Popular Music: Art, Formula or Product?

Essay by VersuviusUniversity, Bachelor's June 2004

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Popular music is popular again, and it's everywhere. Whether its the idols, the stars, the rivals or the academy, the pop music industry has never flaunted itself to such a large extent. But how can we label pop music? Where is its place? Many would argue that it belongs solely littered across the floors of teenagers bedrooms worldwide. Others would say it is most at home listed on the bank balance of a major multinational organisation. A lot of people would insist that pop music has no home, and is just a fad applauded by the culturally inept, those who are only capable of enjoying a pre-formatted, formulaic product of the 'culture industry'. Or is it infact a diverse and artistic phenomenon, allowing a socially and culturally rich expression? Maybe pop music will never be 'pigeon holed' as such, but I hope to identify the arguments surrounding popular music and determine its place within popular culture and within modern society.

The Formula

The subject of pop music seems to have been lightly touched on by many writers when talking about popular culture, but none have theorised on the topic as much as Theodor Adorno. Adorno's approach, which is bound heavily by its Marxist leanings, is based largely on observations of 1930s Germany, and subsequently, the United States when The Frankfurt School re-located to New York in 1933. Adorno talks about popular music as a product of 'the culture industry', a formulaic and stubborn master-plan to which all pop music adheres. He suggested that pop music "hears for the listener" and is "pre-digested" and he closely collaborates with Marcuse's theory of 'The One-Dimensional Man' when the culture industry is viewed as 'an irresistible force'. In light of these statements Adorno went on to conclude that pop music lacked the potential...