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Music Is a Form of Art

  • Date Submitted: 03/15/2010 09:03 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 41.8 
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‘Pop music can be described as standardised and formulaic. Critically assess this claim.’

With numerous reality television shows focusing on the music industry, such as Pop-Idol and Fame Academy, it isn’t difficult to imagine why ‘popular music’ can be described as standardised and formulaic. These shows base themselves on finding the right formula of image, sound and charisma in order to become successful in the popular music market, suggesting that success in the market is reliant on conforming to a specific formula. However, ‘Popular Music’ itself is a contested term, and so I shall begin this essay by examining two varying definitions, that of the Positivist and that of the Essentialist. I will offer a very basic definition of ‘popular music’ for the purpose of this essay, and will also show how ‘formula’ and ‘standardisation’ are intrinsically linked to one another. I will then introduce the work of Theodore Adorno, discussing his use of the terms ‘culture industry’ and ‘commodity fetishism’, and showing their relevance to the popular music industry. Adorno’s theory of standardisation reflects the production, textual form, and consumption of popular music, and so next I shall show how production of music is simply reduced to reproduction, how structurally the textual form is standardised, and even the responses and reactions of the audience are conforming and standard. I will introduce the concept of pseudo-individuality, and will show how this masks standardisation for the purpose of the listener. Finally, I will draw on the criticisms of Chambers, Gendron and Middleton to show why Adorno’s theory may not be as convincing as it would first appear.

The term ‘popular music’ encourages considerable debate. It was first coined in the first half of the nineteenth century, and was used to describe songs for the bourgeois market that were well liked by those whose opinions were believed to be superior. However, the term in this instance was replaced by the...


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