Critical Reflections on the Concept of Popular Music
Defining what is understood by the term “popular music” has always been problematic, and the term has tended to be used in a vague and indistinct way that can encompass a wide range of fundamentally different musics. This article examines attempts to define the concept of popular music, and considers the problems and debates they raise, drawing particularly on the extensive Anglo-American work that has been done in this area since the 1970s. The discussion emphasizes the concept of popular music material and offers a critique of the notion of “common stock” proposed by Russell in 1970. Central to the argument is the commodification of popular music not only as object of desire but also as material object. The approach, which is philosophical, is derived from critical theory. Issues of conceptualization, reception and changing understandings of popular music are viewed in the context of digital technology, commodification, globalization, and ideologies of authenticity.