 1995, p.138). Throughout Europe, American influences were associated, then and again after World War II, with modernization and the loss of old worlds. In the late 20th century the technophiliac futurism of club-dance styles seemed to threaten pop traditions and to signal the birth of a new transurban ‘jungle’. But cultural geographers point out that while such processes may destroy and restructure communities, they can also create the possibility of new ones (real or imagined), for instance people coming together round a newly discovered music style accessible to them only electronically. At the same time, as the size of the geographical unit within which activity is organized expands, so in a paradoxical way norms associated with intermediate levels (the nation-state, for example) may weaken, allowing local ‘scenes’ to flourish; increasing compression of time and space makes plentiful musical materials available. In any case, the industry is adept at inventing traditions or adapting them for sale to consumers alienated from their own. The British case – from early 19th-century stereotypes of Irish and Scottish music, through English folk revival ‘peasants’ and a music-hall ‘golden age’, to lovable rock and rolling cockney teddy boys and assorted adherents of (black American or Afro-Caribbean) ‘black roots’ – is a good example. Modernity has an insatiable appetite for irrational tradition, and most European traditional musics, most American ethnic styles, not to mention world musics from further afield, have been drawn into the net. The best overall model, then, may be some sort of network of levels of activity, continuously evolving in shape and dynamics, such as the matrix of (global) ‘superculture’, (local) ‘subculture’, and (cross-cutting) ‘interculture’ proposed by Slobin (1993).
3. An outline history.
(i) Before Tin Pan Alley.
As suggested above, it seems safe to assume that in all socially stratified cultures there is some sort of hierarchy of musical categories. While there may be a few remote regions where this seems barely to have obtained until relatively recently (the Scottish Highlands, Serbia, parts of the American frontier before the late 19th century, for example), in most of Europe and the New World distinctions between ‘popular’ and ‘élite’ types of music have a lengthy history. However, before about 1800 there is little sense of this being considered a problem. When the medieval theorist Johannes de Grocheio (De musica, c1300) wrote that the motet was not suitable for ordinary people ‘since they do not grasp its subtlety or delight in hearing it … [it] should be performed for the learned’, he seems simply to be stating an obvious fact. It was the growth of social mobility, the increasing effects of capitalist social relations and the appearance of commercialized leisure activities that led to anxiety about the culture of the people. This process can be dated to the 17th and 18th centuries: J.G. Herder’s statement, late in the 18th century (cited in Burke, 1978, p.22), distinguishing an acceptable vernacular from the horrors of the contemporary vulgus – ‘The people [Volk] are not the mob of the streets, who never sing or compose but shriek and mutilate’ – may be taken as conveniently encapsulating the beginnings of the modern ‘problem’ of popular music.
The subject of popular music in medieval and early modern Europe is one of the weakest parts of its historiography. This is partly because the sources are scanty and often unreliable; partly because of insufficient research; and partly because the work that has been done often exists as an ‘aside’ in music-historical literature that is focussed elsewhere, or in the literature of highly specialized disciplines, notably folklore studies (see Folk music). Redfield’s model of ‘great tradition’ and ‘little tradition’, the former accessible only to the educated élite, the latter to both the élite and the rest, but with two-way traffic in content and style, still holds good as a starting-point (see Burke, 1978, pp.23–64); but the task of placing data about the popular traditions within a picture of the development of the musical field as a whole is in its infancy (but see Maróthy, 1966; Ling, 1997). In some ways the interpretative difficulties intensify when more commercially orientated activities, often aimed at an embryonic middle class, increased during the 17th and 18th centuries. Broadside ballads (see Ballad §I 7.) and the tunes to which they were sung had already been socially mobile for some time, but in the second half of the 17th century printed collections of songs and dance-tunes were published (in England, for example, John Playford’s The English Dancing Master, 1651, Apollo’s Banquet, 1669, and A Choice Collection of 180 Loyal Songs, 1685, and D’Urfey’s Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy, 1699), followed by individual songs, perhaps drawn from the theatre or, increasingly, specially composed for the growing domestic market. By the 18th century, simple instrumental pieces were being aimed at the domestic market too, and the first collections of ‘folk’ music (mostly ‘Scotch’) appeared. Popular tunes, previously used by, for example, Elizabethan composers of virginal and consort music, were used in 18th-century English ballad opera, German Singspiel and French opéra comique. Town bands, such as the English waits, were joined by more commercially organized groups performing in taverns and, later, in pleasure gardens and concert rooms. The new urban tunes percolated out into the countryside, for instance through the travels of itinerant fiddlers, pipers, and singers, while many dances, from the saraband and country dance to the early 19th-century waltz, made the opposite social journey.
The essential background to the history of popular music in the 19th century is its industrialization. As this process gradually brought most of society within its orbit, the effect in some ways was to narrow the stream of musical practice: the range of activities was broad but, leaving aside older rural repertories, the stylistic range became less so. Much of what we think of now as art music was widely available through cheap editions, through transcriptions and arrangements (which often simplified difficult works), through the spectacular virtuoso recitals pioneered by Paganini and Liszt, and through ‘popular concerts’. A similar repertory was central to the activity of the mass amateur choral movements that developed in most European countries (stimulated in part by the invention of sol-fa notation systems); and art music (especially opera) also featured strongly in the repertory of the equally popular wind bands, such as the British brass bands which first appeared around the middle of the century and quickly coalesced into a unique working-class movement (see Band §IV 3.). Many of these activities were part of consciously pursued attempts to tie the lower classes into the norms (aesthetic and behavioural) of bourgeois society.
At the same time, it is often difficult to draw a clear dividing-line between these activities and more ‘down-market’ spheres. Weber (1975) shows that many early 19th-century concerts in London, Paris, and Vienna cultivated a rather vulgar appeal to the nouveaux-riches. Similarly, in the 1820s, 30s, and 40s in these cities (and later in others) a new breed of composer-conductor, with a flamboyant, ‘marketable’ personality, appeared: Louis Jullien in London, Philippe Musard in Paris, the two Johann Strausses in Vienna. Their promenade and outdoor concerts included not just dances (the Strausses, of course, owed their fame initially to the waltz) but also pieces for listening, and these performances (which themselves emerged from earlier pleasure-garden traditions) laid the ground for the ‘popular concerts’ that developed in the second half of the century. Large-scale dance halls were another new phenomenon, and dances (as well as marches) were also popular with wind and military bands. The flood of music written for domestic performance also shades stylistically from art norms into what has tendentiously been called Trivialmusik; the distance between Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte and the salon pieces of, for example, Gustav Lange and Sydney Smith, or between the simpler lieder of Schubert and the songs of Adolf Jensen and F.W. Abt, is not large. Much the same point can be made about French mélodies and British drawing-room ballads: prevailing norms are simplified for a mass market. The relationship between the core operatic repertory – from which many overtures and arias in any case found their way into orchestral and band concerts, dance and domestic arrangements, and even barrel organ transcriptions – and new lineages of light opera and operetta (from Ferdinand Hérold and Offenbach to Gilbert and Sullivan and Lehár) is not dissimilar.
Even in the British Music hall (and equivalents elsewhere, such as the French café chantant; see Café-concert) ‘serious’ music was sometimes included, especially extracts from operas and ballets. But the sources of these new institutions, which emerged during the mid-19th century, were socially and musically more diverse. Early audiences seem to have been predominantly working- and lower-middle-class, and the songs derived from existing folk, street, and urban comic-song repertories. By the 1860s distinct song styles had been established, and the first star performers, such as ‘swell’ George Leybourne, had made their mark. Towards the end of the century, however, increased investment, a tendency to split the drinking from the entertainment, and a broadening of the audience turned the halls into something more like variety theatres; there is still an observable difference in type of appeal and musical character between them and contemporary musical comedy (see Musical), Cabaret, and Parisian vaudeville-operetta, but it is not a chasm. Further still down the socio-musical ladder lie resilient traditions of street, industrial, and political song, which, as folklorists have shown, drew on and developed older tunes and styles, often using them in new contexts such as industrial disputes. Here is the place where striking musical difference (for example, in the form of modal tunes) may still be found.
The history of 19th-century popular music in the USA is similar in some ways to that in Europe, and different in others. The ideological gulf between ‘popular’ and ‘élite’ developed more hesitantly and patchily. There were exceptionally strong and active folk traditions among both rural white communities (notably in the South) and black slaves and ex-slaves; these assumed great importance in the early 20th century, since their modes of performance were far better suited to transmission by recordings than by notation. However, commercial music publishing in the USA drew at first on European (especially British) sources, initially broadside ballads and the 17th- and 18th-century collections of Playford and others, then the ballad opera and pleasure-garden and domestic song repertories. Irish songs (especially those published by Thomas Moore) and Italian opera were also popular. Many European musicians, such as the English singer and composer Henry Russell, visited the USA. Singing schools and other educational initiatives led to increased musical literacy (see Psalmody §II and Shape-note hymnody), and to the growth of domestic markets for vocal and instrumental music similar to those in Europe. At the same time, ‘singing families’ such as the Hutchinsons generated distinctive song repertories, as did the Civil War; and, much more significantly, the minstrel show – emerging as an identifiable genre in the 1830s, and soon an enormous success in Britain as well as throughout the USA – evolved in ways that were unique not only in relation to its negotiation of racial issues but also to its musical fusion of Anglo-Celtic, Italian, and (to some degree and in diluted forms) black American elements (see Minstrelsy, American). The fusion is heard at its most influential in the songs, for both minstrel show and domestic parlour, of Stephen Foster.
Foster is notable for his ability to identify successful song formulae and exploit them. This tendency is seen even more clearly in the output of subsequent song composers, including H.P. Danks, Henry Tucker, Septimus Winner, Will S. Hays, and David Braham, as well as in the production of drawing-room ballads in Britain from the 1870s by Arthur Sullivan, Frederic Cowen, James Molloy, and others. Mass production techniques emerged at exactly the same time in the music hall: Felix McGlennon, who was self-taught, claimed to have written 4000 songs, Joseph Tabrar 17,000 (sometimes 30 in a day). McGlennon said that he would ‘sacrifice everything … to catchiness …. If a rowdy song takes the ear of the public, and rowdy songs set in, why, I must needs write them. [The] music hall songs of all time run in clear grooves’ (Bennett, 1986, pp.9–10). The stage for Tin Pan Alley was set.
(ii) From Tin Pan Alley to rock and roll.
Tin Pan Alley may have established itself in response to the growing demand for songs from the vaudeville theatres (which had replaced the minstrel show, just as variety replaced music hall in Europe, and which had their organizational centre in New York); but it quickly developed a commercial momentum of its own (see Tin Pan Alley). Many of the songs of the 1890s and early 1900s – by Paul Dresser, Charles K. Harris, George M. Cohan, Harry von Tilzer, and others – are not radically different stylistically from their immediate predecessors; but the vibrant, punchy demotic manner of Irving Berlin’s first hits (from 1909, and especially Alexander’s Ragtime Band, 1911) may be taken to represent both a new phase and the multi-ethnic ferment in turn-of-the-century New York out of which the new music emerged. With the advent of records (George Gershwin’s first big success, Swanee, 1919, sold over two million copies), then radio and films, the Tin Pan Alley composers between the wars were the hub of American popular music. The up-tempo, dance-orientated, novelty focus which was a feature of the period from 1900 to the early 1920s tended to shift subsequently to more introspective and sentimental moods, particularly in the 1930s as the Depression took hold, and compositional technique became somewhat ‘denser’ (involving more complex harmonies, phrase patterns, motivic relationships, etc.). Nevertheless, a handful of celebrated composers – Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and Harold Arlen, in addition to Berlin and Gershwin – dominated the entire period, even though notable songs were also written by many others, including Harry Warren, Vincent Youmans, Duke Ellington, and Frank Loesser.
The connections between popular song and the theatre remained close. At the turn of the century, operetta and musical comedy composers such as Victor Herbert used a more sophisticated musical style than their Tin Pan Alley contemporaries, but, as American musical theatre left European models behind, the Revue and the musical became important contexts for ‘breaking’ new songs. Many of the composers mentioned above wrote for musical shows, and their songs thus had a double life (indeed more than that, if arrangements for dance bands and performances by ‘silent’ cinema musicians are taken into consideration). In due course, a similar relationship developed between such composers and the Hollywood film industry. While songs for stage shows and musical films were often clearly intended for a subsequent independent, commercial life, there was also a counterbalancing tendency towards more dramatically coherent musicals, Kern’s Showboat(1927) and Oklahoma! (1943) by Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II being the most celebrated examples. In any case, the best songs of this Tin Pan Alley–Broadway–Hollywood nexus have justifiably been considered as among the creative peaks of 20th-century popular music.
The new media disseminated a broad range of genres: novelties, old-fashioned vaudeville songs, religious music, and a variety of traditional or ‘ethnic’ repertories (e.g. Polish, Jewish, Irish) adapting to 20th-century urban existence in the USA. Of these ethnic musics, two were to be of wider historical importance: Country music, at the time known as Hillbilly music, and black American music, put out on ‘race’ records. Each of these tended to have its own listing or label within record company catalogues, and eventually its own dedicated sales charts (hillbilly soon acquired its own radio programmes on certain Southern stations, too); and each was marketed primarily to its ‘home’ audience. However, from an early point in the century black American music was becoming more widely known and influential; indeed, this process can be traced back to the 1890s (if not, in a certain sense, to minstrelsy).
The Coon song and Cakewalk, deriving both their musical style and their portrayal of black stereotypes from minstrelsy, were among the most popular song types of the 1890s and early 1900s. They were followed by the astonishing commercial success of Ragtime, which lasted until World War I, then Jazz(the first records appearing in 1917) and, at roughly the same time, the first commercially disseminated Blues (the earliest sheet music, by W.C. Handy among others, appeared in 1912, and the earliest recordings, by Mamie Smith, in 1920). Jazz bands enjoyed considerable popularity during the 1920s ‘jazz age’, and in the mid-1930s the big band jazz style known as swing (see Swing) achieved a national (and international) prominence that lasted until World War II. Many historians and critics have tried to draw clear boundaries around these terms, and to privilege certain strands, often associating these with the ‘authentic’ styles of black musicians, which they have wanted to distinguish from white ‘dilutions’. It is easy to agree that the piano rags of Scott Joplin, the blues of Bessie Smith, Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leroy Carr, and Robert Johnson, the small group jazz of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton, and the big bands of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie were distinctive and usually superior to the music in similar styles, or styles derived from these, produced by white musicians. Moreover, much of this white music certainly offers a ‘smoother’, ‘sweeter’ alternative, in the quest for mainstream appeal. Nevertheless, the practices of black and white musicians were thoroughly intermingled. None of these categories was tightly defined at the time. ‘Ragtime’ encompassed not only the classic piano pieces but also songs and band music; and any music could be ‘ragged’. Its origins lie in syncopated guitar, banjo, and string band styles played by both black and white rural musicians, and in the march tradition represented most famously by J.P. Sousa. ‘Blues’ settled definitively into the structure we now associate with it only in the late 1920s (perhaps as a result of the influence of records); before that, the term seems to have applied more to an emotional character and to certain technical features, which might appear in a range of vocal and instrumental genres, including Tin Pan Alley songs; it could also denote a type of dance. ‘Jazz’ was used to describe novelty groups such as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the ‘symphonic jazz’ of white bandleader Paul Whiteman, ‘sweet’ big bands like the Casa Loma Orchestra, and indeed any mildly syncopated dance music or ‘hot’ singing styles. Blues singers often included other types of song in their repertories and played rags; and white country musicians sang blues, and, in the 1930s, were influenced by jazz (in Western swing), dance-blues and Boogie-woogie(in Honky tonk music). Early jazz musicians had their own repertory, but soon added Tin Pan Alley songs to it. Blacks working in the margins of the mainstream music business – ‘society’ dance-band leader James Reese Europe, songwriters such as Perry Bradford, Clarence Williams, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle, jazzmen such as Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller – drew on a range of available genres, a tendency given a particular point in the lineage of black musical shows, from Will Marion Cook’s In Dahomey (1902–3) through Sissle and Blake’s Shuffle Along (1921) to the various Blackbirds revues of the late 1920s and early 30s. Finally, melodic shapes, rhythmic patterns, and blues-derived harmonies infiltrated much of mainstream popular song, most clearly in the ‘jazz age’, but – if often in subtle ways – permanently. Arguments that this represented no more than a veneer (e.g. Hamm, 1979, pp.358, 385), while appropriate in some cases, would seem to mistake hybridity for superficiality, and to underestimate its long-term historical significance. A somewhat parallel case – the ‘Latin’ influences on mainstream Euro-American popular music generated by successive fashions for Tango, Rumba, and Mambo – is perhaps more susceptible to Hamm’s critique; but even here superficial exoticism is only a partial explanation for what, more carefully considered, may be a symptom of deep-rooted cultural ambivalence.
This is not to deny the need for distinctions, between white and black audiences and the musical styles that they typically favoured, nor that black musicians were other than heavily constrained in the activities open to them. Cultural and social relationships were no less complex than the psychology of the white reception of black music (welcomed as ‘modern’ and at the same time tantalizingly ‘primitive’; attacked for its ‘barbarity’ and ‘immorality’). Economic exploitation of black musicians was commonplace. Thus the biggest beneficiaries of the craze for swing music – based on musical innovations developed by blacks – were white bandleaders such as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. Similarly, a succession of dance fashions, from ragtime dances such as the bunny hug through the foxtrot and charleston to jitterbugging, all originating in black American practices, was ‘cleaned up’ for respectable white consumption, notably through the publications and educational projects of the dancers Vernon and Irene Castle (see Dance §7).
In a period marked by a growing cult of musical ‘personality’ it was white composers, singers, and bandleaders who by and large enjoyed the greatest commercial success (not entirely, however: Ethel Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong all achieved considerable popularity). In particular, star singers such as Al Jolson, Rudy Vallee, Ethel Merman, Ruth Etting, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Dinah Shore, with the benefit of new singing styles such as Crooning and more intensive publicity techniques, were associated with songs more than their composers were; record companies vied with each other to achieve this tie-up through multiple covers of new songs. Characteristics of voice and nuances of performance became at least as important as the notes on the page. At the same time, bandleaders, from Whiteman to Miller, could also become celebrities; songs, it was discovered, could be danced to (and tailored rhythmically for dancing), while conversely most dance bands had a vocal soloist. Social dancing was a major pastime, and could be pursued at home as well, to records or the radio. Most of the stars also benefited from film appearances. Increasingly, musical practice became multi-functional, musical success constructed through a concatenation of aural, visual, and behavioural images.
In Europe, late 19th-century traditions of musical theatre, variety, dance music, and domestic song survived into the next century for some time, but the vigour of the new American styles, transplanted to a context marked often by political and cultural self-doubt, led quickly to their popularity, forcing older practices to give way or adapt. Many American musicians visited Europe – Sousa, Cook, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Whiteman, and Armstrong – and the black singer Josephine Baker settled in Paris. Ragtime revues (e.g. Hullo Ragtime, 1912) brought both the music and the new dances. Most major New York musical shows went to London. Dance bands on the American model sprang up across Europe (along with small nuclei of jazz aficionados); dancing – in dance halls, hotels, and restaurants and at home to broadcasts – was cultivated by all social classes; bandleaders such as Jack Hylton and Ray Noble were as well known as singers following the American style, such as Al Bowlly and Vera Lynn. American films, including musicals, placed their stars before the gaze of Europeans. Native songwriters (in Britain, Horatio Nicholls, alias Lawrence Wright, Tolchard Evans, Will Grosz, Ray Noble, Jack Strachey) copied the American form and style.
Differences survived, however. Local theatre composers such as Ivor Novello, Noël Coward, and Kurt Weill hybridized indigenous and transatlantic lineages; some singers resisted American models: Gracie Fields and George Formby, for example. In French chanson and variété, German Schlager, Italian canzone, and some British songs in the music-hall tradition, native gestures and structures of feeling survived, intertwined with new rhythms. In more peripheral regions, old-established genres and practices changed less, and everywhere, it should be remembered, there was a less obvious network of vernacular musical activities, under-researched as yet. In Britain, for example, these included middlebrow ‘light classical’ and ‘palm-court’ music, played in upper-class hotels and spas, accordion and banjo bands, old-fashioned ballads, and ‘romantic’ operetta, alongside still older traditions of brass band, pub sing-song, and choir singing.
However, World War II and its aftermath, which brought US troops to Europe, with their records and radio stations, and established the USA as the leading political and economic world power, laid the ground for a new phase in the rise of American popular music to global dominance.
(iii) Rock and roll and after.
Rock and roll entered American public consciousness in 1955 (with the success of Bill Haley’s Rock around the Clock, first released in 1954, when it was included in the film Blackboard Jungle), and threw up its first big star, Elvis Presley, in 1956 (with Heartbreak Hotel and Hound Dog). Its popularity, and the controversy that accompanied it (falling into a pattern set by the reception of ragtime and jazz), quickly spread through Europe, including (via illicit routes) communist eastern Europe. Musically, however, it was not new. It was derived from the driving, small-group rhythm and blues that had been developed by black ‘jump’ and city blues bands and vocal groups during the 1940s and early 50s, with an admixture of influences from the blues-influenced country music performed in the same period by such singers as Hank Williams. What was new, though, was that this music was ‘crossing over’, being heard and taken up by mainstream white (mostly young) audiences, and that it contrasted in style with the big band accompanied ballad singing that still dominated popular music immediately after the war. Several interacting factors were involved in this shift. In the USA huge numbers of Southern whites and blacks moved to northern cities during the war. Their musical tastes began to be catered for in larger-scale, more obvious ways, especially through a rash of new independent record companies and radio stations. New technology (described above) facilitated new modes of musical practice and dissemination. A postwar surge in births (the ‘baby boom’) coincided with the start of the economic ‘long boom’, leading to substantially increased disposable income and leisure time, disproportionately so by the mid-1950s for young people. A gradual shift in moral atmosphere revealed growing social tensions and made possible more public expression of cultural and generational differences.
All subsequent types of what became a new popular music mainstream, ‘pop’ or ‘rock’ music, can be traced back to rock and roll. Its historical significance is therefore obvious, but it is also manifold. It established black American traditions as central to popular music throughout America and Europe. It enthroned youth as the principal market for the music industry, and as the decisive arbiter of taste. It shifted the cultural politics of popular music: it was from this point on, for example, much more clearly about physical pleasures – indeed, sexuality – and about ideals and choices of life style. It was exceptionally well suited to dissemination in recorded form (conversely, sheet music could not capture its textures, rhythmic dynamics, and vocal inflections), and, as musicians realized this (Buddy Holly being, arguably, the earliest), it became the first popular music to be designed for recording.
The intricate history of pop music after rock and roll (intricate in terms of its chronology and its geographical variants) is recounted in detail elsewhere (see Pop). The emphasis in this article is on laying out the pattern of major shifts that articulate this history and relating them to the longer-term popular music narrative. Three such shifts are apparent. The first relates to the emergence of Rock as a self-standing stream distinct from its antecedents; this dates from the mid-1960s. The second is associated with the brief flowering of Punk rock in the late 1970s, which was a symptom of a broader process of fragmentation in the popular music field. The third revolves around the appearance in the late 1980s of a new wave of highly technically mediated, club-based dance music styles, which seemed to some to threaten much of the basis on which the previous popular music apparatus operated (see Dance music (popular music genre)). It is important to note, however, that through these successive shifts existing styles rarely disappeared; on the contrary, the history shows a cumulative process and an expanding style-reservoir. Moreover, many pre-rock-and-roll styles also continued, in the margins, to be joined by a host of adaptations, hybrids, and revivals associated with ethnic and indigenous traditions particular to many distinct regions of both Europe (from Irish show bands to Russian rock) and North America (from Louisiana swamp rock to Jewish klezmer). Indeed, there is an argument that, as media saturation brought all corners of these societies into the same electronically mediated space, the very concept of cultural centres and margins became doubtful, making the historiography of popular music a politically charged enterprise.
The assimilation of rock and roll by the music industry and mainstream taste in the late 1950s and early 60s (in the form of blander adaptations) was rudely upset by a constellation of new developments: from Britain,Beat Music, led by the Beatles, and a native derivative of rhythm and blues associated most influentially with the Rolling Stones; from the American West Coast, new hybrids of folk, blues, and rock and roll, leaving Californian ‘surf music’ behind and developing into Psychedelic rock; from New York (mainly), modernizing Folk Music Revival and Folk-rock styles led by Bob Dylan, and the incipient Art Rock of Velvet Underground. In a context of rapid economic growth, an expanding college population, youthful protest (especially over the Vietnam War) and widespread changes in social values, all amounting (it has been suggested) to a crisis of legitimacy for existing political regimes, the music took on a rebellious edge and serious aesthetic aims. Rapidly changing studio technology, the growth of FM radio, and the emergence of LPs (sometimes in the form of ‘concept albums’) as a rival to singles shifted the basis of production and enormously expanded the available musical means. By the later 1960s ‘rock’ was established in general discourse – with several variants, including (in addition to those mentioned above) Progressive rock, Hard rock, and Country rock – and was separating (in terms of audience, production, and aesthetic) from more chart-orientated ‘pop’. Alongside these developments, distinctive black American styles, notably Motown and Soul music, sometimes interplayed with rock currents (through such performers as Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, for example) but by and large stayed relatively separate, in market and musical practice.
In 1976–7 the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and others pioneered British punk rock. Some of its sources lay in earlier pop (for example, the Who and David Bowie in Britain, American garage bands and art-rock punks from New York such as Patti Smith and the New York Dolls), but by tying a stripped down musical revisionism to a pseudo-situationist philosophy and deliberately outrageous behaviour, British punk caught the mood of economic recession and social unrest among working-class youth and exposed the gargantuanism of progressive rock as pretentious. Perhaps most significantly, it offered an approach that was both aesthetically and organizationally democratic: anyone could make music, it was suggested; a huge number of new, often tiny, independent record companies, distributors, and shops sprang up, in opposition to the established music business; and new production technology made very cheap recording possible. By laying bare the seams in their own music, behaviour, and visual style, punk musicians and fans made the point that rock, for all its aesthetic claims, was really a branch of entertainment, with its own modes of artifice. Their insistence on organizational control galvanized the further fragmentation of popular music, laying the ground for the emergence of Indie music (the US equivalents were ‘alternative’ or ‘college rock’), electro-pop (using synthesizers, drum-machines, etc.), Grunge (a punk–heavy metal hybrid originating in Seattle), and world music, each with its own audience and (often) organizational network. These joined chart pop, Heavy metal, the Singer-songwriter, and various black genres (Disco, soul,Funk, Reggae), as well as older styles and hybrids (rock ballads, rock musicals, etc.), to make what was by this time an exceptionally broad pop field. The effects took institutional forms, bringing a diversity of performance contexts (clubs and discos, as well as concerts and festivals), of radio channels and programme formats, and of music magazines; similarly an intensification of merchandising and of star promotion occurred, but alongside an increasing acceptance of the legitimacy of serious pop journalism and critical writing. The international influence of punk, and of its effects, was enormous.
For some, these effects threatened ‘the end of rock’ (at least as an ideology), but arguably a more tangible threat was the rise in popularity of club dance music. With roots in disco (dance music designed for records to be played in discotheques, at the peak of its popularity in the 1970s), in funk, in dub (remixed reggae records; see Dub) and in Hip hop and Rap (originally New York street musics using intermixed rhythm tracks, drum machines, manually ‘scratched’ records, and ‘rapped’ vocals), the new dance music was clearly based in black music traditions. Starting in the mid-1980s with Chicago House and Detroit Techno, and moving through British Rave, a host of continually hybridizing styles had developed by the 1990s, in centres in North America, Britain, and many parts of continental Europe. Dance had its own institutional networks (clubs, illegal raves, record companies, magazines, radio stations), its own production system (centred on producers, mixers, and DJs, making music through techniques of sampling, sound synthesis, computer programming, and live mixing, with few or even no performing musicians directly involved), its own approach to musical form and texture and its own social ambience, associated with lengthy (often all-night) dance sessions and recreational drugs. While crossover into the mainstream market became commonplace in the later 1990s (usually involving the incorporation of more conventional elements – instrumentalists, vocals, pop forms), dance music posed a clear challenge to the previous popular music paradigm.
Rock and roll is often seen as marking a radical shift in popular music practice, from literate styles clearly related in their musical techniques to broadly accepted norms of 19th-century European and Euro-American musics, to more corporeally exciting styles made for records and derived mainly from black American norms with strong orally transmitted elements. While there is a good deal of truth in this view, it is possible that it both underplays the strength of black American influence before rock and roll (see Van der Merwe, 1989, esp. p.286; ‘with the publication of the first blues the materials of the 20th-century popular composer were complete. Since then popular music … has striven to maintain a sense of breathless novelty. But it has come up with nothing that, fundamentally, cannot be traced back to 1900 or earlier’) and overplays its triumph since (Tin Pan Alley musical forms and long-established ballad singing styles survived, for instance, and one of the best-selling albums worldwide since the 1960s is the sentimental Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music). Post-rock-and-roll pop might better be seen as the striking culmination of a lengthy process, going back at least to minstrelsy, whereby mainstream white society has come to terms with an internal cultural ‘other’. But by this argument, a stronger claim to musical revolution might be made for late 20th-century dance music, which, in its most extreme forms, abandons the presentation of sung feeling, the portrayal of expressive character, in a way that rock music, any more than Tin Pan Alley songs and 19th-century ballads, does not.
It is clear, however, that the moments associated with the constellations of rock and roll on the one hand and Tin Pan Alley, ragtime, and early jazz on the other do represent important historical shifts. They also map rather well onto contemporaneous and similarly important shifts in the technology and economy of musical production (which in turn are no doubt related to broader adjustments, routinely noted by historians, in the organization of Western capitalism). Whether or not technological digitization and economic globalization imply an analogous status for the post-punk period, and especially for dance music, is a question perhaps best left for further historical assessment.
4. Genre, form, style.
In a broad-brush analysis, popular music may be regarded as a single generic system. Its distinctive practices emerge from related sets of conventions organizing form, style, function, audience, meaning, and appropriate discourse. It is at this level that popular music as such tends to be defined: for example, as normally comprising short pieces, accessible to large audiences, in familiar (rather than experimental) styles, and requiring no great quantity of theoretical knowledge for its appreciation (or, often, for its production). Within this system, most popular music falls into one of three main functional categories: dance, entertainment, or background, although there are also subsidiary categories, notably those to do with functions of drama (e.g. music theatre; film or television soundtrack). The three main categories often overlap (as, for example, with dance-songs treated as background music from a pub jukebox). This generic simplicity may be connected to the need of a commercial cultural system to maximize organizational stability, market size, and stylistic flexibility. Its secular and vernacular qualities mark it as a product of modern, post-Enlightenment society, in which direct social functions tend to weaken and artistic practice strives towards a certain autonomy. Contrary to common assumptions about the nature of entertainment (the German term U-Musik has even stronger pejorative overtones), this function does not preclude intensive listening, a point supported by the aesthetic stance of many 19th-century listeners to domestic ballads or brass band performances of operatic arias or of many 20th-century listeners to jazz or rock singer-songwriters; indeed, certain strands in popular music have constantly implied claims to the status of art, from Scott Joplin’s view of ragtime as a serious American music, to John Lennon’s claim that rock and roll has ‘something in it which is true, like all true art’ (Wenner, 1971, pp.100–01). At the same time, older, quasi-ritualistic categories have survived to some extent, in residual or adaptive forms: hymns and carols, used in secular contexts; civic songs (e.g. national anthems); marches associated with particular military organizations; war, propaganda and political songs (from those of the British Chartists and the American Civil War to the Nazi ‘Horst Wessel Song’ and the Internationale); and songs and chants used by football crowds.
The big generic categories of the popular music mainstream break down into a large number of smaller ones. The pioneering Tin Pan Alley composer Charles K. Harris listed the following (Harris, 1906, p.13):
a. – The Home, or Mother Song. b. – The Descriptive, or Sensational Story Ballad. c. – The Popular Waltz Song … d. – The Coon Song … e. – The March Song … f. – The Comic Song… g. – The Production Song (for interpolation in big Musical Productions … h. – The Popular Love Ballad. j. – High Class Ballads. k. – Sacred Songs.
Similarly, categories in rock and pop songs include ballads (of a variety of types), up-tempo dance-songs, confessional songs (associated with singer-songwriters), character songs (dramatic or narrative presentations of a character), songs of social or political comment, songs about themselves (i.e. about pop music, ‘rock ’n’ rolling’, dancing, etc.), novelty songs, and song cycles (on concept albums). 19th-century social dance may be subdivided according to differences of tempo, rhythmic gestures, typical social contexts, and typical semantic associations; the same is true of late 20th-century dance music, which is particularly prone to generic splitting and hybridization. The proliferation of subgenres is probably the corollary of the large-scale systemic simplicity, the one providing a necessary stability, the other a desirable level of flux and novelty.
Elements of commonality are important at several levels. Romantic and sexual relationships provide easily the most frequent types of subject matter; indeed, this generic feature might in one way be regarded as subsuming many of the subgenres. Similarly, self-expression, taking a variety of guises, is fundamental to popular song throughout its history, marking its secular trend. The effects of commodity-form status (on dissemination, content, performance) are so general that they are only revealed when put in question, as in folk clubs or in the free rock concerts of the late 1960s. One of these effects is a tendency to multi-functionality: for example, songs appearing in the theatre, in recorded form, for dancing, on television commercials, and on film soundtracks. (As classical music became more thoroughly commodified in the late 20th century it was affected by this tendency as well; by this criterion it turned into a type of popular music.) However, such recycling of material (e.g. tunes migrating from one context to another) has a much older ancestry in vernacular musical practice. Throughout the history, there is on the level of musical style and technique a sense of a generic centre, surrounded by, and from time to time refreshed by and interacting with, marginal genres (such as folk music, blues, reggae, world music, etc.).
Some genres have seen significant change. Thus the popular ballad, starting in the 19th century as a narrative genre with roots in the folk ballad, came, in the Tin Pan Alley–Broadway song system, to combine narrative with (and often subordinate it to) the characteristics of a reflective romantic song; by the time of the development of the rock ballad the genre can be defined simply as a slowish pop song, with subjectively orientated and often romantic themes and a personal mode of address. At the same time, certain aspects of some genres seem to change very little. From the early British music-hall song Bacon and Greens to popular successes such as Yes, we have no bananas (1923) and Barbie Girl (1997, referring to a popular brand of doll), many of the features of the comic novelty song are remarkably stable.
One way of writing the history of popular music forms would be in terms of an interrelationship between iterative and additive modes on the one hand and the principle of sectionality on the other. The folk music forebears tended to privilege the first, through stanzaic song forms and repeating dance-tunes; and to a greater or lesser degree popular music in the 20th century returned to similar techniques, derived for the most part from black American influences. In between, sectionally orientated structures increased in importance, perhaps because of the closeness of much 19th-century popular music to contemporary art music norms. An additional factor to be borne in mind in the case of songs is the role of Lyrics. Through the demands imposed by setting existing words, or through mutual interaction, or sometimes through the effects of producing both together, the patterns of verbal form (rhyme scheme, line length, stanza structure, etc.) and those of musical form are always interrelated.
Most 19th-century popular songs use a strophic form. The roots of such forms go back not only to folksong but also to theatre and pleasure-garden song, broadside ballad and Gassenhauer, romance and lied. Commonly (though not universally) each stanza ends with a short refrain. The phrase structure is generally made up of regular two-, four-, and eight-bar units, phrases are often repeated, either immediately or after a contrasting phrase, and there is an important role for open–closed (antecedent–consequent) relationships between adjacent phrase-endings, produced melodically or harmonically, or both. Sir Henry Bishop’s Home, Sweet Home (1823) exemplifies all these tendencies, illustrating the way in which the additive strophic principle is infiltrated by elements of a developing sectionalism. Perhaps under the influence of contemporary art song, some composers went further in this direction, especially in drawing-room ballads, into through-composed, modified strophic, or other sectional forms. From the middle of the century refrains of American songs were often intended to be sung by a group (hence use of the term ‘chorus’) and, similarly, British music-hall songs often have a chorus in which the audience can sing along. Eight- or 16-bar sections were by now the most common, for both verse and chorus, and in both repertories a variety of phrase-structure patterns can be found, for example AABA and (the music-hall favourite) ABAC. The folding of repetition into lyrical shape through sequence and the rhyming effect produced by permutations of symmetry and contrast between phrases and by open–closed relationships between cadences create a sense of balance, of quasi-narrative movement balanced by degrees of closure, which is typical of this period.
The sectional principle was even more prominent in the instrumental dance music of the 19th century (including marches, which could be used for dancing the quickstep or galop). From quadrille, waltz, galop, and polka to two-step and cakewalk, practice oscillates and permutates between two types of pattern, each based on sections of (normally) eight or 16 bars: the string or set pattern (a sequence of different themes) and the minuet-and-trio or ABA pattern (the trio generally being in a contrasting key, often the subdominant). Both tendencies were taken over into instrumental ragtime. Most piano rags use a two-part form, the first section having a ternary arrangement of sections (or ‘strains’), the second introducing new strains and perhaps recapitulating an earlier one, but in any case being in a contrasting key, usually the subdominant (and often closing there – a peculiarity of ragtime). Common patterns are ABA/CD, ABA/CA and ABA/CDC, many of the strains being repeated.
In the later 19th century song choruses tended to expand and, increasingly, to become the focus of the form. This tendency continued in Tin Pan Alley song, and at the same time the verse section shrank in both size and number. By the 1920s one verse (in any case often omitted in performance) was the norm, and the chorus was generally 32 bars long, the whole approximating to a recitative-and-aria structure. Various chorus patterns were used but by far the most common is the ternary variant AABA, known as ‘standard ballad form’, with the bridge (the B section) providing contrast melodically, harmonically and sometimes in key. Such an expansive, well-organized structure can function as a self-standing entity (hence descriptions of the mature Tin Pan Alley–Broadway song as the lied of popular music), and would seem to mark the triumph of the sectional over the additive principle. However, on a micro-structural level many songs take over from ragtime and blues techniques of building form through repetition of short figures; from Joe Howard’s coon song Hello! ma baby (1899) through Lewis F. Muir’s Waiting for the Robert E. Lee (1912), Walter Donaldson’s Yes, sir, that’s my baby (1925) and George Gershwin’s I got rhythm (1930) to Joe Garland’s In the mood (1939), this technique points, at least incipiently, away from sectionalism, towards open-ended iteration.
12-bar blues form, which emerged during the same period, strings together a variable number of verses (often, confusingly, called choruses), each one marked internally by a good deal of phrase and smaller-scale repetition, call-and-response between voice and accompanying instrument(s) and the use of riffs (see Riff). Early jazz musicians not only improvised on the 12-bar harmonic sequence (I–I–I–I–IV–IV–I–I–V–V[IV]–I–I[V]) but applied the same approach to the choruses of Tin Pan Alley songs. From this point ‘chorus form’ refers to pieces built on iteration (potentially open-ended and usually with variation) of a structural unit. This constitutes a principal resource for all black American genres, and also influenced the additive strophic forms typical of country music; from both traditions it entered mainstream pop music from rock and roll onwards.
Post-rock-and-roll, pop song used 12-bar blues, together with variant and equivalent chorus-form chord sequences, and drew on folk revival for simple additive strophic patterns; but it also retained elements of the standard Tin Pan Alley form, both the overall pattern itself (especially in ballads) and the verse–chorus–bridge sectional principle (more widely). By the later 1960s these lineages were thoroughly combined, and generalization is possible only to the extent of observing first that songs are usually constructed from a sequence of sections of variable length, which, depending on their function and interrelationships, may be termed ‘verses’, ‘choruses’, or ‘bridges’; and second that at the same time processual links are often created across sectional divisions through the use of riffs, interrelated musical figures, harmonically open chord progressions, or foregrounded rhythmic continuities. The impulse to avoid closure often results in fades at the end of recordings or performances. Riffs may be melodic (as in the guitar riff of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, 1965), but more commonly comprise a short chord sequence, a pervasive technique from the I–IV–v–IV of Richard Berry’s ubiquitous Louie Louie (1957) onwards, even in clearly sectional forms. The contrasting temporalities of short harmonic cycle and larger sections can intertwine in powerful ways: in REM’s Losing my religion (1991) lyrics and musical content indicate an unorthodox sequence of verses, choruses, and short bridges, but virtually all the music pivots around a two-chord riff (A minor–E minor), which, however, grows varied harmonic ‘limbs’ in the different sections of the song.
This pop form mainstream is broadened out by two divergent tendencies. Some progressive rock groups explored more extended forms (especially on concept albums), sometimes partly through-composed, sometimes partly improvisatory. While subsidiary, the influence of this strand can be felt in the fluidities and irregularities characteristic of the work of some indie bands and of the more experimental singer-songwriters. At the other extreme, hip hop and dance-music producers in the 1980s and 90s, using sampling, computer-sequenced rhythm-loops, collage, and remixing techniques, developed a concept of form based on arbitrary cuts between a series of repetition-rich textures, each piece being potentially endless; articulation points seem to be largely local, and form is heard more like process.
Some scholars have connected the impulses towards form as process (iteration, variation) and form as organized structure (sectionalism) to non-Western (or specifically African and Afro-diasporic) and Western practices respectively. Thus Keil (Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 1966) distinguished between a tendency towards ‘engendered feeling’ in the former and ‘embodied meaning’ in the latter, while Chester (1970) distinguished between ‘intensional’ and ‘extensional’ forms. A dichotomy is established between pre-planned composition on the one side and moment-by-moment nuance and inflection, based on received frameworks, on the other. As ideal types, these provide useful models; however they are both better regarded as principles, variably active in all music, on both of which popular music practice draws, in continually changing proportions, manifestations and interrelationships.
Adorno (1941) connected formal moulds and frameworks in popular music to the pressures exerted by commodification, and grouped them all under the pejorative label of ‘standardization’. From music-hall formula and Tin Pan Alley mass production to the ‘hit-factories’ of pop, it is clear that a tendency to structural predictability grows directly out of the imperatives of a capitalist industry. Yet the Adornian critique misses not only the productivity of formula (in stimulating variative invention) but also the range of formal designs and processes.
A further question is whether ‘the piece’ is the most appropriate unit for formal analysis. Two developments, one in cultural theory, the other in musical practice, have added extra charge to this question. Theories of intertextuality suggest that relationships between pieces or performances are of structural significance, and thus throw into relief the importance of covers, of recycling material, of ‘tune families’ that link songs together and of formulaic processes. Similarly, techniques of sampling and remixing raise queries about the boundaries normally placed around a singular musical event. The theory of ‘Signifyin(g)’ drawn by scholars from black American literary studies places the roots of Afro-diasporic formal thinking in the concept of a ‘changing same’, which generates intertextual relationships both historically and synchronically, through continual variation of formulae. The pervasiveness of repetition in popular music, at all structural levels, suggests that such a perspective may be at least as relevant here as European formal moulds and quasi-industrial standardization techniques.
It is impossible to discuss in detail here even a few popular music styles, and the most that can be attempted is a sketch of some important trends. As with musical form, many aspects of 19th-century styles are linked to or contiguous with contemporaneous art-music techniques, while in the 20th century these were at least in part supplanted by, or mixed with, approaches drawn from black American (and to a lesser extent folk, country, Latin, and world) musics. This shift happened in conjunction with a different one, a move from norms moulded by the demands of performance, often in intimate surroundings, to techniques designed for large-scale performance, often with the aid of amplification, or for recording, radio, or film, and at the same time shot through with the effects of enormous changes in the resources and processes of sound production. This was accompanied too by a gradual transition from a relative separation of song and dance genres to a situation in which their attributes are thoroughly intertwined.
Tune-and-accompaniment textures, simple diatonic harmonies (with a variable admixture of chromatic elaboration), melodies conditioned by harmonic progression and its rhythm (often arch-shaped, with frequent use of phrase repetition and sequence, though sometimes affected too by volkstümlichtraits) – the ‘home-and-away’ melodic and tonal processes of ‘bourgeois song’ have been described often enough, and they provide the basic attributes of many 19th-century popular song styles (though obviously with differences of detail between styles lying closer to, say, lied, Italian aria or English theatre song). Our knowledge of performing style is thin for this era before records, but many celebrated singers (in Britain, John Braham, Sims Reeves, Antoinette Sterling, Charlotte Sainton-Dolby, and Adelina Patti, for instance) straddled the divide between art and popular music, and no doubt amateurs tried to imitate their pure tone, secure intonation and clear phrasing. Performance in the music halls and minstrel shows was much more theatrical, portraying character, inciting audience response and including speech-like effects and even patter. Street singers took such tendencies even further.
Similar melodic, harmonic, and textural characteristics are found in much of the instrumental music, too, such as salon pieces for piano, though here typical instrumental figuration might feature. Many such pieces are in a dance genre, and, while the dance music of the period also shares the same overall stylistic framework, in this repertory rhythm, often a background feature in the songs, is of course more sharply etched. In the second half of the century especially, typical dance rhythms often invaded vocal music as well – in minstrelsy, for example, or the waltz songs so popular towards the end of the century, or in music hall, where the contours of galop, polka, or waltz rhythms generate much of the sing-along impetus. So important is this influence in music hall (frequently both tempo and rhythmic character change for the chorus, introducing a more dance-like swing) that Bennett (1986) refers to the ‘gestic’ quality of the style – a memorable figure, pregnant with rhythmic character, embodies the song’s basic gesture (it is here, perhaps, that the device of the ‘hook’, so important in later popular song, was born). Throughout this 19th-century repertory textural principles differ little, whether the accompaniment is in the hands of piano, small orchestra of strings and wind, wind band or the small ad hoc groups of the music hall; but the banjos and guitars used in minstrelsy and the ‘traps’ (elementary drum kit) introduced in the later music hall and in vaudeville are pointers to the future.
With ragtime, blues, and early jazz, rhythmic features moved more into the foreground, notably ragtime’s half-beat syncopation and ‘secondary rag’ (three-note groups over a duple beat), the rhythmic flexibility of blues singing, the before-the-beat and after-the-beat phrasing against a strong regular beat (producing swing) that is typical of jazz, and sometimes the 3+3+2 metrical patterns characteristic of many Latin genres. Other important techniques in these styles include pentatonic and circling (rather than linear, goal-directed) melodic shapes; pitch inflection (including blue notes, i.e. variably tuned thirds, sevenths, and sometimes other scale degrees); small-scale repetition, including riffs; call-and-response; a more natural type of voice production, manifesting itself often in speech-like singing styles and ‘dirty’ tone – techniques that, when imitated by instrumentalists, result in ‘vocalized tone’; and a semi-improvisatory approach to performance.
Many of these techniques seeped, to variable extents and in variable ways, into the styles of Tin Pan Alley song, which in other respects continued to develop along lines already existing in the 19th century. Harmonically, circle-of-fifth and (from blues) I–IV7 progressions are typical additions to the basic diatonic framework, though by the inter-war period some chromatic chords (dominant extensions, added 6ths, augmented, and diminished chords) were also common, as were passing modulations (especially in bridge sections). Similarly, in the more sophisticated songs of Broadway shows a denser motivic texture developed, along with longer-breathed melodic lines. At the same time, dance-band performance norms were influential: for example, there are the beginnings of a distinct rhythm section stratum in the texture; and sometimes strong bass lines suggesting top–bottom thinking; elements of call-and-response, riff, off-beat accents, parallel voicing, and counter melodies owing more to jazz polyphony than to European textbook counterpoint infiltrate accompaniments. This applied across the range of performing groups, from small dance bands to large, string-dominated orchestras. Singing styles too were sometimes influenced by jazz (though bel canto norms remained important as well), and the novel intimacies, nuances and flexibility made possible by the microphone (in crooning, for instance) pointed towards the coming revolution in sound.
In rock and roll and subsequent pop styles, techniques derived from black American sources were developed further, notably shouted, ‘dirty’, dramatic, and jazz-influenced singing, top–bottom textures with foregrounded percussion stratum, widespread use of riffs as a textural as well as a structural device, and instrumental techniques organized around expressiveness and rhythmic bite. The standard performing group (guitars, drum kit, lead singer, perhaps with some group singing as well) emerged from the small-band lineages of rhythm and blues and country music, though additions (keyboards, brass, synthesizers) and larger groups were also used as the range of styles expanded. The ‘standard rock beat’ (kick drum on beats one and three, heavily accented backbeats on two and four, usually on snare drum, plus decorative cymbal patterns) was established, with a spectrum of variants in different genres (Moore, 1993, p.36). The harmonic language, while drawing on blues-type progressions and on Tin Pan Alley for circle-of-fifth and other diatonic progressions, is often modal, and favours short, repeating harmonic riffs; such sequences as I–♭VII–IV, I–vi and i–♭III–♭VII are common. Above all, perhaps, a new sound world was opened up by amplification (resulting, for example, in a range of electric guitar styles and in the deliberate use of feedback), by electronic effects (such as wah-wah and echo), by sound synthesis, and by multi-track recording, which made available techniques of layering, balancing, blending, and stereophonic spacing of voices that are impossible by any other means, thus radically changing conceptions of texture.
Texture and sound took on even greater importance in hip hop and subsequent pop dance styles. With the aid of digital technology, layers of sound, each one often created by looping rhythms, short figures or sampled noises, are assembled into montages. While the techniques were incipiently present in earlier black styles (disco, funk, dub), the tendency in much rave, techno, and drum and bass music virtually to abandon tune, to shrink periodicity to very short units and to constrict harmony to short, minimally directed (and often modal) sequences radically reconstructs the stylistic paradigm. A fast, metronomically regular beat supporting syncopated, short-note figures is standard, and a contrast between rapped lyrics and brief, soulful sung phrases is common. These dance music styles represent an extreme in the broad stylistic spectrum of popular music at the end of the 20th century; but their popularity, and even more their influence on more mainstream styles, points to a perhaps decisive historical significance.
(iv) Popular music and the musical field.
It is easy to see that in the first half of the 19th century there were close links between a good deal of popular music and contemporary art music, in terms of genre, form, and style; that in the second half of the century these links weakened, as distinctively popular genres appeared; and that, with the beginnings of Modernism, this parting of the ways turned into a clear split, which subsequent developments in the 20th century tended to deepen (Hamm, 1979, in particular, argues this view persuasively). However, the story is not quite as straightforward as it might at first seem.
One common way of seeing the popular styles of the 19th-century bourgeoisie is as dilutions of the contemporary art music; but the whole field may also be viewed in terms of divergent tendencies within broadly accepted norms. The popular styles and the immense educational and critical efforts to popularize the classical styles then appear as sociologically interconnected; we can see ‘the rise of the musical masters as an early form of mass culture’ (Weber, 1977, p.6), and by the 20th century it is clear that their works ‘speak equally, or almost equally, to listeners in many countries because their native accents have been naturalised in an international musical idiom’ (Parakilas, 1984, p.10). At the same time, it should be remembered that the favoured musics of many 19th-century Europeans and Americans – folk and folk-related styles – lie outside this idiom: it is here that clearly articulated difference is to be located in this period. But the interplay between art and popular strands did not disappear in 1900. The popularization of classical music continued, from the work of the music appreciation movement to the commercial success of recorded compilations of classical ‘greatest hits’ in the 1980s and 90s. Basic 19th-century techniques and effects continue to inform the composition of cinema and television music and the repertory of light music. The ease with which classical pieces can be ‘ragged’, ‘jazzed up’, or given a rock beat is instructive. Mainstream popular music has often drawn on art music for material, from such Tin Pan Alley songs as I’m always chasing rainbows (1918, from Chopin) and Avalon (1920, from Puccini) to Procol Harum’s rock recording A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967, based on a J.S. Bach chord sequence) and Sweetbox’s 1998 hit Everythings gonna be alright (which makes use of Bach's Air from Suite no.3 in D, or ‘Air on the G string’). Many progressive rock musicians have recorded arrangements of art music pieces or used art music techniques and textures, and some heavy metal guitarists consciously draw on Baroque virtuoso instrumental styles (see Classic rock).
In the 20th century, admittedly, the relationship between art and popular strands became more complex. Early Modernists sometimes used elements of ragtime and jazz (and of folk music too), but they treated them as raw material, to be transformed and distanced. From the other side, symphonic jazz (in a variety of guises – Whiteman, Gershwin, Ellington, the Modern Jazz Quartet) is also permeated with stylistic and structural tensions. It has been suggested that more complete and less selfconscious crossovers emerged under the influence of postmodernism (from the 1960s). It is certainly often difficult to assess, on the level of style (and sometimes that of audience too), whether, within the avant garde, such musicians as LaMonte Young, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Frank Zappa, ambient dance group the Orb, or drum ’n’ bass musician Roni Size produce ‘popular’ or ‘art’ music.
The story is so complex that generalization is extraordinarily difficult. Two points can perhaps be accepted: that attempts to discuss popular music in isolation, that is, without taking account of its variable relationships (positive and negative) with other musical categories, will inevitably be weakened in their analytic scope; and that these variable relationships are closely connected with shifts in social relationships and in associated broad cultural patterns. An example of the ground opened up by acceptance of the second point is provided by Paul Gilroy’s concept of the ‘black Atlantic’ (Gilroy, 1993) and W.T. Lhamon’s parallel history of blackface performance (Lhamon, 1998). If, as Gilroy argues, the presence of a slave and post-slave Afro-diasporic culture within late-modern bourgeois society is not marginal but significantly constitutive for that society, then the emergent role of black American music becomes important not just for popular music but for our understanding of the musical field in this society considered as a whole. If Lhamon’s provocative argument is accepted, namely that blackface, for all its racist caricatures, constitutes a core site for the negotiation of a cross-race Atlantic popular identity, with a history traceable from early 19th-century New York through the performance styles of such figures as Al Jolson and Elvis Presley to that of the 1990s rapper M.C. Hammer, then the ethnic mediations of social class become central to an understanding of modernity and its musical culture. Against the background of such post-colonial critiques, the periodic incursions into mainstream popular music from outside its apparent geographical base, from tango in the early years of the 20th century through Afro-Cuban influences during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s to reggae and world musics in the 1980s and 90s, suggests that the geo-cultural boundaries of ‘the West’ itself are as porous as its social identity is multi-faceted. The very concept of a mainstream might begin to come into question at this point, especially if, to the importance of the ‘marginal’ musics just mentioned, is added consideration of the historical significance of the other musical ‘outsiders’, for example Gypsy music (especially in 19th-century central Europe) and Jewish music (for instance, in the ethnic ferment out of which the formation of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway song styles emerged). It is not necessary to accept Constant Lambert’s élitism or his unsavoury espousal of ‘racial characteristics’ in music to note the pertinence of his argument, in Music Ho! (1934), that, to many critics of musical change, ‘the Jew is just as much an enemy of the British and Holy Roman Empires as the Negro’ (3/1966, pp.177–8). Negotiations of difference and identity, representation and self-representation, relating to the full range of racial, ethnic, class, and cultural hierarchies, have been a constant factor in the way that popular music has been located within the musical field as a whole.
5. Social significance.
Art music in the West is generally portrayed as apolitical, and the contrast with popular music in this sphere is striking. Bob Dylan’s protest songs of the 1960s may stand as key examples of one sort of popular music politics. Song lyrics with overt political content have not been uncommon in subsequent pop music, though in mainstream 20th-century popular music before the 1960s they are quite rare. In the 19th century there were songs about wars, campaigning songs (supporting the abolition of slavery, for instance), and songs of social comment (on such issues as the evils of alcohol), though often their aim was to affirm rather than protest, as in British music-hall songs with enthusiastically imperialist themes. Pop music protest stands more in the tradition of strike ballads and other politically motivated workers’ songs, which in turn can be related to folksongs containing political comment (a trait surviving in blues and country music, and passing into pop through the influence of such American neo-folk and folk-revival singers as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger).
There is also a history of political movements making use of songs for campaigning purposes, and, in a linked though distinct way, some pop musicians have tied their music to political campaigns, such as Rock Against Racism in the late 1970s and in the mid-1980s the Band Aid and Live Aid movement in aid of the relief of world poverty. Similarly, the rather inchoate political demands of the 1960s counterculture were often seen as carried above all by the rock music of the time. In these cases, however, lyric content is relatively unimportant to the political effects; and arguably the politics of most popular music have generally had more to do with its sounds, contexts, and uses than with its words.
Many popular music styles have been subjects of controversy. In the 19th century, theatres and pleasure gardens were often seen as morally suspect, and there were frequent attempts to clear music off the streets. New dances, starting with the waltz, had a habit (so it seemed to their critics) of infringing the canons of respectability. Music halls responded to efforts to control and censor them by becoming blander and less risqué. Ragtime, jazz, rock and roll, and rap were each greeted by a chorus of condemnation which combined musical criticisms with a moral panic focussed on allegations of violence, sexual immorality, and uncivilized ‘jungle rhythms’. It is often difficult to disentangle musical dislike (frequently couched in terms of a discourse of ‘noise’) and fear of social disorder. Thus rock music was resisted by communist state authorities both because it was felt to be musically aberrant, indeed, primitive, and because it was seen as a symptom of bourgeois capitalism; conversely, to dissidents and alienated youth it represented freedom on both levels. Even claims to no more than ‘fun’ can be regarded as threatening by defenders of social (especially work) discipline.
For participants in popular music, it often represents ‘community’ at least as much as it does ‘threat’. Pete Townshend of the pop group the Who wrote: ‘When the music gets so good … everybody for a second forgets completely who they are and where they are, and they don’t care. They just know they are happy’ (Frith, 1983, p.80). Such a politics of community takes particularly overt form at a few specific moments (at the Woodstock rock festival in 1969, for instance, or in all-night ‘raves’ in the dance clubs of the late 1980s and early 90s), but forms a continuous thread in the appeal of pop music, a thread that appears to be derived ideologically from the myth of a ‘folk community’ constructed by folk revivalists and folklorists (and before them by the Romantics). It may manifest itself in some earlier proto-folk situations too – for example, in the relationship of brass band music or music-hall song to particular 19th-century British working-class communities. It constantly intertwines, however, with popular music’s role in what Raymond Williams (1961) called a ‘long revolution’: the gradual extension of democratic opportunities (in this case, access to music, both its production and consumption) to more and more sectors of society. The politics of this shift are those typical of mass society, and their effects are variously construed (as, for example, alienation or empowerment; cultural flattening or cultural pluralism), depending on the observer’s political point of view.
What most observers might agree on is music’s power to ‘place’ people in society. For Adorno, this pointed to the way that popular music in mass society acts (he thought) as ‘social cement’, confirming consumers as passive units performing (willingly) their allotted roles in an incipiently totalitarian capitalist system. Still less tendentious critiques may refer to, for example, the escapism in Tin Pan Alley song; and similarly the historian Gareth Stedman-Jones (1974) describes late 19th-century music-hall song as a ‘culture of consolation’, its small convivialities (its ‘fun’) compensating for the seeming impossibility of real social change. For most popular music scholars, however, the ideological effects of the music are far more variable than Adorno allows, and more subject to negotiation. At the opposite extreme, subcultural theorists such as Willis and Hebdige argue for the possibility of particular music styles to act as vehicles of resistance to dominant cultural and social values, through the meanings read into them by consumers. It is nevertheless impossible to describe the politics of production as anything other than vitally important, for they greatly affect what music consumers will hear. The imperatives of commodity form, of intellectual property law, and of growing corporate power explain the appeal of neo-Marxist portrayals of the music industry as a monster. Theories of ‘cooption’ describe how musical innovations are often stripped of any power to upset, as they are incorporated into mainstream styles; one major record company enthusiastically promoted the radical musics of the 1960s counterculture under the now notorious slogan ‘The revolution is on CBS’. As, through the 19th and 20th centuries, the cultural industries became more and more significant both to the economy and to social behaviour, the role of the state became increasingly important as well. Under fascist and Stalinist dictatorships it was overtly oppressive and directive, but in liberal democracies the concerns of state agencies are mostly to do with encouraging orderly consumption and profitable production, along with social tranquillity. Legal regulation of performance, broadcasting and copyright, taxation and subsidy policies, censorship and educational strategies form a network of official involvements. The systemic integrity of the whole production apparatus, especially by the later 20th century, can look impressive. Nevertheless, most popular music scholars would want to point also to the faults in this system (see §2(ii) above), to the impossibility of eradicating these and, above all perhaps, to the intense difficulties in controlling the meaning of music.
(ii) Social identities.
Whatever the political context or ideological mechanisms, it is widely agreed that participation in popular music genres and styles is intimately connected with how people (listeners and producers) see themselves – that is, with their sense of social identity. A dramatic example is the way that the social category of youth has been configured since the 1950s, in large part through the images, values, and behavioural possibilities made available in pop music. But social identity is an amalgam, standing at the meeting-point of various axes, including not only generation but also social class, gender, nation, and ethnicity.
There is good empirical evidence to link many popular music genres with particular social classes, both working-class groups (street music, industrial song, brass bands, music hall, blues, and country music up to the 1960s, hard rock styles and heavy metal) and middle-class groups (parlour and salon music, operetta, and progressive and art rock styles). Such links tend to be obscured in the first half of the 20th century by discourses of mass culture, which assume an incipient universality of social positioning; and these discourses retain some importance subsequently, if only because, in societies with increasingly blurred class boundaries and in fluid mediascapes dominated by large organizations and with socially mobile audiences, theories of class ownership of and class expression through specific styles seem simplistic. Homology models, derived from anthropology, in which musical content and class position are mapped one to the other, raise difficult epistemological issues (they seem to require an analytical first cause), and, for most scholars, need to be written on a very coarse scale, to be modulated by theories of negotiation, or to focus on use and consumption rather than on musical form and content. The last two are the favoured strategies of subcultural theorists, such as those who have identified resonances between particular pop styles and the values of punk, mod, teddy boy, hippie, or other class-based subcultures. Even in the 19th century, when class-linked musical differences are relatively easy to spot, norms originating in bourgeois traditions gradually spread their influence through large swathes of popular music practice, so that a model based on the variable articulation of a core stock of techniques seems the most convincing one. Despite these qualifications, however, it remains important to place popular music in its class contexts. Whatever its exact definition, it is always in some sense culturally subaltern; from this point of view, all popular styles are ‘people’s music’ (in a broad sense), positioned against whatever is defined as élite. At the same time, social distinctions have affected access and responses to musical resources, resulting in a multitude of differences in taste, practice, usage, and interpretation, both within popular music and between it and other categories, but always in some sort of relationship with people’s sense of their place in the social hierarchy.
Such differences are always mediated by other factors, however, notably inscriptions of gender, nation, and ethnicity. Throughout its history, in both production and consumption, popular music has generally been gendered in quite clear ways. Domestic performance has been available to women, but public performance (increasingly the norm in the 20th century) has been overwhelmingly in the hands of men, a division that extends to all production roles in the music industry. On the whole, female musicians have been confined to singing, and to singing of particular sorts – in backing groups (women as support), of ballads (women as caring and naturally emotional), in erotically explicit personae (women as sex object). There have been exceptions to this pattern, however – female singers who have broken the rules, for instance, some blues, country, and music-hall singers – and the 1970s saw the beginning of a more dramatic shift, with the number of female pop bands, songwriters, and stylistically uncompromising singers increasing significantly. Popular music styles themselves, and their consumption, seem to have been gendered in similar ways to production. ‘Softer’ styles are often thought of as being disproportionately intended for women, ‘harder’ ones for men, and subject matter (particularly in songs about love and romance) is generally organized, narratively and in its presentation, to appeal differentially to male and female listeners. Similarly, performance styles often seem designed to facilitate predictable patterns of identification and desire on the part of fans. Yet while lyric themes, performer images, and listener tastes cannot be isolated from the structure of gender relations in society at large, research (though it is as yet limited) suggests that the two spheres may not be entirely coextensive. It is possible, for instance, that for women an evening dancing or at the music hall may represent an escape from feminized domesticity; that a seemingly ‘romantic’ female vocal group such as the Shirelles or the Crystals may be interpreted as giving women advice about managing men; and that, conversely, men identifying with flamboyant, passionate male performers (such as Al Jolson, Elvis Presley, or Freddie Mercury) may view listening to their music as an opportunity to imagine ways of acting not normally available to them. Long vernacular traditions of ‘camp’ performance, including cross-dressing, provide the historical context for the emergence of explicitly gay or bisexual performance imagery in pop (with artists such as Little Richard, David Bowie, Madonna, and many more; see Gay and lesbian music), suggesting that to some extent popular music may represent an arena where gender roles and relationships can be queried, if only (for most listeners) in the imagination.
The relationship between ‘black music’ and ‘white music’ is another example of an apparently clear distinction that is in practice blurred. Historically, the extent of interplay and hybridization between styles, materials, and techniques associated with black Americans (and Afro-Caribbeans) on the one hand and Euro-Americans on the other renders attempts to define a separate ‘black music’ problematic (as well as potentially racist). Yet many black people would defend such attempts, and with good reason (to mark their presence and defend their identity, against great pressures), and so would many whites, for reasons often connected with the appeal of the exotic – the attractions of ‘black difference’ as an alternative to the blandness associated with mainstream music. The complications are intensified by the facts that white investments in this relationship have often led to stereotyping (from the grotesqueries of minstrelsy to the macho posturing of some white blues-rock); that black musicians and their genres have largely been kept separate by the music industry, and their difference maintained; and that, at the same time, they have been ruthlessly exploited, their innovations taken to fuel the mainstream’s need for novelty. In this context, ‘white music’ occupies a blank space: it represents the norm (that is, what is not defined as ‘black’). Yet it has never been a monolithic category. In the USA, for example, country music has represented ‘the South’ in opposition to the cosmopolitanism identified with the north, while Polish, Jewish, and other ethnic repertories have maintained a symbiotic but uneasy relationship with the mainstream. In Europe, American styles have been on the one hand welcomed, as symptoms of modernization or vehicles of rebellion, but on the other hand resisted, on behalf of local identity and heritage, an attitude sometimes institutionalized through broadcasting quotas or the promotion of local production, as in the San Remo song festival in Italy. Regional differences, still strong in the 19th century but declining as national music markets were consolidated, re-emerged in the second half of the 20th century, often linked to indigenous folk traditions. In Britain, for example, expressions of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh difference, with their long histories, were joined by assertions of English provincial identity (the Liverpool of the Beatles; the London of the Kinks or Blur). Such strategies may draw upon local material and styles, or, often, just on characteristic patterns of diction. Some British punk rock bands cultivated an aggressively anti-American, English diction. For musicians in continental European countries, whether to sing in English or not is itself an issue, as it is for French speakers in Quebec. In many countries such complications, both in tendencies of musical practice and in possible patterns of identity, are intensified by the presence of new or greatly expanding ethnic minorities since World War II: Hispanics and Asians in the USA, Asians and Afro-Caribbeans in Britain, North Africans in France.
Whether considering class, gender, or ethnic identity, much writing on popular music has tended to look for direct links between music and ‘real life’. But, as some of the examples given above suggest, there is reason to think that music acts less as a mirror reflecting pre-existing patterns of identity than as an arena for their negotiation, or even their construction, as more recent work drawing on discourse theory and post-structuralist perspectives would indicate. In this latter approach subjectivity is seen as fluid, provisional, and endlessly constructed in cultural practices, and from its application to popular music has come research into ways in which musical interests can support imaginary communities, transient subcultural taste distinctions, geographically virtual ‘scenes’ focussed on shared musical identifications, and searches for roots in styles originating far away, perhaps in one of the many manifestations of world music. This does not alter the fact that constructions of identity offered in music often confirm dominant positions already in existence rather than subverting them. Much depends on how listeners relate to their favoured performers, how they position themselves within lyrics (for example, which pronoun they take to represent them), which ‘voice’ (lead vocal, backing singers, guitar riff, etc.) they identify with, what connotations they attach to the particular style, and so on.
Any attempt to raise even the possibility of an aesthetics of popular music must somehow bypass the scepticism of mass culture critics (e.g. Adorno: ‘The autonomy of music is replaced by a mere socio-psychological function’; 1941, p.3) and of liberal musicologists (e.g. Dahlhaus: ‘it is uncertain whether … the surprisingly elusive qualities that determine a “hit” deserve to be called aesthetic at all’; 1989, p.312), not to mention the weight of a longer intellectual history extending back to the emergence of music aesthetics as a separate discipline in the 18th century. As Adorno’s comment suggests, the underpinnings of this discipline lie in the doctrine of music’s autonomy, and, while the insistence by popular music scholars on their music’s social significance may seem unwittingly to support its reduction to a sociological datum, their more important achievement has been to show how popular music helps to reveal autonomy itself as a social construction. The sociological critique of aesthetics links all cultural practices, tastes, and judgments to social, institutional, and discursive conditions; thus the transcendent qualities attributed to autonomous music, and the disinterestedness allegedly required for its appreciation, are, by this argument, tied to specific interests of the Western bourgeoisie at a particular moment in its history. To be sure, the decidedly ‘impure’ production and consumption practices of popular music do not seem to suit it to the standard criteria of aesthetic worth (even though in its own way its emergence is linked to the wider spread of leisure time, which arguably also gave rise to the discourse of autonomy), but popular music scholars tend to work with theories of relative autonomy, which, while grounding taste in social conditions, insist that this rules out neither the integrity and irreducibility of that level of activity and meaning which is specifically musical nor the distinctive pleasures attaching to its appreciation.
In one of the most influential sociological critiques of aesthetics, Bourdieu (1984) made a clear distinction between the ‘aesthetic disposition’ (with its ‘pure gaze’) and the ‘popular aesthetic’ (which is ‘realist’, ‘earthy’, grounded in function), and linked these to taste differences between the bourgeoisie and the working class. Most popular music scholars have preferred a model with categories that are more fluid in both their contents and their interplay. Frith (1996), for example, argues for three distinct discursive frames, each with its own values, institutions, and social practices (and all arising at about the same time, around 1800): that of ‘art’, organized around ideas of creative truth-to-self and educated knowledge; that of ‘folk’, centred on ideas of authenticity and community; and that of ‘the popular’, focussed on ideas of commercial success (i.e. popularity), entertainment, and fun. He suggests that none of these categories has any intrinsic musical content, so that ‘popular music’ (in fact, any music) can be, and is, placed in any category, or indeed in more than one. Of course, definitions of ‘originality’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘entertainment’ vary historically and socially; but this approach enables us to understand how a single piece – John Lennon’s song Imagine, for example – can function variably, as a skilful and effective expressive statement (‘art’), as a political cri de coeur around which a sense of community can be assembled (‘folk’), or as a hit record, often transplanted to all sorts of routine situations including background music (‘popular’). It also enables us to make sense of the ways in which performers and listeners talk about popular music in terms of musical skill, formal relationships, emotional truth, rhythmic power, original sounds, and so on, without needing to deny that the criteria will differ historically (compare a Victorian parlour ballad performance and a rock concert), without forgetting that the criteria will often be at odds with those common for classical music (e.g. noise, incessant repetition, and seemingly out-of-control vocalism are positive aesthetic qualities in much rock music), but also without wanting to erase the music’s social and political significance.
This significance is vital. To think of a parlour ballad parody in a music hall, of Chuck Berry’s rock and roll classic Roll over Beethoven, of the Sex Pistols’ irreverent punk anthem God Save the Queen, or of the rap group Public Enemy’s Fight the Power is to see that their political charge, in specific social conditions (including, arguably, the large audiences delivered by their commercial success), is part of their aesthetic achievement. Equally, however, their political significance is dependent on the appeal of their musical qualities. While these examples are extreme, the point can be generalized for all popular music. In the end, then, the most important argument made by theorists of popular music aesthetics may be that aesthetic experience is not necessarily extraordinary but can be found in musical practices intimately enmeshed in (and indeed contributing to) the patterns of ordinary people’s everyday lives in modern societies.
6. The study of popular music.
A good deal of 19th-century writing about popular music consisted of reportage, reminiscence, or polemic. Serious study started with the publications of antiquarians such as William Chappell and folk music collectors such as J.G. Herder, the brothers Grimm, and Cecil Sharp, though they were rarely interested in contemporary musics, their preferences being often driven in fact by a pessimistic certainty of cultural decline. There is useful journalistic comment on contemporary, commercially produced popular musics from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a continuing stream of memoirs, biographies, and popular books on the emerging music business, but scholarly work on this repertory really began (aside from the beginnings of a literature on jazz) with the mass culture critics, of whom the most important was Adorno. More empirical sociological publications started to appear shortly after World War II (Riesman, 1950), and the influence of the British mass culture critic F.R. Leavis can be seen in the 1950s and 60s in the work of Hoggart (1957) and the young Stuart Hall (Hall and Whannel, 1964).
There was as yet no ‘popular music studies’. The discipline emerged in large degree as the offspring of a meeting between the impact of rock music on young scholars beginning their careers in the 1960s and 70s and their reception of a wave of new cultural theories that were beginning to transform the existing humanities and social science disciplines. From the start, though, the study of popular music was a broad (and at times uneasy) coalition. It drew on several fields: social studies (especially the sociology of youth, institutional sociology, and communication studies); radical strands in musicology (notably what has sometimes been called cultural or critical musicology, but also the pluralistic approach to American music represented by the work of such musicologists as Chase, Mellers, Hitchcock, and Hamm); cultural studies (in particular the movement originating in the Birmingham University Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies from the encounter of British culturalism – the tradition of Leavis, Hoggart, and Raymond Williams – with continental Marxist, structuralist, and post-structuralist theory, subsequently exported to North America, Australia, and elsewhere); ethnomusicology (e.g. Keil, 1966) and, to a greater extent, progressive folkloristics (e.g. the work of Oliver on blues and of Green, D.K. Wilgus, and Charles Malone on country music, in a tradition going back to American collectors of the early 20th century); and pop music journalism (especially in the USA, e.g. in the work of Greil Marcus). These varied strands did not so much coalesce as ferment (though at times they ignored each other, too). By the early 1980s the new discipline had a well-regarded academic journal (Popular Music, published by Cambridge University Press) and scholarly society (the International Association for the Study of Popular Music), both founded in 1981; research papers were presented at conferences and in journals associated with established disciplines; and the subject was starting to be taught in some universities. During the 1980s and 90s a substantial literature accrued and new generations of scholars emerged.
A variety of issues troubles the new discipline. Among the most important are the following:
(a) Research resources are generally scanty or inaccessible. Good library collections and archives (of printed literature, sheet music, and recordings) are rare. Much of the relevant material is ephemeral.
(b) The context within which popular music studies emerged has led to a strong research emphasis on Western pop and rock, the industry that produces it, and its youth audiences. This bias (sometimes criticized as ‘rockism’) has been at the expense of the study of other popular musical tastes in Western societies, of historical developments before rock and roll, and of popular musics elsewhere in the world.
(c) The most active, best populated, and most strongly supported research strands have, on the whole, been identified with predominantly social and cultural studies interests. At its most reductive, this appears as ‘sociologism’, and, while there have also been excellent interpretative work and first-class studies of the industry and audiences, this focus has somewhat overshadowed the study of musical practices, structures, and meanings.
(d) At the same time, the musicology of popular music has been troubled over methodology. It seems clear to most of the scholars concerned that, for a good deal of pop music and most genres of black American music, the technical differences between this music and mainstream Western art music (e.g. the emphasis on sound quality, the distinctive singing styles and treatment of timbre, the relative importance and complexity of rhythm, the significance of pitch inflection, the valorization of harmonic simplicity and structural repetition) raise questions about whether conventional analytical method, designed for study of the art-music repertory, is always appropriate. Even for some other genres, such as Tin Pan Alley song or music-hall song, where congruence with art music practice is greater, the importance of performance, and disparities between performance and text, mean that the question still arises. The lack of recorded evidence for the pre-1900 repertory compounds this problem. Analysts have thus tried to develop methods that can take account of timbre, complex rhythms, pitch and rhythm effects that are impossible to notate, and textural effects that are only possible on recordings. The issue of notation is itself difficult, with some arguing that it distorts much of this music, turning subtle aural process into a reified approximation, and others supporting the use of notation (of various sorts, including transcription) for particular purposes.
This methodological debate can be pursued on deeper levels, for it seems to be rooted in the difficulties that most popular music scholars have with the formalism and immanentism that they take to permeate much of the mainstream musicological approach. Dealing with genres whose techniques, uses, and effects seem to be grounded in emotional and bodily activity and response, in culturally defined meanings and in the particulars of distinctive social conditions, these scholars have tended to reject not only the privileging of score-based formal analysis and disinterested contemplative listening but also the philosophical underpinnings of this in the doctrines of autonomy, genius, and ‘the masterwork’. Partial resolution of this dispute may be visible in the move within mainstream musicology itself towards more interpretative and culturally contextualist approaches. Musicologists of popular music have also looked towards semiology (notably in the work of Philip Tagg and Dave Laing) and towards discourse theory (e.g. in the work of Robert Walser and David Brackett). One limitation of such perspectives may be their analytic focus on verbal connotations or discourse surrounding music or, in some cases, a tendency almost to equate music with words about it. The semiotic privileging of language over music was subjected to thorough critique by Shepherd and Wicke (1997), and, as they suggest, the other side of a resolution to the dispute may lie in the development of a method that, while maintaining the sense of music’s cultural constructedness on which popular music studies has always insisted, is also able to reveal the specificity of musical processes. There are signs, on both sides, that such moves may be leading to a recognition that popular and art musics are not always so very different, or not in every way, or at least that they live in the same world.
A further issue debated in popular music studies – often prompted by attacks on the scholars by practitioners and critics, and sharpened by the impact of complex cultural theory – is the relationship between theory and practice. This was placed in even higher relief by the introduction in the 1980s of the teaching of popular music in some universities, conservatories, and schools. While it can act as a catalyst to the opening up of issues concerning educational aims and relative cultural values, popular music placed in such contexts raises questions about the desirability and implications of its own legitimation. On one level the questions concern whether to teach the music’s production or its understanding, and the wisdom of teaching either aspect to young people who may well be closer to the music, as consumers or as practitioners, than their teachers. It is not obvious whose terms should be used, for example, or what should be the relationship between academic and vernacular theory. But on a broader level these questions are symptoms of problems that affect the study of popular music in general. The questions are not just tactical (how to attain the best understanding): given that the situation presents itself in terms of ‘ordinary’ culture under the gaze of ‘experts’, the people interpreted by the intellectuals, they must also be epistemological (how to define what is a ‘true’ understanding of this music) and even ethical (who is entitled to speak about this, and in what terms). The quandaries are akin to those surrounding the interplay of etic and emic modes of interpretation, much discussed by ethnomusicologists. For the encounter of musical science with the popular musics of its own hinterland, no less than for its dialogues with musics of other cultures, they are at the heart of the matter.
- H.R. Haweis: Music and Morals (London, 1871, 16/1891)
- C.K. Harris: How to Write a Popular Song (New York, 1906)
- T.W. Adorno: ‘Zur gesellschaftlichen Lage der Musik’, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, vol. 1 (1932), 356; Eng. trans., in Telos, vol. 35(1978), 128–64
- C. Lambert: Music Ho! A Study of Music in Decline (London, 1934, 3/1966)
- T.W. Adorno with G. Simpson: ‘On Popular Music’, Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, vol. 9 (1941), 17–48
- D. Riesman: ‘Listening to Popular Music’, American Quarterly, vol. 2 (1950), 359–71
- R. Gelatt: The Fabulous Phonograph: from Edison to Stereo (Philadelphia, 1954, 3/1977)
- A. Loesser: Men, Women and Pianos: a Social History (New York, 1954/R)
- R. Hoggart: The Uses of Literacy (London, 1957)
- R. Williams: The Long Revolution (London, 1961)
- S. Hall and P. Whannel: The Popular Arts (London, 1964)
- E. Rogers and M. Hennessy: Tin Pan Alley (London, 1964)
- C. Keil: ‘Motion and Feeling through Music’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 24 (1966), 337–49
- J. Maróthy: Zene és polgár, zene és proletár (Budapest, 1966; Eng. trans., 1974, as Music and the Bourgeois, Music and the Proletarian)
- H.F. Mooney: ‘Popular Music since the 1920s: the Significance of Shifting Taste’, American Quarterly, vol. 20 (1968), 67–85
- D. Laing: The Sound of Our Time (London, 1969)
- A. Chester: ‘Second Thoughts on a Rock Aesthetic: the Band’, New Left Review, vol. 57 (1970), 75–82
- C. Gillett: The Sound of the City: the Rise of Rock ’n’ Roll (New York, 1970, 3/1996)
- A. McCarthy: The Dance Band Era (London, 1971)
- J. Wenner: Lennon Remembers (San Francisco, 1971)
- R. Middleton: Pop Music and the Blues (London, 1972)
- M.R. Turner: The Parlour Song Book (London, 1972, 2/1974)
- I. Whitcomb: After the Ball (London, 1972, 2/1986)
- I. Bontinck, ed.: New Patterns of Musical Behaviour: a Survey of Youth Activities in 18 Countries (Vienna, 1974)
- C. Hamm, B. Nettl, and R. Byrnside: Contemporary Music and Music Cultures (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1975)
- R.A. Peterson and D.G. Berger: ‘Cycles in Symbol Production: the Case of Popular Music’, American Sociological Review, vol. 40 (1975), 158–73
- R. Pearsall: Popular Music of the Twenties (Newton Abbot, 1976)
- R. Williams: ‘Popular’,Keywords: a Vocabulary of Culture and Society (London, 1976, 2/1983)
- S. Chapple and R. Garofalo: Rock ’n’ Roll Is Here to Pay: the History and Politics of the Music Industry (Chicago, 1977)
- P. Willis: Profane Culture (London, 1978)
- D. Hebdige: Subculture: the Meaning of Style (London, 1979)
- P. Tagg: Kojak: 50 Seconds of Television Music. Towards the Analysis of Affect in Popular Music(Göteborg, 1979)
- D. Harker: One for the Money: Politics and Popular Song (London, 1980)
- S. Hall: ‘Notes on Deconstructing “the Popular”’, People’s History and Socialist Theory, ed. R. Samuel (London, 1981), 227–40
- A. Hennion: Les professionels du disque (Paris, 1981)
- J. Shepherd: ‘A Theoretical Model for the Sociomusicological Analysis of Popular Musics’,Popular Music, vol. 2 (1982), 145–77
- P. Tagg: ‘Analysing Popular Music: Theory, Method and Practice’, Popular Music, vol. 2 (1982), 37–67
- D. Horn, ed.: Popular Music Perspectives II: Reggio nell’ Emilia 1983
- S. Frith: Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure and the Politics of Rock ’n’ Roll (London, 1983)
- P. Bourdieu: Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (London, 1984)
- J. Parakilas: ‘Classical Music as Popular Music’, JM, vol. 3 (1984), 1–18
- R. Lax and F. Smith: The Great Song Thesaurus (New York,1984/R)
- J. Attali: Noise: the Political Economy of Music (Manchester, 1985)
- D. Laing: One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock (Milton Keynes, 1985)
- N. Shapiro and B. Pollock, eds.: Popular Music, 1920–1979: a Revised Cumulation (Detroit, 1985) [with annual suppls.]
- P. Wicke and W. Ziegenruecker: Handbuch der populaeren Musik(Leipzig, 1985)
- A. Huyssen: After the Great Divide: Mass Culture and Postmodernism (London, 1986)
- R. Iwaschkin: Popular Music: a Reference Guide (New York, 1986)
- G. Born: ‘Modern Music Culture: on Shock, Pop and Synthesis’, New Formations, vol. 1 (1987), 51–78
- J. Horowitz: Understanding Toscanini (New York, 1987)
- P. Tagg: ‘Musicology and the Semiotics of Popular Music’, Semiotica, vol. 66 (1987), 279–98
- P. Van der Merwe: Origins of the Popular Style: the Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music(Oxford, 1989)
- P. Hardy and D. Laing: The Faber Companion to 20th-Century Popular Music (London, 1990/R)
- P. Wicke: Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics and Sociology (Cambridge, 1990)
- R. Middleton: Studying Popular Music (Milton Keynes, 1990)
- P. Gammond: The Oxford Companion to Popular Music (Oxford, 1991)
- M. Parker: ‘Reading the Charts: Making Sense with the Hit Parade’, Popular Music, vol. 10 (1991), 205–17
- J. Shepherd: Music as Social Text (Cambridge, 1991)
- P. Tagg: ‘Towards a Sign Typology of Music’, Analisi musicale II: Trent 1991, 369–78
- S. Jones: Rock Formation: Music, Technology, and Mass Communication (Newbury Park, CA,1992)
- P. Gilroy: The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London, 1993)
- A. Moore: Rock, the Primary Text: Developing a Musicology of Rock (Buckingham, 1993)
- M. Slobin: Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West (Hanover, NH, 1993)
- R. Walser: Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Hanover, NH, 1993)
- J. Baxendale: ‘“… into another kind of life in which anything might happen …” Popular Music and Late Modernity, 1910–1930’, Popular Music, vol. 14 (1995), 137–54
- D. Brackett: Interpreting Popular Music (Cambridge, 1995)
- R. Burnett: The Global Jukebox: the International Music Industry (London, 1995)
- M. Chanan: Repeated Takes: a Short History of Recording and its Effects on Music (London, 1995)
- M. Christianen: ‘Cycles in Symbol Production? A New Model to Explain Concentration, Diversity and Innovation in the Music Industry’, Popular Music, vol. 14 (1995), 55–93
- C. Hamm: Putting Popular Music in its Place (Cambridge, 1995)
- S. Frith: Performing Rites: on the Value of Popular Music (Oxford, 1996)
- K. Negus: Popular Music in Theory: an Introduction (Cambridge, 1996)
- L. Green: Music, Gender, Education (Cambridge, 1997)
- T. McCourt and E. Rothenbuhler: ‘SoundScan and the Consolidation of Control in the Popular Music Industry’, Media, Culture and Society, vol. 19 (1997), 201–18
- J. Shepherd and others, eds.: Popular Music Studies: a Select International Bibliography (London,1997)
- J. Shepherd and P. Wicke: Music and Cultural Theory (Cambridge,1997)
- P. Theberge: Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology (Hanover, NH,1997)
- T. Swiss, J. Sloop, and A. Herman, eds.: Mapping the Beat: Popular Music and Contemporary Theory (Oxford, 1998)
- T. Swiss and B. Homer, eds.: Popular Music and Culture: New Essays on Key Terms (Oxford, 1999)
- G. Born and D. Hesmondhalgh, eds.: Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music (Berkeley,2000)
Britain and Europe
- W. Chappell: Popular Music of the Olden Time (London, 1855–9/R1965as The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of Olden Time, rev. 2/1893/R by H.E. Wooldridge as Old English Popular Music)
- J. Abbott: The Story of Francis, Day and Hunter (London, 1952)
- C. Dahlhaus, ed.: Studien zur Trivialmusik des 19. Jahrhunderts (Regensburg, 1967)
- H.P. Hofmann and P. Czerny: Der Schlager: ein Panorama der leichten Musik (Berlin, 1968)
- K. Young: Music’s Great Days in the Spas and Watering Places (London, 1968)
- E. Lee: Music of the People: a Study of Popular Music in Great Britain (London, 1970)
- R. Pearsall: Victorian Popular Music (Newton Abbott, 1973)
- G. Stedman-Jones: ‘Working-Class Culture and Working-Class Politics in London, 1870–1900: Notes on the Remaking of a Working Class’, Journal of Social History, vol. 7 (1974), 460–508
- R. Pearsall: Edwardian Popular Music (Newton Abbott, 1975)
- W. Weber: Music and the Middle Class (London, 1975)
- I. Keldany-Mohr: ‘Unterhaltungsmusik’ als sociokulturelles Phaenomen des 19. Jahrhunderts (Regensburg, 1977)
- W. Weber: ‘Mass Culture and the Re-Shaping of European Musical Taste, 1770–1870’,IRASM, vol. 8 (1977), 5–21
- P. Burke: Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (London, 1978)
- C. Dahlhaus: ‘Trivialmusik’,Die Musik des 19 Jahrhunderts (Laaber, 1980; Eng. trans., 1989)
- N. Temperley, ed.: Music in Britain: the Romantic Age, 1800–1914 (London, 1981/R)
- P. Scannell: ‘Music for the Multitude? The Dilemmas of the BBC's Music Policy 1923–1946’, Media, Culture and Society, vol. 3 (1981), 243–60
- A. Bennett: ‘Music in the Halls’, Music Hall: Performance and Style, ed. J.S. Bratton (Milton Keynes, 1986), 1–22
- D. Russell: Popular Music in England, 1840–1914 (Manchester, 1987/R)
- D.A. LeMahieu: A Culture for Democracy: Mass Communication and the Cultivated Mind in Britain between the Wars (Oxford, 1988)
- D. Scott: The Singing Bourgeois: Songs of the Victorian Drawing-Room and Parlour (Milton Keynes, 1989)
- R. Fiske: ‘Music and Society’, Music in Britain: the Eighteenth Century, ed. H.D. Johnstone and R. Fiske (Oxford, 1990), 3–27
- O. Edstrom: ‘The Place and Value of Middle Music’, STMf, vol. 74 (1992), 7–60
- I. Spink: ‘Music and Society’, Music in Britain: the Seventeenth Century, ed. I. Spink (Oxford, 1992), 1–65
- S. Banfield, ed.: Music in Britain: the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 1995)
- J. Ling: A History of European Folk Music (Rochester, NJ, 1997)
- O.G.T. Sonneck: A Bibliography of Early Secular American Music (Washington, DC, 1905, rev. and enlarged 2/1945 by W.T. Upton, repr. 1964with preface by I. Lowens)
- C.K. Harris: After the Ball: Forty Years of Melody (New York, 1926)
- I. Goldberg: Tin Pan Alley: a Chronicle of the American Popular Music Racket (New York, 1930)
- E.B. Marks: They All Sang: from Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallee, ed. A.J. Liebling (New York,1934)
- I. Witmark and I. Goldberg: The Story of the House of Witmark: from Ragtime to Swingtime (New York, 1939/R)
- S. Spaeth: A History of Popular Music in America (New York, 1948/R)
- J. Mattfeld: Variety Music Cavalcade: a Chronology of Vocal and Instrumental Music Popular in the United States (New York, 1952, 3/1971)
- G. Chase: America’s Music, from the Pilgrims to the Present (New York, 1955, 3/1987/R)
- P. Oliver: Blues Fell this Morning: Meaning in the Blues (London, 1960, 2/1990)
- D. Ewen: Popular American Composers (New York, 1962, suppl. 1972)
- L. Jones: Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York, 1963, 2/1988)
- W. Mellers: Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Development in the History of American Music(London, 1964)
- A. Green: ‘Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol’, Journal of American Folklore, vol. 78 (1965), 204–28
- D.K. Wilgus: ‘An Introduction to the Study of Hillbilly Music’, Journal of American Folklore, vol. 78 (1965), 195–204
- B.C. Malone: Country Music, U.S.A. (Austin, TX, 1968, 2/1985)
- H.W. Hitchcock: Music in the United States: a Historical Introduction (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1969, 3/1988)
- E. Southern: The Music of Black Americans: a History (New York, 1971)
- A. Wilder: American Popular Song: the Great Innovators, 1900–1950 (New York, 1972, 2/1990)
- R.A. Fremont, ed.: Favorite Songs of the Nineties (New York, 1973)
- H. Pleasants: The Great American Popular Singers (London, 1974)
- P. Charosh and R.A. Fremont, eds.: Song Hits from the Turn of the Century (New York, 1975)
- G. Marcus: Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll Music (New York, 1974, 4/1991)
- I. Whitcomb: Tin Pan Alley: a Pictorial History (1919–1939) (New York, 1975)
- R. Jackson: Popular Songs of Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 1976)
- D. Ewen: All the Years of American Popular Music (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1978)
- C. Hamm: Yesterdays: Popular Song in America (New York, 1979)
- N. Tawa: Sweet Songs for Gentle Americans: the Parlor Song in America, 1790–1860 (Bowling Green, OH, 1980)
- P. DiMaggio: ‘Cultural Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth-Century Boston: the Creation of an Organisational Base for High Culture in America’, Media, Culture and Society, vol. 4 (1982), 33–50
- A. Shaw: The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920s (New York, 1987)
- C. Small: Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in Afro-American Music (London, 1987)
- L. Levine: Highbrow/Lowbrow: the Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, MA, 1988)
- R. Sanjek: American Popular Music and its Business: the First Four Hundred Years (New York,1988)
- N.E. Tawa: The Way to Tin Pan Alley: American Popular Song, 1866–1910 (New York,1990)
- M. Broyles: ‘Music of the Highest Class’: Elitism and Populism in Antebellum Boston (New Haven, CT, 1992)
- P.H. Ennis: The Seventh Stream: the Emergence of Rocknroll in American Popular Music (Hanover, NH, 1992)
- S.A. Floyd: The Power of Black Music: Interpreting its History from Africa to the United States (New York, 1995)
- A. Forte: The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924–1950 (Princeton, NJ,1995)
- W.T. Lhamon: Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop (Cambridge, MA, 1998)
II. World popular music
- Peter Manuel
Several interrelated developments in global culture since the latter 1900s have had a substantial effect on world popular music and its study. These include the phenomenal increase in the amount of recorded popular music outside the developed world, as a result of the expansion of extant modes of musical production and dissemination and the advent of new technologies such as cassettes, CDs, video compact discs, and the Internet; the effective compression of the world by intensified media networks, transport facilities, diasporas, and the globalization of capital, which has increased the transnational circulation of world popular musics and their availability in the West; and an exponential growth from the 1990s in the number of scholarly and journalistic studies of world popular musics.
Some of the major conceptual approaches that have informed modern scholarly studies of world popular musics are reviewed in the following sections. The term ‘popular music’ is used here to connote genres whose styles have evolved in an inextricable relationship with their dissemination via the mass media and their marketing and sale on a mass-commodity basis. Distinctions between popular musics (defined thus) and other kinds of music, such as commercialized versions of folk musics, are not always airtight. The scope of the present section of this article is limited to popular music idioms that are stylistically distinct from those of the Euro-American mainstream. The significant role that Euro-American popular music styles play in many non-Western music cultures is discussed only tangentially here, and is addressed more specifically in Pop §V.
There is at present no satisfactory label for popular musics outside the Euro-American mainstream (just as designations such as the ‘third world’ or even the ‘developing world’ are increasingly problematic). Terms such as ‘world music’, ‘world popular music’, ‘world beat’, and ‘ethnopop’ are too imprecise to be taxonomically useful, unless clearly defined for specific publications. The term ‘non-Western’, if applicable to many musics, is hardly a satisfactory label for genres such as reggae or salsa, which, although peripheral to Euro-American mainstream culture, are certainly products of ‘Western’ societies. The increasing globalization of world culture and the proliferation of syncretic hybrid musics also blur the dichotomy of Western and non-Western world musics, and intensify the terminological challenges.
1. Growth of studies.
If commercial popular music in general was long ignored by the academy, the scholarly study of popular music outside the Euro-American mainstream began even later. Notable publications from the 1970s include Bruno Nettl’s Eight Urban Musical Cultures (1978) and the informative, if somewhat more journalistic, works of authors such as John Storm Roberts (1972, 1979). The amount of scholarly literature on world popular musics greatly increased in subsequent years, with the belated academic recognition of the sociological importance of popular culture, the spread of multiculturalism as an academic paradigm in the West, and the active interest of a new generation of scholars who had been personally immersed in popular music since adolescence. The journal Popular Music (founded in 1981) and other subsequent journals devoted to cultural studies have since provided broad forums for published research in world popular music.
Popular music literature since the early 1980s, whether scholarly or generalist, has included a number of descriptive overviews, some attempting more or less comprehensive global perspectives (e.g. Manuel, 1988; Broughton and others, 1994; Shepherd and others, 2003) and some surveying a given region, such as Africa (e.g. Graham, 1988, 1992; Bender, 1991; Collins, 1992). Of greater detail and depth are ethnographic studies of individual genres or music cultures (e.g. Coplan, 1985; Peña, 1985; Perrone, 1988; Waterman, 1990; Erlmann, 1991; Stokes, 1992; Jones, 1992; Guilbault, 1993; Hill, 1993; Loza, 1993; Webb, 1993; Pacini, 1995; Savigliano, 1995; Austerlitz, 1996; Averill, 1997; Simonett, 2001; Perna, 2005; Garcia, 2006; Hope, 2006; Veal, 2007; Madrid, 2008; Booth 2008; Wallach, 2008; Washburne, 2008; Ragland, 2009; Weintraub, 2010; Stokes, 1992, 2010; Baker, 2011). Also of interest are the handful of works that incorporate cross-cultural perspectives in exploring the musical ramifications of global networks of capital, media images, and diasporic communities (e.g. Wallis and Malm, 1984; Garofalo, 1992; Lipsitz, 1994; Gopal and Moorti 2008; Slobin, 2008).
Much literature on world popular music has been written outside the Euro-American academic world, in languages other than English and for predominantly regional readerships. Prominent in this category, for example, are the numerous Spanish-language works published in Latin America (e.g. Matamoro, 1969; Rondón, 1980; Acosta, 1982, 1993; Lloréns Amico, 1983; Quintero-Rivera, 1998). Language and geographic barriers and the ephemerality and obscurity of many developing-world publications mean that much of this literature remains relatively inaccessible in the developed world. Many useful English-language works produced outside the metropoles, such as Rohlehr’s magisterial study of calypso (1990), are scarcely disseminated even in their countries of origin, not to mention elsewhere. Conversely, the Western, predominantly English-medium scholarly world, with its networks of presses, libraries, funding sources, and research institutions, has perhaps inevitably constituted a scholarly mainstream, and has accordingly attracted many of the best non-Western scholars to its own institutions.
Representing a somewhat different category is the voluminous and growing body of generalist literature on popular music, including not only music journalism found in newspapers and magazines but also various accessible books on popular music which, although not academic in orientation, are often colourful and richly informative (e.g. Kanahele, 1979; Andersson, 1981; Díaz Ayala, 1981, 1994; Reuter, 1981; Davis and Simon, 1982; Malavet Vega, 1988; Barlow and Eyre, 1995; Calvo Ospina, 1995). Also worthy of mention are the increasing numbers of documentary films and videos on world popular music, such as Jeremy Marre’s series Beats of the Heart, made in the 1970s and 80s. Lastly, of course, the Internet—from Wikipedia to fanzine websites—has come to provide an unprecedented and previously inconceivable abundance of information and discourse on world popular music. Taken as a whole, the growing body of world music literature and research material has immeasurably enhanced the documentation and potential understanding of global culture. At the same time, the processes of musical evolution, innovation, and cross-fertilization continue to provide fresh challenges to scholars and students of popular culture.
The vast majority of scholarly literature on world popular music has been oriented towards socio-musical themes such as are addressed in the remainder of this entry. Only a handful of studies have focused on the formal aspects of popular musics outside the Western mainstream. Several authors have presented basic analytical descriptions of the distinctive features of individual styles and genres, such as African guitar music (Eyre, 2003), norteño accordion playing (Ragland, 2009), and salsa piano improvisation styles (Manuel, ‘Improvisation in Latin Dance Music’, 1998). Detailed formal analyses of popular music styles, however, remain scarce. It is true that much popular music, whether ‘simple’ or not, is designed to be accessible rather than recondite and may constitute a less obviously productive subject for detailed technical analysis than, say, a Schoenberg piano sonata. At the same time, the aesthetic appeal of a commercial popular song or genre may rely – no less than does art music – on expressive nuances whose workings could be revealed by close analysis. However, formal analyses of popular musics have been impeded by the reliance of many such musical styles on expressive features that are resistant to staff notation – or, in some cases, to any sort of extant or even imaginable notation. For instance, conventional notation would be of little use in analysing a performance by the Jamaican vocalist Buju Banton of a dance-hall song, much of whose affective power may derive not from its easily notated two-note ‘melody’ or even from the semantic meaning of its lyrics, but rather from Banton's micro-rhythmic nuances, ingressive vocalizations, guttural growls, dramatic timbral and dynamic variations, and other untranscribable and verbally indescribable effects. It remains difficult to conceive what sorts of graphic notation could do justice to such expressive techniques and be intelligible at the same time. Other aspects of text settings may be more amenable to analysis; an exemplary study is Manabe’s exploration (2006) of how Japanese rappers construct musically expressive lyrics in a language that lacks either inherent syllabic stress or a tradition of rhyme.
Among scholars of Western popular music, Middleton (1990, p. 117) articulated with particular clarity the need to develop new terminologies and notational approaches, and to explore innovative approaches to transcription and analysis, rather than perpetuating a ‘retreat into sociology’. In ethnomusicology Keil (1966, 1987, 1995), recapitulating Jairazbhoy’s interest in notating micro-rhythmic variations (1983), emphasized the importance of processual, often spontaneous interpretative nuances, which he called ‘participatory discrepancies’ (‘PDs’). Opinions have differed as to whether such features correspond to what Leonard Meyer (1956) would term ‘syntax’, understandable in terms of formal tensions, resolutions, and ‘simultaneous deviations’, or whether they, like ostinato-based dance-orientated musics in general, call for a qualitatively different form of analysis (see Keil, 1995, and responses). The advent of digital technologies that show waveforms has made graphic measurement of such micro-rhythmic nuances incomparably simpler than before, enabling analysts like Washburne (1998) to describe with precision what is meant, in salsa, by notions of playing ‘on top of the beat’, ‘behind the beat’, or ‘in the pocket’. (Related technologies also enable producers of synthesized drum patterns to program such nuances into their beats.) On the whole, however, scholars of world popular music have not responded to Middleton’s exhortation, but rather have continued to orient their work overwhelmingly towards socio-musical themes.
2. The mass media.
The evolution of modern popular musics has been closely associated with certain broader socio-historical developments, particularly urbanization, the emergence of modern social classes, the general context of late modernity as a whole, and, most directly, the advent of the modern mass media. Incipient popular song genres can be said to have emerged in 19th-century Europe in connection with sheet music, player pianos, and musical boxes. Similarly, in Japan during the Edo period (1603–1868), commercial publishers mass-produced cheap songbooks and pamphlets that, while serving to document pre-modern song genres already weakened by print itself, also initiated a commodification process characteristic of commercial popular music industries (Groemer, 1995–6). However, the advent of popular music per se is better linked to the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’, in which electricity and industrial techniques were applied to cultural production, primarily in connection with capitalist patterns of development. The invention of the phonograph in the 1880s and its mass marketing from around 1900 were the primary catalysts in stimulating the emergence of modern popular music.
The effects of mass mediation on music have been varied and profound, encompassing such phenomena as the detachment of performers from their products; the introduction of new dimensions of commercial considerations into music; the emergence of new links and barriers between audiences and performers; a tendency for mass-mediated music to become detached from ritual and life-cycle performance contexts; an unprecedented emphasis on the solo ‘star’ performer; the emergence of the studio recording as an autonomous art form rather than a copy or rendition of a performance; and the subjection of music production in general to the same processes of commodification, rationalization, and bureaucratization as other aspects of modern economic production. If in the West such musical developments proceeded largely in the wake of broader processes of social, economic, and technological modernization, in much of the developing world popular music industries emerged and flourished alongside musical genres, social practices, and technological infrastructures that remained essentially pre-modern.
During the 20th century the core mass medium for popular music was the phonogram (shellac and subsequently vinyl discs), supplemented by cassettes from the 1970s, and compact discs from the 1980s. While imported records from the West initially dominated many regions, in other areas production of records for local markets commenced early in the century, with the British-owned Gramophone Company producing over 14,000 recordings in Asia and Africa alone by 1910 (see Gronow, 1981). Records produced during this period consisted primarily of genres marketed towards élites, among whom ownership was concentrated. Public exposure to phonographs greatly increased in the 1920s and 30s, as middle-class ownership grew and less affluent listeners acquired access to records in local cafés and on jukeboxes, or, in countries like India, from itinerant entrepreneurs who carried spring-driven turntables around villages, playing requests for a small fee. In response to market demand, production came to include an eclectic variety of genres, with increasing emphasis on syncretic popular musics that evolved in connection with the new medium. The advent of magnetic tape recording and LPs in the 1950s reduced production costs and overcame the time constraints associated with 78 r.p.m. records, although most popular song genres worldwide continue to adhere to three- to five-minute formats.
Uses of technologies like vinyl records have varied in different locales and genres. In many genres, from salsa to highlife, recordings served primarily as supplements to or mediated representations of music that was ideally heard, or danced to, at live performances. In other genres, from Hindi film song to Jamaican reggae, live performance was not considered essential or even ideal, such that they evolved largely as studio art forms, disseminated primarily in mediated forms – in the case of Hindi film songs, via cinema and radio, and in the case of Jamaican reggae, via mobile sound systems. In some cases, records could form the basis for music subcultures far from their places of origin; thus, for example, in the 1970s and 80s, in Cartagena, Colombia, Central and West African popular music records enjoyed prodigious vogue as dance music played by ‘picó’ sound systems (Pacini, 1996).
The spread of phonograms in the 1920s coincided with the advent of Radio, whose reach soon extended at least as far. As with phonographs, access was not entirely dependent on private ownership, but could involve various forms of communal listening in public places. Throughout much of the developing world, as in many European metropoles, radio during the 20th century remained under state control, operating as a public service and/or as a vehicle for propaganda. Dependence on electric power, whether external or battery supplied, continues to limit access in poorer communities.
The spread of sound films from around 1930 introduced a new mass medium for music that was particularly effective in reaching consumers who were too poor to purchase radios or phonographs but could afford occasional cinema tickets. Because of cinema's accessibility, its inherent appeal and its ability to add a new visual dimension to music, several popular music genres became closely associated with cinematic musicals, including the tango, Turkish arabesk, Indonesian dangdut and mainstream Egyptian and Indian popular music (see India, subcontinent of §VIII 1.). In most cases, star singers were thus obliged to act (and often dance) as well, although in the 1940s Indian films adopted the ‘playback’ system, in which actors would mouth words in ‘lip-sync’ to songs separately recorded by professional singers. Meanwhile, film-related musics were marketed independently as phonograms. In some regions, such as Latin America and the Near East, television came to largely replace cinematic musicals as a medium of musical dissemination. Thus, in Egypt, popular music eventually became disassociated from melodramatic films while in other respects becoming linked to television, so that, for example, Sunday evening broadcasts of concerts by Umm Kulthum became national events throughout the 1960s and 70s.
In the 1980s the spread of video technology intensified the production and accessibility of visually contextualized music. To some extent, consumer video players served to supplement and extend cinema and television, offering users greater choice and control over selection, storage, and retrieval. Their use also tended to privatize consumption, bankrupting many cinemas and further replacing live performance attendance with atomized domestic viewing. The founding of MTV (Music Television) in 1981 inaugurated the cultivation of music video as an independent art form, with videos largely produced to promote recording sales rather than as independent commodities themselves. As with phonographs and cinema, the developed West, and especially the USA, monopolized production at first. Satellite transmission of MTV International, and of Western television in general, provided an additional means of extending American penetration of global viewing markets. By the late 1980s, however, music videos were being produced around the world, for dissemination on local television, in independent video formats, or on MTV International. Although many music videos outside the developed West during this period were unpretentious, low-budget productions, others – for example in Indonesia – were slick and sophisticated, using picturization techniques that were distinctively local and yet characteristically modern or even postmodern in style. Meanwhile, television shows featuring amateur singing competition – typically modeled on the ‘American Idol’ format – were enlivening popular music scenes throughout the world.
In the late 20th century two contradictory trends in the financing of mass-mediated music intensified. Music production, especially as conducted by the multinational record companies, became increasingly capital-intensive, with expenditure on production and promotion of individual recordings routinely running into millions of dollars; accompanying this trend was the spread of compact discs, which, especially in the West, were retailed (with or without justification) for prices considerably higher than records or cassettes. At the same time, with the advent of new micro-media, especially cassettes, it became increasingly possible and common for small-scale, local entrepreneurs to produce recordings for negligible sums; this development contributed greatly to the unprecedented ability of subcultures and social minorities to represent themselves.
The trajectory of the international record industry in the 20th century tended to follow the general pattern of monopoly capitalism and domination of the developing world by the West. By the 1930s the world's major music companies had rationalized the industry and divided the world into distinct spheres of interest and control: RCA dominated the Americas, Philips controlled northern and central Europe, the British-owned Decca and EMI (including products marketed as ‘His Master's Voice’) dominated the entire British Empire, while the French company Pathé-Marconi monopolized markets in France and its colonies. In the decades after World War II, the oligopoly coalesced into the dominance of the ‘Big Five’: WEA, CBS, RCA (then all US-owned), EMI, and Polygram (the Dutch-owned heir to Philips). Multinational ownership became further concentrated, if less American-controlled, in the 1990s with the purchase of CBS by Sony and of MCA by Matsushita, and by Philips’s acquisition of an 80% stake in Polygram.
Independent (and often regional) recording companies, which first emerged in the 1930s, became more numerous and active from the 1960s. Such companies operated in an uneasy relationship, at once symbiotic and competitive, with the Big Five, which could draw on more extensive resources, technology, and marketing and distribution networks (see Wallis and Malm, 1984). The multinationals were allegedly responsible for roughly two-thirds of world (non-pirate) record sales at their peak in the mid-1970s. In addition to producing local musics for local markets, the multinationals marketed Western popular musics throughout the world; in a few cases, as with the Argentine tango in the 1920s to the 40s, developing-world genres were disseminated for cosmopolitan audiences in Europe and the USA.
The multinationals, while introducing technology and distribution systems to underdeveloped countries, have been criticized for stifling competition in their domains, extracting huge profits from developing countries, and promoting standardization by superimposing Western pop or regional common-denominator genres. The tendency towards homogenization is conspicuous in some countries, such as India, where EMI was able to dominate the music industry for some 70 years by means of a single, albeit eclectic, mass genre: Bombay-based film music, produced by a small coterie of artists and music directors. In other cases, however, multinationals have been fairly active in promoting musical diversity. In the first half of the century, US-owned record companies marketed a wide variety of genres to consumers in Latin America, including the Argentine tango, the Mexican ranchera, the Colombian bambuco, and the Cuban son, bolero, and danzón, as well as Euro-American foxtrots, waltzes, polkas, and the like. Records produced by multinationals such as HMV in Africa covered an even richer diversity of local and regional genres.
Accordingly, patterns of music industry ownership have differed from place to place, especially in the post-colonial period. Newly independent African countries, for example, exhibited several distinct forms of development (see Graham, 1988). In some countries, such as Kenya, South Africa, and Côte d’Ivoire, local music industries failed to develop, allowing the continued domination of multinationals and the predominantly foreign musics (typically Western or Congolese) that they marketed. By contrast, in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Zaïre, resilient local producers emerged that, often in tandem with multinationals, energetically recorded and marketed a wide variety of local musics. A few quasi-socialist countries, notably Tanzania and Guinea, kept multinationals out by nationalizing music sectors; such policies succeeded in promoting lively local music scenes, but the financially constrained national governments were unable to fund the development of dynamic state music industries. Meanwhile in other countries, such as Mozambique and Angola, persistent poverty and war served to discourage both local production and foreign investment.
The communist countries constituted a distinct category, being the only ones rigorously to restrict multinational penetration while constructing indigenous music industries. The performance of socialist popular music industries under state ownership was generally mixed. On the one hand, popular musics under socialism avoided most of the negative features of commercialism, including the link to corporate sponsorship and consumerism, the fetishism of stars and fashions, and the deforming pressures exerted on musicians by the market. At the same time, most communist countries – which were underdeveloped to begin with – were unable to devote adequate financial resources to entertainment industries and related sectors such as consumer electronics. Bureaucratic inefficiency and authoritarian cultural policies exacerbated problems of creative innovation and material production. Patterns and policies of popular music production varied from country to country, with results ranging from the moderately successful to the disastrous. Perhaps the most egregious example of the latter was provided by China during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), when all types of formal music production were disrupted, and music disseminated through the mass media was limited almost exclusively to selections from the five ‘model operas’ and three modern ballets. Music production in communist Cuba, although equally centralized in control, was more satisfactory in the 1970s and 80s, with moderate state support, the richness of the inherited popular music tradition and prevailingly pragmatic rather than dogmatic cultural policies to some extent offsetting the continued bureaucratic bungling, unresponsiveness to popular demand, and a generally phlegmatic economy (see Moore, 2006; Acosta, 1991; Robbins, 1991). A different, more idiosyncratic sort of socialist production was practised in Yugoslavia under Tito, where decentralized local production and state subsidies of less commercially marketable musics managed to sustain a fairly lively and diverse popular music culture.
Ultimately a more significant revolution in music industries came with the spread of new technologies, especially cassettes, from the early 1970s. Cassettes (like video, photocopy machines, personal computer networks, and cable television) are a form of micro-media whose patterns of control, production, and consumption are dramatically less centralized and capital-intensive than those of the ‘old media’ of cinema, television, and radio. Cassettes and cassette players are inexpensive, portable, and durable, and they have simple power requirements; most importantly, the mass production of cassettes is incomparably cheaper and simpler than that of records or compact discs. By 1990, cassettes had come to constitute over half of world phonogram sales; their impact was most dramatic in the developing world, where they almost entirely replaced vinyl records, thus extending and restructuring music industries.
The initial impact of cassettes was most conspicuous in the endemic spread of cassette piracy (the unauthorized duplication of commercial recordings), which effectively bankrupted legitimate music industries in countries from Ghana to Tunisia and inhibited their development in many other regions. However, as cassette players spread and several countries enacted and enforced copyright laws, piracy in those and other nations was brought within manageable limits, allowing legitimate cassette production to flourish. While cassette technology served to further the dissemination of mainstream hegemonic musics, it also encouraged the emergence of innumerable small, local cassette producers worldwide, who were able to energetically record and disseminate genres whose commercial markets were in many cases too localized or specialized for record companies to represent (see El-Shawan, 1984; Harris, 2002; Manuel, 1993). Several popular music genres emerged in close association with cassettes, including Sundanese jaipongan, Andean chicha, Thai luktoong, and Israeli ‘Oriental rock’. Cassettes also served to disseminate musics, such as Latin American nueva canción, that were formally banned or discouraged by authoritarian governments.
Complementing the cassette revolution were other contemporaneous developments involving new technologies and associated socio-musical practices or, in some cases, new and alternative usages of pre-existing technologies, some of which provided new forms of access to music, or constituted hybrid formats combining aspects of production and consumption. In urban Japan, low-powered ‘mini-FM’ stations served to diversity local radio programming, compensating in numbers for their limited broadcast ranges of only a few hundred metres (Koguwa, 1985). From the latter 1970s ‘turntabling’ – using the turntable essentially as a musical instrument – became a basic performance technique accompanying singing and vocalizing in Jamaican reggae, preceding by a few years the adoption of similar techniques in Afro-American hip hop. At Mexican ‘sonidero’ (sound system) dances in the USA, disc jockeys shouting into microphones animatedly read greetings supplied by attendees in which they hail their friends and relatives in Mexico; in the pre-digital 1990s, audiences would then purchase cassettes of the event, complete with music and their own ‘shout-outs’, and send them by post to their loved ones (Ragland, 2003).
A particularly distinctive usage of recordings has been the karaoke format, in which amateur solo singers, in pubs, rented parlours, or private homes, croon familiar pop songs, backed by commercially marketed recordings of ensemble accompaniments, often with the song lyrics and romantic video scenes projected from a video monitor. Karaoke emerged in Japan in the early 1970s, functioning as an extension of the extant practice of informal singing, especially of enka songs, by men at social gatherings. It soon became a widespread and even focal form of socializing and music-making among East and Southeast Asians in their homelands and diasporic communities in the USA and elsewhere (see Lum, 1996; Mitsui and Hosokawa, 1998).
While the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’ of the 20th century brought electronic and industrial modes of production to music, the new millennium inaugurated a third revolution based on digital technologies, especially involving personal computers and mobile phones. Digital technologies had impacted music industries since the mid-1980s, when CDs rapidly replaced vinyl records and cassettes as the dominant format in the developed world (while remaining too expensive to have such impact in poorer countries). However, it was not until the years around 2000 that a dramatic new wave of digital technologies came into wide usage, with revolutionary effects on every aspect of popular music production, dissemination, and consumption, both in the developed and developing worlds.
Some of the new technologies involved new formats for physical phonograms. In much of the developing world, cassettes and CDs quickly came to be replaced by mp3 discs, which are considerably cheaper to produce and duplicate, offer good fidelity, are playable on inexpensive devices, and can contain more than nine hours of music apiece. In general, MP3 discs perpetuated and intensified the processes of diversification and decentralization of music production (including music piracy) that the cassette revolution had inaugurated a few decades earlier. A more seminal new format was the VCD, or video compact disc, which, like the formerly more expensive DVD, accommodates moving pictures and sound. VCDs did not provide an entirely new performance format – music videos having already existed – but rather made this entity incomparably cheaper and thus suitable for production, dissemination, and consumption on an unprecedented scale. Despite being a modern digital technology, VCDs – typically showing low-budget music picturizations that are not (unlike promotional ‘music videos’) broadcast on television – became common primarily in the developing world, and especially in association with lower-class genres within those countries. Commercial VCD productions, while occasionally drawing on extant forms of music videos or cinematic song-and-dance scenes, in many cases emerged as conspicuously new art forms, variously slick or sloppy, and innovative or adhering to quickly established conventions and clichés. From around 2005, the advent of cheap DVD players enabled VCD producers and consumers to shift to DVDs, which can accommodate four or five times as much content.
Digital technologies have also come to be widely used in music production per se. ‘Software instruments’ such as Ableton and Logic Pro are employed not only by Euro-American electronic dance music composers but also by desktop producers of reggae ‘riddims’ and hip-hop ‘beatmakers’ around the world. Auto-tune – whether used to subtly correct errant singing or to provide its own distinctive sound – has become a familiar feature throughout much of the world. Skills for such ‘DIY’ (do-it-yourself) techniques, as well as mastering of multi-track recordings, creative re-mixes, and ‘cut-and-paste’ editing of footage for VCD clips, can be acquired by amateurs using desktop computers at minimal expense.
The effects of digital technologies have been perhaps most dramatic in the realms of dissemination and consumption, especially as involving the ‘P2P’ (peer-to-peer) transmission of audio MP3 files and audio-video clips via the Internet, together with sharing of files via USB drives and mobile phones. Internet dissemination, whether licensed or unauthorized, has enabled producers, amateur enthusiasts, and consumers to bypass state media and commercial music industries, making an unprecedented amount and variety of music (and videos) accessible to global audiences. Most such dissemination also bypasses the artists themselves, though savvy performers and producers around the world also use Internet sites (such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and their own websites) to promote their own music. These techniques can also be used for political activism, as in the case of the several music videos – in hip hop and other styles – which provided soundtracks for the Arab Spring uprisings of the years around 2010. As is often noted, Internet dissemination of music also generates innumerable online ‘virtual’ communities, typically comprising geographically dispersed enthusiasts of particular genres, who share songs and engage in vituperative ‘flame wars’ in comments on YouTube and other forums. Meanwhile, even the most unpretentious YouTube music picturization may, for whatever reasons, go ‘viral’, garnering millions of ‘hits’ and making superstars of its performers (who might, however, earn nothing from the video itself). Video picturization itself has thus emerged as an amateur art form, as enthusiasts combine popular songs – whether arabesk tunes or Bollywood hits – with video footage of their own choosing, whether cut and pasted from extant sources or filmed independently.
With the expanded capacities of mobile phones, Internet dissemination of music is no longer dependent on access to computers, but is accessible to broad sectors of populations even in the developed world, where mobile phones have become central technologies for music consumption (not to mention other uses). Throughout much of the world, cellphone owners can easily download songs from various unlicensed (as well as licensed) websites. In countries like India, even phone ownership is not necessary for access to pirated music, as consumers can purchase cheap USB drives which can be loaded, at kiosks, with hundreds of songs, and then played by plugging the drive into an audio device (Manuel 2014). The attendant vast unlicensed dissemination of music has gravely weakened commercial music industries – large and small – around the world, exponentially intensifying the problem of music piracy earlier precipitated by cassettes. Ironically, the new ease with which independent artists have been able to produce and disseminate music has gone hand in hand with an increasing difficulty in profiting from sales of music, as consumers have grown so accustomed to downloading music for free. In retrospect, the existence of commercial music industries based on physical phonogram sales seems to have constituted a distinctly 20th-century phenomenon. Now, as during the dawn of the recording era, musicians in many genres – from pop flamenco to arabesk – again derive most of their income from live performances, with recordings being made primarily for prestige and promotion. For their part, commercial music producers and businesses worldwide, while unlikely to match the profits earned in the 1990s, are exploring various strategies to monetize Internet consumption and generate new sources of revenue, including purchases of downloads (as via iTunes), streaming radio services involving advertisements or paid subscriptions, and sales of song snippets as mobile phone ringtones. The latter practice has become particular widespread in East Asia (Manabe, 2009).
The development of modern popular musics is intimately tied to the phenomenon of urbanization. Cities, with their concentrations of wealth, power, heterogeneous social groups, and institutionalized forms of musical patronage, have naturally constituted focal environments for the emergence, production, and consumption of popular musics. The depth and range of the effects of urbanization on culture and social structure in the 20th century were unprecedented, owing to the intensification of urban growth and the qualitatively new and distinct processes accompanying it.
One of these processes is the development of new forms of mass entertainment, including popular musics. As well as providing the necessary technological infrastructures for commercial music industries, urban environments, with their dense populations and cash economies, present concentrated, easily accessible markets for music producers and for the mass media in general. Perhaps more significant, if less tangible, are the ways in which the urban milieu has stimulated the creation of syncretic popular musics by generating new social identities and aesthetic sensibilities. City dwellers are generally exposed to diverse ideologies, music styles, and media discourses. Such exposure invariably colours attitudes towards and presents new alternatives to traditional folk musics, many of which, in pre-modern and especially rural societies, flourished partly by virtue of being the only forms of music known to their patrons and practitioners. By contrast, most urban dwellers enjoy several kinds of music and develop multiple social identities. While exposure to alternative art forms may occasionally provoke a self-conscious revival of traditional musics, more often it alienates listeners from them and stimulates the development of new syncretic genres.
Popular music often plays a crucial role in the process of adaptation to the new environment. As Coplan (see Nettl, 1978, 1982) has discussed in relation to West Africa, this adaptation involves not only reactive adjustment but also the formation of new identities and their metaphorical articulation in new, syncretic forms of expressive culture. In such situations, popular musicians can become important agents of syncretism and innovation, serving as cultural brokers who articulate new metaphors of social identity and mediate traditional/modern, rural/urban, and local/global dichotomies. As rapid urbanization brings together people of diverse regional, linguistic, or ethnic backgrounds, popular music can serve as a vehicle for social differentiation, mediation, or homogenization. In many cases, popular music becomes a focus for the maintenance or construction of discrete social subgroups, who congregate at their own music clubs, form taste cultures around certain genres or performers, and celebrate favoured idioms as unique expressions of their distinct identity. Some urban genres may maintain strong associations with particular ethnic groups, as is the case with Nigerian Jùjú , which, despite its broad popularity, remains thoroughly Yoruba in its orientation. In such instances music may play an important role in the maintenance of ethnic, regional, racial, and generational heterogeneity.
In other cases music may serve to mediate differences between people of different backgrounds, or even to unite them, especially as commercial music industries attempt to create and exploit mass homogeneous markets. Hindi film music in North India has certainly functioned in this manner, serving as an aesthetic common denominator for urban dwellers of varied linguistic, regional, and caste backgrounds. Certain social formations also intensify processes of aesthetic homogenization. The centripetal, unifying possibilities of popular music are particularly clear in situations where socially diverse communities, thrown together in neutral urban settings, develop more inclusive identities based on occupation, class, or nationalism rather than on regional or ethnic origin. Such, for example, was the case to some extent in Zaïrean mining towns in the mid-20th century, where the proletarianization of migrant workers created a precondition for the emergence of the pan-Congolese pop music that evolved into what Westerners call Soukous, with its lyrics in the lingua franca Lingala (wa Mukuna, 1979–80). Similarly, as Coplan (1985) has documented, South African Marabi music, performed in proletarian beer gardens, became an important vehicle for the development of a pan-ethnic urban identity. Whether popular music serves to reinforce social distinctions or to negate them, many contemporary idioms, with their idiosyncratic combinations of various local and global style features, can be seen to reflect fairly explicit strategies by which artists and communities discursively position themselves in their socially heterogeneous surroundings.
While genres and songs associated with urban migrants or the urban experience generally eschew references to particular locales, some individual cities have played such central roles in cultural life that they are chronicled in song lyrics. Hence, various Puerto Rican plenas, Trinidadian calypsos, Dominican merengues, Jamaican dancehall songs, and Newyorican salsa songs narrate various stages and vicissitudes of the New York migrant experience. Similarly, Stokes (2010) explores how different 1990s versions of a song about Istanbul reflect contesting conceptions of the character of that city and its status as an icon of Turkish national culture in general.
Patterns of urban popular music evolution vary, in accordance with the diverse histories of cities themselves, ranging from millennia-old metropolises such as Baghdad, to conglomerations that have emerged in recent times, often from virtual vacuums, as was the case with Karachi, a former sleepy fishing village that is now home to over 21 million people. In some older cities, early-modern professional entertainment musics provided core sources for the subsequent emergence of commercial popular genres. Thus, Marathi theater music in early-20th-century Bombay played a seminal role in the evolution of the Hindi film music that evolved from the 1930s.
In many cases, the exponential growth of modern cities has resulted primarily from the massive influx of rural migrants, especially from the mid-20th century as agricultural economies grew increasingly unable to sustain exploding populations. While such migrants may join the ranks of the assimilated, wage-earning proletariat, more often they come to constitute an underclass working in the economy’s informal sectors. Migrant underclasses often make distinctive and original contributions to urban musical culture, from Dominican bachata and Brazilian música sertaneja to Thai luktoong (Pacini, 1995; Carvalho, 1993; Siriyuvasak, 1990). Migrants generally bring rich traditions of rural folk music with them, whose perpetuation or reconstruction, in however stylized a form, may provide some sense of stability and identity in the otherwise disorienting urban experience. At the same time, migrants, especially of the second generation, often become at least partially alienated from traditional rural musics as a result of ambivalence towards their parents’ humble backgrounds, exposure to new musics and the general acquisition of new social identities. In response they may cultivate modernized forms of traditional rural musics, as in the case of Turkish pop türkü, or they may idiosyncratically rearticulate other pan-regional genres that they encounter in the cities. Such, for example, has been the case with Turkish arabesk, which draws from mainstream Egyptian pop styles, and Dominican bachata, which developed not as an adaptation of folk genres like mangolina or carabiné but as a distinctively local reincarnation of the pan-Latin bolero. While the sentimental lyrics of early bachata – at that point called canciones de amargue or ‘songs of bitterness’ – did not specifically address the migrant experience, their frequently angry and machista tenor seemed to reflect the tensions attending the disruption of extended family networks in the urbanization process (Pacini, 1995, chap.5). In the subsequent decades, as bachata became at once more polished and broadly popular, it largely shed its rough and recriminatory aspect, focusing more exclusively on the genteel pangs of heartbreak and loss. Often, as in the case of Turkish arabesk, migrant-based genres embrace urban modernity in their stylistic syncretism while at the same time criticizing in their lyrics the anomie it can entail (Stokes, 1992). Such musics, disseminated by the mass media and migrant networks, often circulate back to the countryside, mediating rural–urban distinctions. As with certain genres of black American music, some traditional genres seem well suited to mass-mediated dissemination, albeit in stylized forms, by virtue of their association with exclusively oral transmission and their aura of alienation from modernity (see, for example, Middleton, 1990, p.72).
The history of urban popular music in the city of Lima, Peru, illustrates a sequence of chapters with counterparts elsewhere in the developing world. In the first half of the 20th century, limeños (longtime Lima residents) prided themselves on their Spanish pedigree, their superiority to rural Andean Indians, and their genteel urban culture. The iconic expression of the latter was música criolla (‘creole music’), consisting largely of salon versions of waltzes and tangos, often with lyrics eulogizing familiar neighbourhoods (such as Felipe Pinglo’s De vuelta al barrio [‘Returning to the Neighbourhood’]). From the 1950s the stable, familiar, quaint character of Lima barrios began to change radically, as Indian and mestizo migrants poured in from the countryside, settling in squalid shantytowns and filling the streets as ambulatory vendors and vagrants. The migrants soon developed their own urban popular music, in the form of stylized versions of the Andean huayno, with pentatonic melodies in AABB form and standard chordal harmonizations. Lyrics of these urban huaynos typically recalled the forsaken village, or – like Picaflor de los Andes’s Por las rutas del recuerdo (‘Through the Routes of Memory’) – narrated the vicissitudes of the migrant experience, often with a self-consciously proletarian perspective (Llorens Amico, 1983). By the 1980s the adult children of this first generation of migrants – at once alienated from Andean culture and still disparaged by Caucasian limeños – cultivated a new, more cosmopolitan-sounding popular music in the form of chicha, fusing familiar pentatonic tunes with the rhythm of the cumbia, a common-denominator genre cultivated everywhere from Texas to Argentina. In the 1990s chicha itself gave way to techno-cumbia, which, with its retinues of scantily clad girls lip-syncing to karaoke tracks, extended its popularity to urban Peruvian and Ecuadorian youth in general (Romero 2002).
4. Modern social class structures.
The new socio-musical identities generated by urbanization are inseparable from the emergence of modern social classes, with their own distinct roles in the evolution of commercial popular musics. Of these classes, the urban bourgeoisie, although often proportionally small, in many cases plays the most conspicuous and influential role because of its affluence, its domination of the mass media and patronage institutions, and the access of its professional performers to formal musical training. Popular musics cultivated by bourgeois audiences often evolve as commercialized and perhaps simplified versions of light-classical genres; these intermediate forms may retain some of the prestige of their élite antecedents while at the same time becoming accessible to emerging bourgeoisies less steeped in aristocratic tastes. In North India and Pakistan, for example, a pop, cassette-based version of the light-classical Urdu ghazal became widely popular in the 1970s among bourgeois audiences, combining simplified diction and standardized melodies with some of the expressive mannerisms of its aristocratic antecedent (Manuel, 1993, chap.5). Elsewhere in the developing world, comprador bourgeoisies are often the first social classes to cultivate local popular musics, typically by indigenizing musics associated with colonial or post-colonial élites. Thus, for instance, West African brass band Highlife developed in part out of local renditions of foxtrots, mazurkas, and marches played for Christian élites.
Nevertheless, despite the economic, ideological, and aesthetic hegemony exercised by élites, it is often the lower classes that play the most important role in creating modern urban popular musics, such as Afro-American rhythm and blues, Greek laika, Texas-Mexican conjunto music, Indonesian dangdut, and Colombian porro. The general categorization of such diverse entities as ‘people's music’, however (Keil, 1985, p.119), may not do justice to the heterogeneity of urban social formations, in which a number of distinct social classes, even within the realm of subaltern groups, can be seen to play their own qualitatively distinct roles in musical culture.
In several cases, ‘people’s musics’ have emerged not from the working class (an assimilated, wage-earning proletariat) but from more marginal sectors of society. Particularly notable is the musical influence sometimes exercised by lumpen proletarian groups. While often including some rural migrants, lumpen subcultures are generally wholly alienated from rural society, knowing and celebrating no other home than the urban underworld, in all its bohemian perversity. Such diverse musics as Indonesian kroncong, Greek Rebetika, the early Tango, South African marabi, and Trinidadian Steel band music have emerged primarily from this otherwise most peripheral and liminal part of society (see, for example, Becker, 1975; Holst, 1975; Castro, 1984, 1986; Erlmann, 1991; Steumpfle, 1995). As mentioned above, other forms of ‘people’s music’ distinct from those of the assimilated working class can arise in association with rural migrants to cities. Such genres rarely develop in isolation, however, but are rather the products of mutual and ongoing interaction with dominant groups. Processes of hegemony and resistance are invariably conditioned by the complex and contradictory dialectics of the social configurations involved. Some lower-class idioms eventually percolate upwards to become accepted by the middle and even upper classes, as the new genres grow in sophistication and attract the input of trained bourgeois musicians, music industries recognize the profits they potentially offer and urbanites belatedly acknowledge them as aesthetically valid expressions. Such interactions often involve a ‘stereotyping and reappropriating’ dynamic (Keil, 1985), wherein dominant groups co-opt and stylize subaltern groups’ music. Such appropriations by élites may involve complex mixtures of enthusiastic patronage, paternalistic exoticism, and opportunistic exploitation. More subtly, as some have argued, élite appropriations may serve as strategies by which dominant groups reformulate hegemony and preserve core values by regulating and incorporating elements of subaltern expressive culture. For their part, subaltern performers, conditioned by the ‘doubleness’ of minority identities, may participate in this process in order to gain access to markets. In some cases, however, they are eventually able to transcend such house-of-mirrors deformations and to popularize more vital versions of their music. The emergence of Cuban dance music in the early 20th century, for example, involved complex dynamics of white Cuban racism, bourgeois cultural nationalism, the influence of foreign interest in Afro-Cuban music, and the successive white acceptance of Afro-Cuban music in parodic, diluted, and eventually dynamic forms (Moore, 1997). As Turino (2000) has discussed in relation to Zimbabwe, nationalistic elites outside the developed West may cultivate an aesthetic cosmopolitanism that inspires them to support not only Western musics but also syncretic forms of local popular music, especially if the latter – such as the music of Thomas Mapfumo – enjoy some appeal in the West itself. Similarly complex social dynamics in a popular music’s development may obtain in relation to horizontal dialectics between groups in different geographic regions within a country.
However, many of the most widespread popular musics do not bear exclusive class affiliations, especially in developed countries such as the USA where mass-media culture, middle-class values, and an ideology of individual opportunity are pervasive. Further, in many countries, such as in most of the Caribbean, notions of class are inseparable from racial or ethnic distinctions, which may be accordingly more significant as emic constructs. In much of Africa, ethnic and linguistic differences and urban/rural (or ‘urban/bush’) dichotomies may inhibit class consciousness and constitute more essential analytical categories. Even in some monolingual countries, such as Trinidad and Guyana, preferences in popular music are less likely to be determined by class than by race (East Indian or Afro-creole), illustrating how socio-economic classes are only potentially rather than inherently constituted. Furthermore, as has often been noted, social classes are porous entities, and their forms of expressive culture are invariably conditioned by processes of mutual, incessant, and often contradictory interactions with other classes. Such considerations do not negate the importance of class as an analytical construct, but illustrate its inseparability from other parameters and perhaps explain the tendency of modern studies of popular music to focus on other aspects of identity, including gender and ethnicity.
Many aspects of the development of modern popular musics are best understood as ramifications of the advent of modernity in general. Urbanization, the mass media, and the rise of modern social classes (considered in §§2–4 above) are important components of modernity, along with more general processes of commodification and the emergence of modern bureaucracies and the concept of the nation-state. In most of the world these phenomena have tended to be associated, directly or indirectly, with capitalism and westernization, although distinctly non-Western forms of modernization have certainly evolved. Equally important to the rise of popular musics are more subjective features of modernity, including the spread of secular rationalism, a sense of individual responsibility and freedom, and the diminished social and ideological realm of inherited religion, dogma, and habit. The undermining of traditional identities may itself generate neo-fundamentalist revivals of sectarian or religious identity, which, while reacting against modernity, are at the same time firmly embedded in it.
The spirit of modernity, however locally experienced, pervades most world popular music, whether in the parameters of style or in song lyrics. This spirit is most typically expressed as one of two reactions – angst or exuberance – to modernity’s disruption of traditional beliefs, social relations, and modes of production: as noted in §4 above, a sense of loss and dislocation is often particularly explicit in musics associated with lumpen proletariats and migrant underclasses, from rebetika and arabesk to the early tango; alternatively, modernity’s erosion of tradition may be experienced as liberating and exhilarating, and is celebrated as such in various world popular musics, however modulated through local cultural configurations. Political songs denouncing social or political oppression represent a third expression of this spirit, one that is characteristically modern in its links to concepts of human rights and Enlightenment values.
In most of the world, popular music’s celebrations of freedom appear in the somewhat more subtle but no less profound form of songs about sentimental love. Romance and desire are hardly new phenomena or lyric topics, but the portrayal of a relationship indulged in for its own sake by two socially autonomous beings is a distinctly modern entity, linked to the detachment of love and marriage from kinship and economic considerations, the liberation (however incomplete) of women, and the disassociation of sexuality from procreation. Modern sentimental love has become the single most prominent theme of popular music around the world, contrasting markedly with more traditional portrayals of heterosexual relationships as embedded in and often constrained by specific social circumstances. In South Asia, for example, the traditional Urdu ghazal, like medieval troubadour songs, portrays the lover pining for a woman whom he has only glimpsed, while folk genres such as rasiya (Manuel, 1993, chap.9) typically focus on the tensions and frustrations associated with village life and watchful relatives. By contrast, commercial Hindi film songs tend to depict the more distinctively modern form of ‘pure’ relationship, wherein the only factors involved are the emotions of the two individuals. In Mexico, the emergence of a distinctively modern perspective is epitomized, in a different manner, by the contrast between, on the one hand, the traditional corrido, narrating tales of war, banditry, and heroic struggle, and, on the other, the romantic bolero and ballad, which, like most modern popular song, rigorously avoid reference to any social contexts or constraints, portraying instead an amorphous, private world of the emotions (Pedelty 1999). Although neglected by ethnomusicologists, international versions of the pop ballad, from pop Java to the songs of Julio Iglesias, have become central features of world music cultures.
Sentimental pop songs have been criticized as being complicit with the most overtly commercial aspects of capitalist music industries. In their rigorous avoidance of social contextualization they orient themselves towards passive fantasy (often focussed on the idolized star performer) rather than social action, and both exploit and help to create the homogeneous mass audiences sought by record industries. At the same time they may constitute expressions of hope and utopian affirmation of a private emotional sphere uncontaminated by the commodifying and dehumanizing forces of modernity (see Giddens, 1992, p.44).
The message of emotional and sexual freedom, whether conveyed in pop ballads or disco-type dance-songs, may be experienced as especially liberating by women in rigidly patriarchal societies. Popular musics embodying such themes have been perceived and even repressed as threatening and subversive by conservatives in such societies; for example, militant fundamentalist Muslims have banned the music of pop singers such as Gougoush in Iran, and have even assassinated Algerian rai artists. A different sort of backlash against the female liberation implicit in the sentimental love song is represented by numerous songs in male-dominated genres such as Jamaican dance-hall that objectify women in the most explicit terms, deny any sense of male vulnerability or commitment and cynically reduce human relationships to sex and money.
6. Socio-political significance.
The tendency for scholarly literature on world popular music to focus on sociological rather than formal musicological aspects has derived both from the difficulties of conducting meaningful technical analysis (discussed in §1 above) and, more importantly, from the recognition of popular music’s undeniable social significance. Whether or not popular music is seen as aesthetically rich and profound, its pervasiveness and popularity indicate the importance of its role in contemporary culture. Much scholarly interpretation has focused on the nature of this role, and especially on its relation to interrelated questions of hegemony, manipulation, alienation, resistance, and agency.
The socio-political significance of popular music is most overt in the case of explicitly political musics, such as have occupied limited but influential and dynamic niches in various international popular music scenes since the 1950s. In general, popular music has assumed particular political significance under repressive governments, and dictatorships of both left and right have often found reason to attempt to regulate, co-opt, exile, or otherwise silence outspoken popular musicians, generating complex dialectics of accommodation and resistance in music cultures. Openly political popular song genres have been typically associated with disaffected members of cultural élites who have sought to create musical idioms that transcend hackneyed clichés and commercial packaging, yet are accessible in style and media dissemination to dominated groups with whom solidarity is sought. Such musics have naturally been diverse in form and in the socio-political contexts that condition them. At the same time, from the vantage point of the present, many such genres could be seen to cohere to a historical moment, spanning roughly from the 1950s to the 1980s, characterized by a set of international socio-political movements which, although diverse, were animated by a shared commitment to the rationalist, secular, universalist, liberal values of the Enlightenment, whether inflected with Marxism or other local liberation struggles.
In Latin America, the ‘singer-songwriter’ nueva canción (new song) movement flourished as the quintessential expression of this progressive sense of idealism, social justice, and opposition to (primarily American) imperialism. The ferocity with which such music was repressed by right-wing military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere only lent it greater appeal, urgency, and socio-political importance where it did manage to be heard. During the same period, a small but vigorous minority of salsa songs also articulated a commitment to social themes, whether Latin American solidarity and pride, the vicissitudes of barrio life, or, in the case of several songs by Ruben Blades, explicitly progressive political commentary. In Jamaica, a similar spirit of optimism, idealism, and mobilization was particularly intense during the same heady decade of the 1970s, when innumerable roots reggae songs celebrated the ‘sufferers’ and movements for social reform, whether linked to prevailing socialist rhetoric or the idiosyncratic Afrocentricity of messianic Rastafarianism. Marxist-tinged Enlightenment values also invigorated a musical movement in southern Spain, where a local ‘new song’ genre and the activist flamenco lyrics of Manuel Gerena and others openly called for reform, linking struggles for workers’ rights, redistribution of wealth, reduction of military spending, land reform, and a new celebration of Andalusian culture and autonomy. In India and Pakistan in the 1950s, such movements found parallels in the progressive Urdu poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911–84) and others, in musical settings of their verses, and in the leftist film songs embedded in the social-realist movies of K.A. Abbas, Bimal Roy, and others.
Since the 1980s such musical movements have declined in vigor and popularity, in accordance with broader transformations in the global political scene. Some of these developments have been unambiguously felicitous, such as the dissipation of Cold War tensions which precipitated the dramatic replacements of many repressive dictatorships – whether US- or Soviet-backed – by elected democracies. In Latin America, this process, coupled with a general disillusionment with the political left, deprived nueva canción of much of its sense of legitimacy and urgency. For historian Francis Fukuyama (1989), the exhaustion of structural alternatives (especially fascism and communism) to democracy and neoliberal capitalism represented the ‘end of history’, with a concurrent decline in heroic hymns of struggle and idealism. This optimism was echoed a few years later in George Lipsitz’s Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism, and the Poetics of Place (1994), which sought to illustrate the sorts of positive roles that popular music could play in a post-colonial, globalized world where multi-directional, decentered flows of transnational capital have replaced Western imperialism and weakened the nation-state, and new social movements have replaced Marxist metanarratives, presenting both new challenges and new opportunities for world popular music.
In retrospect, the optimism of the early 1990s has dissipated somewhat, as the various secular, liberal, universalist movements that, with their musical counterparts, flourished in diverse forms around the world have, with a few notable exceptions, been replaced or marginalized by a political quiescence, by a proliferation of cause-specific new social movements, or, most palpably, by militant neo-fundamentalist re-tribalisms based on religion or ethnicity. Hence, contemporaneous with the decline of nueva canción have been the move from socio-politically oriented salsa to the sentimentality of ‘salsa romántica’; the transition from idealistic, messianic roots reggae songs to the prevailing cynicism, materialism, and ‘slackness’ (lewdness) of dancehall; the rise of Serbian ‘turbofolk’ songs celebrating neo-fascistic ethnic chauvinism; and the eclipse of progressive song movements in Spain, India, and other countries where they had flourished. Many world music observers celebrated the role of the innovative songs and music videos that, as disseminated via the Internet, provided a lively soundtrack to the ‘Arab Spring’ movement that erupted in 2010. However, developments in subsequent years have suggested that the progressive and pluralistic aspects of this movement and its music have been marginalized by religious sectarianism and fundamentalism.
Many music scholars have noted that the social significance of popular music is best sought in entertainment musics rather than in the explicitly political songs on the margins of the scene. Scholarly treatments of these questions have often been informed by neo-Marxist conceptions of hegemony, while extending Marxism's traditional emphasis on class to include concerns of race, gender, ethnicity, generation, and community identity in general. Some of the more pessimistic assessments of popular music, elaborating the concept of mass culture outlined by Adorno (1962), focus on the ways in which music allegedly serves as a vehicle for the manipulation and stupefaction of dominated peoples, legitimizing unequal social orders and promoting mindless consumerism, socio-political passivity and creative atrophy. Indian film music is one genre that has been criticized in such terms, partly because of its stylistic standardization, oligopolistic modes of production and ties to escapist and arguably alienating cinematic melodramas (see, for example, Manuel, 1993, chap.3). The partnership of big business and popular music has been even more explicit in the case of Japanese ‘image songs’, which function simultaneously as ‘hit’ songs and corporate advertisements (Kimura, 1991, pp.318–19).
Most scholars since the late 20th century have tended to adopt more sanguine perspectives on popular music culture, however, exploring ways in which it can be seen as empowering, enriching, and ‘subversive’ in the sense of being counter-hegemonic and progressive. The influence of cultural studies has been particularly notable in the conception of popular culture as neither pure domination nor resistance but as a site of contestation where contradictory tendencies are symbolically negotiated and mediated. These processes may be seen not only in overtly political types of music but also in genres oriented towards diversion, personal relationships, or identity formation in general. In contrast to Adorno’s concept of passive consumption, contemporary theorists stress the importance of studying reception, noting that the meanings of a text or song, rather than being immanent and pre-given, can be co-produced by listeners and idiosyncratically authenticated by distinctive social practices. Attention has been focused particularly on the way in which subcultures and individuals construct distinctive identities by selective consumption and resignification of mass-culture artefacts. There is no simple dichotomy between creative activity and passive consumption (Middleton, 1990, pp.139–40), but rather a spectrum of social practices, often involving idiosyncratic usages, resignifications, and new technologies that blur distinctions between production, reproduction, and consumption. In world music such practices (as discussed in §2 above) include karaoke, the recycling of stock melodies (parody) in Indian folk and popular music, and the amateur production of original videos accompanying extant pop songs, which are then posted on YouTube. The emergence of ‘democratic-participant’ micro-media (see §2) has further decentralized music industries worldwide, rendering the Orwellian vision of media totalitarianism a vision of the past rather than the future. Moreover, as Lipsitz (1994, p.28) and others have shown, cultural opposition can consist not only of headlong, utopian confrontation but also, increasingly, of immanent critique from within a given ideological and stylistic culture. Such considerations both enrich and complicate the interpretation of modern culture, illustrating the limitations of Frankfurt school critiques and suggesting some of the contradictions and complexities that must be explored.
This re-evaluation of popular music and culture has inspired newly invigorated celebrations of the allegedly progressive character of musics such as Jamaican dancehall, despite its often overt glorification of machismo and violence (see, for example, Cooper, 1993, p.141; Scott, 1990). Some have questioned this sort of contemporary critical theory, with its tendency to romanticize resistance, its celebration of discursive subversion that lacks any material counterpart, and its equation of consumption with agency and of nihilistic subaltern anger with revolutionary fervour. It could be argued, for example, that while the aggressive, often sexist, and homophobic posturing of some popular musicians does indeed foreground and valorize proletarian discourse, it may represent less a subversion of established mainstream values than a hyperconformity to them. In many cases, a subaltern popular music may be less a pure ‘resistance transcript’ than a contradictory mixture of progressive and reactionary elements. It may be difficult, as Lipsitz (1994, p.25) observes, to distinguish these oblique, contradictory ‘immanent’ critiques from collaboration and co-optation. It is also conceivable that the values and intellectual interests of many Euro-American scholars have been conditioned by rock music and singer-songwriter idioms that celebrate (or even fetishize) images of ‘authenticity’, individuality, countercultural ethos, and Romantic personal expression (Stratton, 1983). While such scholars may be struck by the absence of these values in such commercially packaged genres as J-pop, K-pop, and Cantopop, the fans of these styles evidently have different expectations from their music and may be informed by cultural backgrounds that place less emphasis on individual expression, not to mention pretenses of ‘subversion’ (see, e.g. Jen, 2013). Clearly, a vast amount of research must be undertaken into the reception of popular music and its associated social practices before generalizations can be made. The work of Middleton, Erlmann, Frith, Garofalo, Lipsitz, and others has been exemplary in showing how dynamics of hegemony and resistance generally operate not in crude dichotomies, but in complex social fields replete with contradictions, ambiguities, and paradoxes.
7. Globalization and the musical dynamics of transnational cultural flows.
The ethical, ideological, and aesthetic ramifications of regional intersections between popular musics are particularly complex in the international realm, where they involve interrelated themes of homogenization and diversity, the roles of diasporas, the significance of ‘world beat’, productions, the often unequal power relationships between interacting nations, and other issues pertaining to the contemporary globalization of culture. While music and other aspects of culture have travelled extensively for millennia, it is widely acknowledged that flows of music, ideas, money, people, technologies, and media content in general intensified exponentially in the late 20th century, in tandem with industrialization, increased transportation and trade networks, and other developments. As Appadurai (1989–90) has noted, the complex and multidirectional movements of these entities are often characterized more by disjuncture than by adherence to any overarching framework (such as ‘imperialism’). The spread of the Internet and related digital technologies in the 2000s further enhanced the velocity, ease, and extent of cultural flows, enabling the emergence of a virtual global ecumene, or a set of ecumenes, that is, virtual transnational zones of constant and mutual interactions. Popular music, rather than constituting a mere reflection of these developments, has often played a focal cultural role, constituting a central element in identity construction and contestation, formation of transnational taste cultures and online communities, cross-cultural ‘affective alliances’, maintenance of diasporic networks, and other developments.
Since the 1960s, global interactions have led ethnologists and others to voice fears about the homogenization, and especially the westernization, of world music. Lomax (1968, p.4), for example, raised the spectre of a ‘cultural grey-out’, with centuries-old expressive traditions ‘being swept off the board’, leaving whole cultures both alienated and rootless. By the end of the 20th century Western pop music’s global penetration was indeed vast. Throughout the world, it has been abetted by the quest of powerful multinationals for mass markets, the extension of Western-dominated mass media to all regions and peoples, and the widespread association of Western popular culture with modernity, fashion, and personal freedom. In many countries, from Indonesia to South Africa, Western-style pop has provided an imported solution to the problem of finding a modern musical idiom with pan-regional, pan-ethnic appeal. Influenced by these and other factors, entire cultures have forsaken indigenous music traditions in favour of Western-style idioms. By far the most popular musics throughout most of East and South-east Asia, for example, are varieties of the Western pop ballad and soft rock (e.g. Japanese ‘J-pop’, Korean ‘K-pop’, Chinese Cantopop, ‘pop Indonesia’, and Thai sakon) in which distinctively Asian stylistic features are generally minimal. Such rearticulations of Western ‘light music’ may be skilful, and may even be seen as forming the bases for authentic music cultures. Nevertheless, it remains significant that, for whatever complex historical reasons, musical energies in these vast societies have been devoted less to the cultivation of distinctive, original styles than to Western-style pop – especially to what would be seen in the West as the most bland and commercial-sounding ‘easy-listening’ music.
However, such tendencies towards homogenization and westernization have been substantially counterbalanced by trends towards diversification and creative hybridity. The advent of cassettes (described in §2) undermined any hegemonies exercised by Western multinational recording companies and enabled the emergence of a wide variety of regional popular genres, a few of which, such as Sundanese jaipongan, do not exhibit any Western stylistic influence. As global communications networks spread, cross-fertilizations between genres (e.g. Korean rap, Indo-Caribbean chutney-soca) enrich and diversify the world music scene, and the sheer amount of commercial popular music available from the late 20th century has enabled trends towards homogenization and diversification to intensify in tandem. Thus, for example, the popular music scene in Java can sustain not only Westernized ‘pop Java’ and heavy metal, but also locally cultivated Sundanese jaipongan and the recent hybrid campur sari, which synthesizes local gamelan music and pop ballad idioms (Barendregt and Zanten, 2002; Suppangeh, 2003). The ethnic and nationalistic revivals flourishing around the world, in some cases promoted by national cultural policies, have also promoted local musics, both traditional and syncretic. Meanwhile, there have been many examples of music genres originating outside the Euro-American mainstream that have achieved their own international popularity, whether comprising active local cultivation or mere consumption. In the latter half of the 20th century, Hindi film music came to be enjoyed (and in some cases, imitated) by enthusiasts everywhere from Russia to Nigeria (Adamu, 2008); the cumbia became arguably the single most popular genre from northern Mexico, through the Andes, to Argentina. Congolese urban music was a dominant popular music style in much of Africa in the 1960s and 70s. Hence, global music spheres are better characterized in terms of several interacting and overlapping ‘cores’ rather than a single hegemonic core – the West – and the peripheral ‘rest’. Further, in many cases Western-style popular musics are likely to be perceived as deriving more from a nearby local culture exporter than from the West itself, as may be the case with Japan’s role in spreading Western-style light popular music throughout East Asia. Further, even when local music cultures borrow, adapt, or imitate Euro-American music genres, they invariably do so in a selective rather than indiscriminate fashion, adopting genres that somehow resonate with their particular sensibilities. Hence, for example, heavy metal rock music – both imported and locally produced – enjoys substantial popularity in Indonesia and Malaysia, but not necessarily in other regions such as the Andes, or East Asia.
In many cases, Western-derived instruments, stylistic features and social practices may be subject to indigenization, as in the use of electric guitar to imitate mbira patterns by Zimbabwean artists such as Thomas Mapfumo. Innovative musicians have not hesitated to modify Western instruments to suit indigenous styles, as in the Near Eastern technique of altering electric organs to accommodate neutral intervals, or the Vietnamese practice of carving concavities in the guitar fretboard to facilitate fast vibrato in cai luong music. Similarly the American-derived big band format informed the creation of the Mambo by Cuban musicians in the 1940s and 50s, and the emergence of similar big-band renditions of the Haitian méringue, Dominican Merengue, and Puerto Rican Plena. Western-derived music genres may themselves develop stylistically into distinctively local forms, as in the evolution of West African adaha from colonial military-orientated brass band music. In places as diverse as Sumatra, Mexico, and Brazil, brass bands constituted important transitional media for the development of syncretic local musics. Some transformations follow a process of ‘saturation and maturation’, in which a foreign (often Western) music, after an initial period of domination, is eventually absorbed and either stylistically indigenized or abandoned in favour of syncretic local genres. For example, the hegemony of Cuban dance music in much of urban Africa declined after the 1960s as performers such as Youssou N'Dour (Senegal) and Franco (Zaïre, 1938–89) gradually shifted to popular music styles (Mbalax and soukous respectively) that were more original (although not necessarily achieving such originality through adoption of elements of local traditional musics). Much of the evolution of modern African popular music can be seen less as a westernization of extant indigenous genres than as an Africanization of transplanted Western idioms.
A purely stylistic focus on cross-cultural musical borrowings may obscure the ultimately more important ways in which communities are able effectively to adopt a given music, regardless of its stylistic origin, by making it express and resonate with their own experiences and aesthetic predispositions. Puerto Ricans in New York, for example, resignified, rearticulated, and modernized 1950s-style Cuban dance music as an expression of their own world view in the 1960s and 70s, in such a way that the music, despite being a largely inherited style, well merited a new name, Salsa (see Manuel, 1994). Where societies have become alienated from their traditional musics, they may appropriate foreign music genres as dynamic vehicles for the construction of a new self-identity, becoming, in some cases, ‘more themselves’ in the process. The popularity of Bob Marley’s music among dominated peoples of colour around the world is one remarkable example, with reggae being actively cultivated and effectively indigenized by Hawaiians (under the moniker ‘Jawaiian’), Australian aborigines, and African performers such as Alpha Blondy (see Lipsitz, 1994). Such resignifications illustrate how the history of music, and of culture in general, consists not merely of the evolution of overtly new genres and styles but also of the rearticulation of extant idioms, whether local or borrowed, to respond to new social circumstances. Thus theorists such as Wallerstein (1984), Hannerz (1988–9), Hall (1991), and others describe the advent of a new global culture characterized less by relentless homogenization than by the integration, interpenetration, and rationalization of local and diverse media discourses into a set of interconnected, if internally diverse, music cultures.
Global musical flows are often conditioned by profound power asymmetries between the cultures involved, especially in the case of exchanges and interactions between the developed West and poorer nations. Some commentators since the 1960s have seen as particularly significant world popular music’s domination by Western stylistic influences and Western-based music industries and its relation to Euro-American global economic hegemony, whether in the form of direct colonial control or of neo-colonial power arrangements. Especially in the Cold War decades, it was common in some circles to characterize these phenomena as instances of ‘cultural imperialism’; while this entity was seldom defined or expostulated in depth, it generally connoted a process by which political, economic, military, and cultural power combined to exploit a society economically and to exalt and spread the values and practices of a foreign culture, particularly that of the developed West, at the expense of local cultures. Resentment of perceived cultural imperialism was particularly acute in the 1960s and 70s in places such as Iran and various Latin American countries where American political domination and intervention seemed to be coupled with an inundation of American popular music.
Critics faulted the alleged deformation and marginalization of music in the developing world, and of cultural identity in general, by the inundation of commercial Western pop seemingly superimposed by powerful Euro-American multinational record companies and radio networks. In some cases, the musical ramifications of cultural imperialism seemed painfully overt, as in the aftermath of the CIA-supported military coup in Chile in 1973, when nueva canción and even neo-folkloric renditions of Andean music were effectively banned, American pop came to dominate the mass media as never before, and leading progressive musicians were exiled or even, in the case of Víctor Jara, killed. Indeed, throughout Latin America military dictatorships supported by the USA consistently censored, exiled, and imprisoned outspoken local musicians while tolerating or encouraging domination of local media by North American music. Resentment generated by such events was exacerbated by instances of uncompensated Euro-American appropriation of non-Western songs, especially in cases where ownership or origin of the music in question was ambiguous. An egregious example of the latter phenomenon was the commercial success of the South African song The Lion Sleeps Tonight (‘Wimoweh’) in the 1950s and 60s, as performed by American groups, in such a way that denied profits to the song’s original composer, Solomon Linda, and his descendants. (Many similar iniquities have of course occurred within the West itself.)
However self-evident American political imperialism and cultural influence may have been several scholars (e.g. Tomlinson, 1991; Garofalo, 1992, pp.1–7; Goodwin and Gore, 1990) have argued persuasively that the cultural imperialism thesis is of little empirical or analytical value. In fact, the notion of cultural imperialism has been more often invoked in passing than presented as a sustained, clearly defined phenomenon. Accusations of cultural imperialism often invoke romanticized visions of a prior authentic, autonomous, and ‘pure’ local culture, uncorrupted by foreign influences. Similarly, the thesis has difficulty accommodating processes of creative syncretism and transculturation. It fails to acknowledge the ways that listeners in economically dominated cultures may actually enjoy and feel enriched by the musics of hegemonic cultures, which may be diverse and progressive in their own fashions. Hence, for example, the international presence of Western-style popular musics may indicate their genuine appeal rather than their forcible superimposition. The thesis’s imprecision may further derive from the conflation of supposed cultural imperialism with the broader spread of capitalism and modernity in general. Listeners have also been able to creatively resignify imported media images in accordance with the aesthetics and values of their own interpretative communities. During the Cold War, for example, in Argentina, local rock music, rather than constituting a vehicle for pro-American sentiment, became a vehicle for the protest of progressive young people against the US-backed military dictatorships (Vila, 1987). Local appropriations of black American musics, from ragtime to rap, by Africans, Maoris, and others, could also constitute meaningful vehicles of self-assertion rather than passive capitulation to hegemonic cultural industries (Lipsitz, 1994, chap.3; Collins, in Garofalo, 1992).
Since the late 20th century, developments such as the new mobility of capital, the enhancement of travel and media networks, the prominence of diaspora subcultures, and the rise of reactive, ethnic, or religious neo-fundamentalisms have made world culture both more fragmented and more interconnected than ever before. The globalization of world culture has necessitated the formulation of new analytical approaches to understanding cultural interactions and flows. The limited explanatory power of the cultural imperialism thesis becomes increasingly apparent in a situation where Western multinationals no longer dominate the world recording industry, and when direct, palpable American (or even distinctively Western) economic domination has been replaced by a virtual, amorphous world of rootless multinationals and global networks of capital, technologies, people, images, and cultures (Appadurai, 1989–90; García Canclini, 1990, chap.7). The ‘core–periphery’ model of cultural relations, with its crude Manichean dichotomization of the world in terms of ‘the West and the rest’, is particularly obsolete. Most importantly, the conventional conception of musical cultures as closed, organic, geographically bounded entities must be discarded in favour of an approach that recognizes each society as a crossroads on a matrix of intersecting, interacting local and global cultural flows (see, for example, Wallerstein, 1984; Robertson, 1992). The new global economy calls for a new ethnography of the circuits of global music interactions (Erlmann, 1993). Particularly noteworthy in this regard is Slobin’s replacement of the core–periphery model with a more fluid web of ‘supercultures’ and ‘intercultures’ (Slobin, 1993), whose shifting interactions involve not only hegemonic, pan-regional music genres but also myriad ‘micromusics’ representing specific taste cultures.
Many of the most vital and innovative of the new micromusics are associated not with established cultural hinterlands but with the dynamic and fluid borders, margins, and, especially, diasporas. Diaspora subcultures are of unprecedented importance in popular music production in the late 20th century, because of their increased size, their access to mass media, their self-consciousness as a group, and their proclivities towards multiple identities and cultural syncretism (see Clifford, 1994). Migrant communities are thus increasingly recognized as dynamic and distinctive subcultures in their own right, rather than as mere transplanted homeland fragments. Studies have explored the popular music cultures of such various groups, including North Africans in Paris (Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg, 1994), Puerto Ricans in New York (Flores, 1993; Glasser, 1995), Mexicans in the USA (Ragland, 2009; Hutchinson 2007), Dominicans in New York (Hutchinson, 2006), Sephardic/Oriental Jews in Israel (Shiloah and Cohen, 1983; Halper, Seroussi, and Squires-Kidron, 1989; Perelson, 1998), Haitians in Montreal (Juste-Constant, 1990), Arab-Americans (Rasmussen, 1992), Filipino-Americans (Trimillos, 1986), and South Asians in Great Britain (Baumann, 1990), in South Africa (Jackson, 1991), and in the Caribbean (Manuel, Popular Music, 1998). Certain modern cities have emerged as unique crucibles of world popular music: Paris has been for many decades a centre for African music, for example, as has New York for Caribbean music (Allen, 1998). Immigrant musics flourish in such places because of the presence of concentrated ethnic enclaves, media and technological infrastructures, political openness, and the exposure of musicians and audiences to new ideas and influences.
Popular music has been an active agent rather than merely a reflection of the dynamics of cultural globalization. As Erlmann (1993) and others have noted, translocal taste cultures have both compensated for and contributed to the decline of communities based on locality. Overtly postmodern musical hybrids celebrating fusion and pastiche both express and reinforce consumers' sense of cultural dislocation and split identities, while more selfconsciously essentialist forms of popular music are used as vehicles for nostalgic revivals of exclusivist ethnic identity, as in parts of the former Yugoslavia (Broughton and others, 1994, pp.90–91). In some cases, subcultural popular musics can be seen to use postmodern techniques of pastiche and blank irony in the service of more essentially Modernist projects of identity construction and psychic adaptation (Manuel, 1995). In general, the emerging global culture presents both new obstacles and new opportunities for progressive uses of popular music (Garofalo, 1992, pp.1–13). As Lipsitz (1994) argues, the global ecumene offers new possibilities for empowerment and mobilization. In an era characterized by ethnic and sectarian fragmentation, hybrid popular musics can offer visions of transnational alliances and expressive strategies of adaptation, opposition, and immanent critique, even if these new sensibilities may have no impact on material realities of deprivation and exploitation.
As globalization continues to intensify, in the realm of popular music various sorts of borrowings, adaptations, and recyclings will undoubtedly continue to proliferate, often involving communities or nations otherwise remote from each other, or linked by asymmetrical power relations or histories of conflict and exploitation. Ethnomusicologists and others have focused considerable attention on the sensitivities and ethical implications involved in such musical exchanges. The complexities, contradictions, and asymmetries of global cultural interactions are particularly problematic in the category of what in the USA is generally called ‘world beat’ and, in Great Britain, ‘world music’. These ambiguous terms generally connote music productions either generated outside the Euro-American mainstream (whether created by Westerners or by others) or incorporating non-Western elements that are commercially marketed to Western consumers with eclectic tastes. Reggae is generally regarded as being the original world beat music, being the first commercial popular music of the developing world to succeed in Western markets and the first to have been subsequently exploited by Euro-American pop musicians (such as Sting and Eric Clapton). In its wake many developing-world musicians, from West African bandleaders King Sunny Ade and Youssou N’Dour to Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, have oriented much of their output towards the Western market – often, in doing so, finding themselves juxtaposing different strategies in attempts to appeal to their diverse local and cosmopolitan audiences (Feld, 1988–9).
The imbalances of power and wealth that condition such interactions are particularly evident in Euro-American artists’ self-conscious incorporations of elements of non-Western music, sometimes in the contexts of collaborations, such as those between British rock musician Peter Gabriel and various African performers. Despite the honourable intentions of many such artists, these musical excursions can raise thorny questions about the power asymmetries involved. Critics allege that some Western incorporations of non-Western musics often exoticize or trivialize such musics, and that the related cross-cultural collaborative productions tend to be disproportionately profitable to Westerners. Such ethical and ideological considerations involved in Paul Simon’s album Graceland (1986), a collaboration with black South African musicians and an iconic ‘world beat’ recording, generated a substantial body of critical literature (e.g. Feld, 1988–9; Hamm, 1989; Meintjes, 1990; Garofalo, 1992, pp.1–7; Lipsitz, 1994, pp.56–61). Feld further explored how ethnographic recordings of Pygmy singing and a Solomon Islands lullaby were ‘schizophonically’ recycled (e.g. via sampling, cover version, imitation, and tune-borrowing) in diverse European and American productions (Feld, 1995, 2000). Pervading Feld’s essays is the implication – made by innuendo rather than explicit argument – that all these recyclings represent cases of iniquitous exploitation by the West of ‘the rest’. However, it could well be argued that such a Manichean, resuscitated cultural imperialism thesis cannot do justice to the complex, contradictory, multi-directional, and multi-dimensional sorts of musical flows and interactions that characterize the current globalized era.
A thorough analysis of cross-cultural musical interactions would have to comprehend the various forms of musical borrowings which, in the realm of contemporary popular music, go well beyond those outlined in the insightful but Western-oriented entry on Borrowing in Grove. Such borrowings would include: sampling of a recording (as in Deep Forest’s incorporation of snippets of Pygmy singing), imitation or cultivation of a style (e.g. heavy metal) or a stylistic feature (Pygmy-style whistling-and-vocalizing hocket technique); adaptation of an ensemble format (e.g. jazz-style big band, as employed in Cuban mambo); and various forms of tune-borrowing and cover versions. The latter could aim to precisely duplicate a given recording (as in Zap Mama’s version of a UNESCO recording of Pygmy singing); it could involve adapting a tune into a quite distinct genre and style (e.g. the use of a Western pop tune in an Indian film song); it could include singing the original text, or a new text in a different language (‘parody’). On another level, the borrowing could be effected purely for musical reasons (e.g. exploiting the inherent appeal and suitability of a given tune). Alternately, it could be intended to evoke various extra-musical associations (especially if listeners are expected to recognize the original version of the entity); in the latter case, its aesthetic and emotive effects might include exoticization, essentialization (e.g. of a given ethnic group), parody, paying homage, or evoking senses of fashion and modernity. In terms of monetary compensation, most such borrowings could be adequately dealt with by extant copyright law, if effectively administered and enforced. Borrowing of an idea (e.g. Pygmy hocket technique, by Herbie Hancock) or a style (e.g. heavy metal music, by a Malaysian band) would not oblige any sort of material compensation, regardless of whatever power relations might be involved between borrower and donor. Further, while scholars such as Feld have foregrounded implicitly unethical appropriations by Western musicians of world musics, in the current global ecumene a vast amount of ethically complex borrowing bypasses the West. Such interactions may occur within individual countries (such as a ‘new-age’ Chinese album exoticizing Tibetan music [Upton, 2002]), or may involve multi-directional ‘south-south’ interactions (such as the use of Hindi film tunes in Hausa music videos [Adamu, 2008], even as Bollywood composers such as Bappi Lahiri freely borrow tunes from various parts of the world).
Since the growth of academic feminism in the 1970s, considerable research has been published on issues of gender in Euro-American popular music and, more recently, on world popular music. Indeed, a degree of attention to gender dynamics is increasingly coming to be considered obligatory in any holistic study of a given world music genre. Hence, for example, in the realm of Caribbean popular music, notable are the works by Rohlehr (1990), Pacini (1995), Aparicio (1998), and Cooper (2004), covering gender dynamics and representations in calypso, bachata, salsa, and reggae, respectively. Published studies relating to gender issues in other parts of the world are fewer in quantity, though are increasing in number (e.g. Morcom, 2013; Weintraub, 2010; Stokes, 2010; Sugarman, 2003). These and other publications have addressed various aspects of gender studies, including the ways that gender dynamics are both represented and actively enacted in song lyrics, music videos, album covers, dance styles, musical tastes, and other aspects of music culture.
The effects of popular music on the extent to which women play an active role in musical culture are varied. Women’s musical activities, especially in traditional societies, are often relegated primarily to private, domestic spheres, with public performance being reserved either for men or for ‘professional’ women of dubious respectability. In some traditional societies the emergence of a popular music industry has reinforced this form of discrimination by creating a new and expanded sphere of public discourse from which respectable women are largely barred. Thus, for example, although women have been active carriers of genres such as Bedouin music and North Indian regional folk rasiya, modest women have been to some extent precluded from contributing to the cassette-based revivals of these musics, since it would be unacceptable for them to enter urban recording studios or for their songs to be heard by strange men (see Abu-Lughod, 1989, p.10; Manuel, 1993, pp.175–6). Instead, female popular music performers in the Arab world and other conservative societies are often assumed to be ‘public’ women in one way or another; in some cases they come from the ranks of traditional courtesan-performer castes, such as the Javanese ronggeng or North Indian nautanki theatre songstresses (Morcom, 2013).
However, there has been a marked trend for popular music cultures to accord increasing space to female performers of ‘respectable’ (if often colourful) backgrounds. One celebrated example was the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, whose humble but honourable social background and rigorous training in Qur’anic chant elevated her status beyond that of the women who sang only light, commercial songs (Danielson, 1997). Increasingly, female popular music singers come from urban middle classes, among whom female public performance is no longer regarded as improper. As a result, female singers of Indonesian popular music, Indian film music, and other genres are no longer assumed to be of disreputable backgrounds. (Female instrumentalists, however, remain small minorities in world popular music.)
In general, most commercial popular musics worldwide have tended to have predominantly male performers, to be orientated primarily towards young adult males, and to be dominated by commercial music industries whose personnel is overwhelmingly male. Many genres were products of distinctively male subcultures, including the macho, urban underworlds of rebetika and the early tango, the competitive, rowdy calypso tents, and the lower-class Dominican taverns in which urban migrant men would gather to listen to bachata. Popular musics emerging from such contexts typically focused on extravagant male boasting and its counterpart, indulgent self-pity, while either idealizing women as unattainable objects of longing or disparaging them as sex objects or as corrupted by modernity. Representing a somewhat different category of male discourse are the innumerable Dominican merengues, Cuban guarachas, Colombian porros, Trinidadian calypsoes, Indian regional folk-pop songs, and other genres that foreground whimsical erotic puns and double entendres.
However palpable the sexual politics of some song texts may seem, scholars increasingly recognize the caution that must be exercised in interpreting them and attempting to generalize about their meanings to consumers and their relations to social attitudes and practices. Many song texts are polysemic enough to allow listeners of either sex (or sexual orientation) to identify with the first-person narrator, regardless of the specific gendering suggested by the grammar or by the identity of the singer or composer. Thus women around the world are often able to enjoy sentimental male-gendered songs, even those denouncing treacherous women, by relating to the abstract emotions of longing, desire, and loss expressed in the lyrics, and overlooking the gendered aspects of the song (Manuel, Popular Music and Society, 1998). Attempts to ‘read off’ meanings from song texts are further complicated by the need to contextualize popular musics in their social milieu. Thus, for example, while some West Indian popular song texts may seem openly sexist, their musical cultures as a whole may be relatively progressive in the social space they offer to women, who can exuberantly celebrate their independence and sensuality on the dance floor (see Cooper, 1993, chap.8; Miller, 1994, pp.113–25). It must also be remembered that lyrics do not indicate social relations per se but rather attitudes about them, especially male attitudes. Therefore it may be in some cases that expressions of misogyny in song lyrics reflect less the actual subjugation of women than male resentment of or backlash against genuine female autonomy.
Such considerations aside, there is no doubt that the increasing presence of female performers and perspectives enriches popular music’s potential to constitute a democratic vox populi. Performers such as Lebanese songstress Fairuz, salsa singer Linda ‘India’ Caballero, Texas-Mexican Selena Quintanilla, and West Africans Angeligue Kidjo and Oumare Sangare have constituted inspiring role models and spokeswomen for their female audiences. Since the late 20th century more women have entered the field of popular music around the world, and the trend towards greater representation of women seems inevitable, however challenged by neo-fundamentalist reaction in places such as Algeria and Iran. Particularly remarkable is the emergence, especially in the Americas, of a set of flamboyantly sexual and transgressive female performers, such as the Cuban singer La Lupe and Jamaican dancehall vocalist Lady Saw. While seen as embarrassments by some women, to others these performers represent a new breed of emancipated women who, rather than being passive sex objects, are fully in control of their exuberant sensuality. In a different category – open to different sorts of critical interpretation – are the various forms of ‘girl groups’, in such genres as Korean K-pop and Andean techno-cumbia (Wong, 2012), which feature teenage girls who dance and either sing or lip-sync light pop songs as part of an entertainment act packaged by male producers.
In general, world popular music seems destined to reflect the greater presence of female performers, the increasing purchasing power of women and the modern trend towards greater sexual openness and awareness. In conservative societies, even sentimental love songs with no overt feminist content may be experienced as liberating to women, and accordingly controversial, insofar as they portray women freely choosing their love partners. Hence, as with other aspects of cultural dynamics, popular music does not merely reflect prevailing attitudes towards gender, but can often constitute an important arena where new identities and mores are presented, affectively explored, and negotiated. Thus, for example, the prodigious popularity of a few transparently gay musicians in socially conservative Turkey and Russia has arguably promoted a certain sort and degree of tolerance and openness of homosexuality in those countries (Stokes, 2010). Meanwhile, popular genres such as calypso, dancehall, and soukous have often served as forums for spirited gender polemics, in which male and female artists trade ripostes in successive recordings. In such animated and often humorous exchanges, popular music seems to live up to its potential as a dynamic expression of grassroots sentiment in all its earthy richness and diversity.
A prodigious amount – and perhaps even a majority – of world popular music has been associated in one way or another with dance. Scholarship on dance has traditionally lagged behind that on music, primarily because of the obstacles to notation. Accordingly, it is only relatively recently – and especially since the 2000s – that scholarly literature on dance in world popular music, whether written by ethnomusicologists, dance ethnologists, or others, has begun to appear in any quantity. Such literature is also uneven in scope, as the great majority of it deals with Latin America and the Caribbean, although studies of other culture areas are starting to appear (e.g. Spiller, 2010). Extant literature has tended to explore many of the same themes as that on world music, especially involving dynamics of class, ethnicity, gender, tradition and innovation, and cross-cultural flows. Not surprisingly, such literature reveals a rich abundance of dance styles, which in some cases may exceed that associated with a given music genre, especially since the mass media – before the YouTube era – have generally transmitted music more extensively than dance. Hence, for example, while salsa is cultivated in a relatively standardized musical style throughout the Americas, its associated dance styles (e.g. in terms of basic step patterns) vary considerably in such places as New York, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Colombia (Hutchinson, 2013). Similarly, a newly minted music genre, such as Tijuana-based nor-tec, may be danced to in a variety of styles, whether drawing on neo-traditional Mexican conventions or Euro-American disco and rave dancing (Madrid, 2006).
Like modern popular musics, some dance styles, such as those associated with Sundanese jaipongan, Indo-Caribbean chutney, and Greek bouzouki music, have origins in traditional folk genres. Others, such as Hindi film dance, are best seen as idiosyncratic modern creations. Still others are adapted, with or without variation, from international styles, especially Western ones. Most styles based on independent closed-couple dancing have ultimate roots in the 19th-century country dance/contradance complex, while the swaggering, macho freestyle moves derived from ‘gangsta’ rap have become icons of disaffected urban youth culture everywhere from Malawi to Mongolia (Gilman and Fenn, 2006). Meanwhile, a sort of nondescript, loosely Western, freeform couple or group dancing may constitute a default style throughout much of the world. Thus, for example, many Akan and Ewe Ghanaians would informally dance in that style to highlife music at a party or nightclub, though they might also be able to perform traditional dances like agbadza on certain occasions.
International dance styles can be categorized into a set of formats. An initial distinction is between social dances and presentational ‘stage’ genres performed for audiences. Hindi film dance falls in the latter category; although occasionally performed live at various sorts of stage shows, it does not form the basis of a social dance, and is quintessentially viewed in its cinematic setting of choreographed song-and-dance scenes. Another widespread format is that of a stage show featuring a band or soundtrack accompanying a small troupe of singer-dancers, as in K-pop or Peruvian-Ecuadorian techno-cumbia (see Wong, 2012). In many genres, events can accommodate both formats. For instance, a typical wedding in Sunda might feature a jaipongan troupe, whose professional dancers might first perform tightly choreographed sequences on stage, and then mix with audience members for informal social dancing (see Williams, 1989).
Social dancing itself can take a variety of formats. The format of independent couples (whether in open form or closed, ballroom-style, loose embrace) now so common throughout the world was in fact highly unusual in traditional, non-Western societies, where most social dances adhered to more collective formats (line and circle dances, or informal solo dancing amidst a group of onlookers). Closed couple independent dancing did not spread in Euro-American culture itself until the vogue of the waltz, polka, and forms of the country dance (contradance) in the decades around 1800. However, the closed couple format then spread – primarily in association with English and French forms of the contradance – throughout Latin America, and became the norm in most forms of modern Hispanic commercial popular music, including salsa, son, bolero, bachata, merengue, cumbia, tango, chicha, and norteña/tejano conjunto music, as well as the Haitian méringue. Dances within this format vary widely in style, from the languid, intimate embrace of bolero, to the tightly executed turns and ‘shines’ of salsa, and the flamboyant acrobatics of Texas-Mexican quebradita.
In modern popular music culture in the Anglophone Caribbean, closed-couple dancing is relatively uncommon. Instead, a variety of informal formats prevail. Trinidadian soca dancing is distinguished primarily by the pneumatic frontal pelvic pumping called ‘wining’ (from ‘winding’, i.e. the waist), executed primarily by women. Wining may be performed solo, by an informal group (as in a Carnival procession), or by two women, or a woman and a man, front to front or front to back. In Jamaican dancehall, formats are considerably more varied. A man and woman might sensually ‘grind’ on each other, the man leaning against a wall, or they might indulge in even more explicitly sexual ‘daggering’. Alternately, a group of friends – whether all-male, all-female, or mixed, might collectively perform whatever currently fashionable dance is called for by the ‘mike-man’, featured vocalist, or song lyrics themselves. Such dances (bearing names like bogle, buttafly, dutty wine, willie bounce, pon de river, etc.) are constantly being invented, popularized, and then discarded (see e.g. Niaah, 2010).
Much of the extant literature on dance in popular music has focused on ways in which dance expresses and (literally) embodies gender dynamics and sexual identity. Since the 19th century, dance styles have indeed provoked considerable controversy, and can be said to have constituted focal sites for the construction, redefinition, and presentation of gender relations. The bourgeois waltz itself, of course, was ‘revolutionary’ when it emerged, in its ‘asocial’ detachment of the individual couple from the broader social collective. In Latin America, popular early-20th-century closed couple dances like the tango, merengue, and son were denounced by conservatives for their intimacy and their suggestive hip-swaying. Ironically, as Chasteen (2004) explores, both dances later went on to become embraced by nationalistic elites. In Indonesia, in the early 2000s the suggestive dancing of dangdut singer-dancer Inul Daratista became the focus for a national debate about women’s liberation (Weintraub, 2010).
Aside from polemics about the degree of sensuality embodied in dance styles, scholars have endeavored to interpret the specific nature of male-female relations suggested by dance formats and styles. Although tightly coordinated closed-couple dancing, as in salsa, obliges one partner – invariably the male – to lead, analysts have judiciously hesitated to regard such a format as inherently indicative of sexist, patriarchal domination. At the same time, there is no doubt that some women take explicit pleasure in dancing independently, in a more ‘liberated’ fashion, whether with a male partner or not. Such dancing might constitute, in nor-tec, a rejection of patriarchic traditional norms (Madrid, 2006), or, in the extravagant despelote of women dancing Cuban timba, it might be interpreted as relating to the new financial independence of women in modern Cuba (Fairley, 2006). And while the vigorous ‘wining’ performed by female soca and chutney dancers has been denounced by moralists as obscene, it could also be argued – especially when performed by groups of women – to constitute an exuberant celebration of female sexuality in a way that need not depend on or even involve the participation or gaze of men. Indeed, regardless of whatever sexism might be present in soca or reggae song lyrics, women may often thoroughly dominate dance floors in these genres, literally relegating men to the sidelines.
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