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Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE.

Apply research relating to both a)


AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
The legacy of Theodor W. Adorno has become a particularly pertinent issue within the
academic field of cultural studies and indeed within the hypernym of popular music. Adorno adopts
a Marxist approach to his work and his writings are particularly focused within the academic fields of
musicology, sociology and philosophy, of which provide critique to modern society. His theories and
works particularly reflect upon mass production that is perpetuated by Adornos concept of the
culture industry. Much of Adornos work was written about the standardisation of popular music
forms that discussed the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy of pseudo-individualisation that is
ubiquitous within the seemingly autonomous nature of popular music art forms. Adorno was also
concerned with Hermeneutics the ways in which literary texts are observed and interpreted,
notably, within his works with aesthetics and aesthetic theory in relation to art and society. Although
his work might appear dated, much of his work is still considered to be relevant and can still be
applied to popular music that is being produced and consumed in the present day. An example of
this can be observed in the song titled Im Yours by Jason Mraz (2008).
The concept of aesthetics has been applied to various forms of cultural texts including
literature, art and music. The term has its origins in hermeneutics and can be described as an
interpretation of the observers experience with a cultural text, both visually and aurally. Aesthetics
is concerned with perception, how we see art, read literature and listen to music. (Beard & Gloag
2005: 5) This suggests that the concept of aesthetics is concerned with how an observer perceives
and rationalises a text. Within the hermeneutical analysis of popular music, the concept of
aesthetics becomes particularly pertinent to the understanding of how an individual would interpret
a popular music text as the concept of aesthetics is concerned with the nature of popular music,
what popular music means to the individual, and the value that popular music has within culture and

Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
society. According to Adorno, the value of popular music has become diminished within culture and
society due to the increasingly heteronomous and standardised nature of the art form.
The concept of standardisation within popular music is one of Adornos most notable
theories. The theory of standardisation comes from the post-industrial notion of Fordism the
production line paradigm whereby similarly to a car manufacturing production line, pieces of
popular music are template manufactured and mass produced by the culture industry. Although
Adornos work within this subject was written during the 1940s, this concept still maintains highly
valid and relevant when applying it to present popular music production. According to Adorno, The
whole structure of popular music is standardized, even where the attempt is made to circumvent
standardization. (Shuker: 2005 114) Adornos claim is that regardless of authorial innovative
intention, popular music has become heteronomous in nature and that artistic and creative
innovation must adhere to the overly deterministic paradigms established by the consciousness of
historical conventions that are pre-determined by the postmodern epoch that culture, popular
music and society co-exist within. According to Adorno, the concept of standardisation can be
applied to any convention within a popular music text. Standardization extends from the most
general features to the most specific ones. (Frith & Goodwin 1990: 256) For example, the concept
of standardisation can affect the themes to which lyrics are written for, the typical harmonic
phrasing used within a popular music piece, and the typical song structure and section duration
within a popular music song. Adorno also attempts to establish a dichotomy between popular music
and serious music, Adornos dichotomy suggests that serious music consists of motifs that are
forever changing and evolving; whereas popular music reflects the familiar patterns and structures
of past popular music conventions. Many authors of popular music attempt to circumvent this

Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
notion of standardisation in an attempt to establish a sense of originality within their work in order
to attain the label of serious music.

One of the most pertinent considerations within Adornos concept of standardisation is the
desire of an individual that consumes popular music to experience a sense of individuality.
Particularly, the illusion of free choice and individual music taste within an open market created by
the culture industry in order to allow the listener to accept the phenomenon of standardisation
within popular music. Adorno refers to this process as pseudo-individualisation. The necessary
correlate of standardisation is pseudo- individualisation. By pseudo- individualisation we mean
endowing with the halo of free choice or open market on the bases of standardisation itself. (Storey
2005: 79) According to Adorno, the process of pseudo-individualisation helps maintain a relationship
between mass cultural audiences and the music that they listen to as the culture industry helps the
consumers gain a sense of identification with the music that they listen to without revealing the true
standardised nature of the music that they consume. The concept of pseudo-individualisation may
also affect the author of a popular music piece, in addition to the interpreter and consumer. Adorno
focuses his writings in this area upon the popular music form that existed during the time of his
research jazz music, particularly jazz improvisation. Improvisations passages where
spontaneous action of individuals is permitted are confined within the walls of the harmonic and
metric scheme. (Frith & Goodwin 1990: 261) Therefore, according to Adorno, jazz improvisation
cannot claim to be individual and original with validity as they do not break traditional musical
structures and conventions; instead, they conform to them. This suggests that any musical activity
that situates itself within the hypernym of popular music will eventually succumb to the vicious cycle
that postmodernism perpetuates that originality is confined within the conventions of the past and

Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
that any activity that concerns the process of innovation merely seeks out to utilise these
conventions in the present.
Adornos concepts of standardisation and pseudo-individualisation can be observed
throughout popular music, one particular example of this can be observed in the popular music song
titled Im Yours (2008) written and recorded by singer-songwriter Jason Mraz. One of the most
apparent ways in which this song conforms to Adornos concept of standardisation is the way in
which the song conforms to the popular music convention of love within the lyrical content. This
theme becomes apparent to the observer without listening to the song. The song title Im Yours
could connote the metaphorical declarative of giving oneself to another using the aesthetic of
romance to provide the interpreter with contextual information about the main theme of the song
before being listened to. The aesthetic and standardised theme of love continues to transcend
throughout the song and proceeds to become more apparent within the song lyrics. Lyrics such as
But do you want to come on Scooch over closer dear, and I will nibble your ear (Mraz 2008) help to
perpetuate the standardised theme of love that transcends throughout popular music and it is the
aesthetic that provides the listener with the sense of identification that maintains the listeners
interest and commitment to the consumption of the song and indeed, songs with similar aesthetic
appeal and thematic content. The notion of standardization is also evident within the musical
components of the song. The simple harmonic phrasing utilizes the IVviIV progression, a
progression that features predominantly in numerous other popular music recordings including the
songs Poker face by Lady Gaga (2008), Someone Like You by Adele (2011) and Under The Bridge
by The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1992). As a result of its over usage within popular music, the
progression has become infamous among songwriters and is therefore avoided by many serious
musicians; therefore, this acts as an appropriate example of the highly postmodern and
4

Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
standardized nature of the Fordist paradigm to which popular music is produced. The song structure
and section duration of the song closely resembles the Stock, Aitken and Waterman formulaic
paradigm of song writing. The first verse within the song Im Yours begins at 00:18 and continues
until the first chorus at 00:45 this is then proceeded by a second verse that begins at 01:09 followed
by a second chorus at 01:39. This paradigm of song structure appears to transcend across many
artists including Kylie Minogue, Madonna and Rick Astley. Although the musical genres of Jason
Mraz and the artists that were produced by the Stock, Aitken and Waterman are quite different,
similarities such as song structure and section duration appear to transcend songs that achieve high
status within musical chart statistics.
This notion of standardisation acts as the opium of the people through the ways in which
standardised music is being distributed. Using the hypodermic- syringe model, the listener consumes
popular music unwillingly and unknowingly. Standardisation of song hits keeps the customers in
line by doing their listening for them, as it were. (Storey 2005: 79) However, this process wouldnt
occur as successfully as it does without the illusion of individuality, particularly, through the use of
Adornos theory of pseudo-individualisation. There are many examples of artistic pseudoindividualisation within the song Im Yours and they help to create the sense of individuality within
the thoughts and behaviours of the consumer. Within the song, there are sections that sound as
though they are under-produced, this effect might have been created and used intentionally in order
to create the illusion of a paradigm of authenticity in order to persuade the listener that there is an
aesthetic quality that connotes the ideas of humbleness and simplicity that relates to both song and
artist; an aesthetic that will in turn help to create and promote an appealing image of the artist in
order to reinforce the notion of identification with the music., this keeps the listeners interested in
the music by concealing the true nature of its standardised form. Although Jason Mraz uses highly
5

Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
standardised harmonic phrasing within the song, there are two instances towards the end of the
recording were a pivotal chord is used only to then be proceeded by a fully diminished chord located
one semi-tone above the previous pivotal chord. The two instances where this harmonic device
occurs shows that Jason Mraz follows a paradigm of authenticity as he demonstrates a
consciousness for musical conventions used in Ragtime and Dixieland jazz during the 1910s-1920s
era of popular music. However, this is simply an example of pseudo-individualisation within artistic
innovation manifesting itself in a postmodern aesthetic. Another instance that Jason Mraz uses a
similar postmodern musical device is through his use of scat singing that is sung over the top of a
descending diatonic harmonic pattern. This is another example of a postmodern aesthetic
manifesting itself within the knowledge of historical convention drawing upon the influence of Louis
Armstrongs vocal technique from the 1930s swing jazz era. This process acts upon the postmodern
themes of simulation and nostalgia which proceed to help maintain the illusion that popular music
can be identified with due to its seemingly autonomous nature.
However, an issue arises when attempting to analyse a popular music recording when
attempting to establish aesthetics within Adornos concepts of standardisation and pseudoindividualisation. Aesthetics cannot hope to grasp works of art if it treats them as hermeneutical
objects. What at present needs to be grasped is their unintelligibility. (Bernstein 1989: 56) Within
popular music, it is argued that it is not possible to truly understand the authorial intention behind a
text. The only ways in which to gain an understanding of a popular music text is through the attempt
to de-code the visual or auditory signs provided by said author in order for the un-coded information
to become intelligible. The meaning of literature is realised at the moment of reception rather than
the moment of creation. (Toynbee 2003: 102) Within the popular music song Im Yours it was
noted previously that the thematic aesthetic of love transcends throughout the song; however, one
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Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
interpretation of the signifier Im Yours may be interpreted in a different way depending upon the
observer of the text and their interpretation of the text. In addition to this, the song features lyrical
content that certainly requires hermeneutical interpretation. For instance, the song lyric "Checking
my tongue in the mirror" (Mraz 2008) is much too ambiguous to be considered denotative which
signifies that the lyrical content is required to be subjected to a level of interpretation in order to decode the information in the lyrics to create an intelligible meaning behind the signifier. Listeners
may interpret a song in a way that has little to do with what the performer felt when they
recorded or wrote it. (Brackett 1995: 15) This would suggest that popular music could be
considered to be autonomous in nature. However, this is not to suggest that the musical component
of the song can also be considered autonomous, musically the song still conforms to the
standardised paradigms of popular musics heteronomous nature, particularly, within the songs
simple harmonic phrasing, structure and the duration of the sections. Regulated, rational relations
of notes brought into a system, by Rhythmos the temporal order of music. (Bowie 1989: 70) This
implies that popular music forms are affected by the postmodern nature of its consciousness for
historical conventions; this perpetuated by the culture industry allows for the standardisation of
popular music conventions to ensue whilst still maintaining the illusion of innovation and originality
in order to allow an acceptance within the thoughts and behaviours of the listener; therefore, for
mass consumption of standardised cultural products in the form of commodity fetishism to continue.

Adornos concept of standardisation and the cultural theme of postmodernism correspond with one
and other and in some ways, one can be caused, or cause another. Similarly to Adornos concept of
standardisation, the cultural theme of postmodernism adopts the structuralist approach to its
analysis of culture, society and popular music. Pop has always looked to its own past, even to the

Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
days before pop as we know it was invented. (Beadle 1993: 4) The concept of standardisation could
be considered to be a hyponym of postmodernism and can be used to understand Adornos criticism
on jazz music and its standardised improvisations. Although, Jason Mrazs song Im Yours could be
considered to be a standardised form of popular music and demonstrates features that are
associated with postmodernism; as a whole, the song may not be considered to be an example of
postmodernism within music. Therefore, similarly to Adornos criticisms of the standardised nature
of jazz music, the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy that appears to encompass Adornos
concept of standardisation and the cultural theme of postmodernism does not appear to be
consistent within the analysis of both jazz music improvisation and the song analysed in this work.
This could suggest that the two concepts of standardisation and pseudo-individualisation could be
criticised by poststructuralist theory stating that popular music should not be analysed in a way that
resembles the paradigm of a positivist, objective science. Music analysis functions as the
disciplinary context that most clearly reflects a structuralist perspective in that it has generally been
concerned with the structures of music and the methods used to identify and explicate structure.
(Beard & Gloag 2005: 147) Therefore, popular music should be analysed from an interpretivist,
subjective and hermeneutical perspective in order to attempt to de-code the signs, create
intelligibility, all in an overall attempt to extract the individual meaning of a popular music text, song
or track. In addition to this, Adornos concepts are too narrowly focused on authorship and not the
interpretation of the observer and only conform to the notion that musical analysis is based on work
at the moment of creation and ignores the possibility of interpretation at the moment of reception.
To summarise, Adornos concepts of standardisation and pseudo- individualism are
particularly pertinent within popular music. These concepts became particularly apparent in the
song analysed in this work including standardised lyrical themes with the aesthetic of love and
8

Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
romance, conventional simple harmonic phrasing observed in numerous songs across multiple
genres of popular music, and the standardised song structure and conventional section durations
due the musics consciousness for past conventions manifesting itself in a postmodern aesthetic. It
also became apparent that these standardisations are aided by the concept of pseudoindividualisation the seemingly unique aspects of the music that keeps the listener from realising
the illusion of the structuralist nature of popular music, this structuralist and standardised notion of
popular music is aided by the culture industry using the Fordist paradigm with the metaphorical
production line producing and distributing music in the same way as a production line that
manufactures cars. However, Adornos concepts can be criticised for being too objective and
generalistic in the way that it measures and analyses music and ignores the concept of the death of
the author and the birth of the reader within the hermeneutical activity regarding cultural texts.

Draw upon any ONE of the topics studied since WEEK FIVE. Apply research relating to both a)
AESTHETICS and b) A CULTURAL THEME within your in-depth analysis of an individual piece of music
(i.e. a song or a track).
Cultural themes and Aesthetics 5010POP
634130
Bibliography
Beadle, J (1993). Will Pop Eat Itself? Pop Music in the Soundbite Era. London : Faber and Faber
Limited.
Beard, D. & Goag, K (2005). Musicology: The Key Concepts, Oxon: Routledge.
Bernstein, J. (1989). Art Against Enlightenment: Adorno's Critique of Habermas. In: Benjamin, A The
Problems of Modernity: Adorno and Benjamin. London: Routledge.
Bowie, A. (1989). Music, Language and Modernity. In: Benjamin, A. The Problems of Modernity:
Adorno and Benjamin. London: Routledge.
Brackett, D (1995). Interpreting Popular Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Frith, S & Goodwin, S (1990). On record : rock, pop and the written word. London: Routledge. Adorno
and Benjamin. London: Routledge.
Mraz, J (2008). Im Yours, on We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. (CD), Nashville. Atlantic.
Shuker, R (2005). Popular Music: the key Concepts. 2nd ed. Oxon: Routledge.
Storey, J (2005). Cultural theory and popular Culture. 3rd ed. Essex: Pearson Education limited.
Toynbee, J. (2003). Music Culture and Creativity. In: Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert & Richard
Middleton the Cultural Study of Music: A critical Introduction. London: Routledge.

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