Music In Different Cultures

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Music in Different Cultures

Popular Music


In its broadest sense, popular music is an umbrella term referring to a vast range of commercially mass-marketed musical genres contrasting with classical or art music and intended for mass consumption (e.g., rock, rock and roll, hip-hop, grunge, heavy metal, rhythm and blues, punk, soul, techno, funk, rap, house). This wide-ranging term encompasses a plethora of musical styles involving various rhythms, vocal styles, instruments, and technologies. Characteristically, popular music is a global cultural phenomenon and an accessible form of commercial music aimed at a worldwide audience. Traditionally, British and American forms of popular music have tended to dominate the industry. Corresponding to social, economic, and technological change, popular music is intimately linked to the identity of musicians, performers, or artists, as well as audiences and fans.

Discussion and Analysis

Popular music is ubiquitous; from shopping malls and advertising to gymnasiums/fitness classes and political campaigns, popular music is a common feature of people's everyday lives and a significant aspect of consumer culture. For fans and enthusiasts, popular music can be a leisure-time pursuit occurring on evenings or weekends; alternatively, it can constitute a lifestyle, or way of life (e.g., Deadheads—a group of fans of the American band Grateful Dead who saw the band at as many gigs and festivals as possible from the 1970s onward). For many people, the consumption of popular music is a significant means of identification, affiliation, and belonging. Different forms of popular music can create pleasure and excitement for some and moral panic and dread for others; it is a much debated and important realm of cultural life with significant implications for our understanding of consumer culture.

Providing a concrete and tangible definition of what constitutes popular music has been the subject of much academic debate. As Richard Middleton contends, attempting to define popular music is “riddled with complexities” (1990, 3). Studies of popular music encompass a range of approaches from musicological, whereby music is commonly analyzed as a text, to sociological, which tends to focus on the social uses of popular music and the dynamic and interactive relationship between popular music, culture, and society. Popular music is commonly understood as being intrinsically linked to popular culture. Sociological studies of popular music audiences tend to use either questionnaire-based survey methods; ethnographic approaches, such as participant observation and in-depth interviewing; or a combination of the two. Through survey research, tastes in popular music are understood as being shaped by a person's gender, age, social class background, and race/ethnicity.

To a certain extent, sociological approaches to studying popular music stem from cultural studies, an offshoot of sociology developed primarily in the 1970s at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) in Birmingham, England, led by Richard Hoggart and later Stuart Hall. A number of notable popular music theorists worked at the CCCS, including Dick Hebdige, Iain Chambers, Angela McRobbie, and Paul Willis. A major focus of the CCCS was the study of youth culture and subcultural analysis; subsequently, popular music was perceived as central to adolescent resistance, understood as key ...
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