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Music and Rebellion in the Era of Commercialization Essay

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Updated: Mar 17th, 2020

Popular music has always been closer to the industry than it has been to art. The very term has become a synonym for selling out. The pop industry has never carried any relation to art, always pandering to the target audience to the point where it bordered on being obnoxious.

However, music is only a tool, and it as used not only by corporate monsters to define the future trends for teenagers and adolescents, but also by the artists, who are willing to introduce people to new ideas, represent a new kind of art forms and stir a revolution in music.

Nevertheless, when it comes to popular music, one must admit that it has never featured any elements of rebellion; even those artists, who were trying to deliver some fresh ideas, inevitably get caught into the corporate master plan and result in promoting the ideas that get green-lighted in the music industry machine.

One might argue that some of the pop music representatives defy the very nature of pop music by creating the images that are interpreted even by an average viewer as gaudy, tasteless and, therefore, unattractive. The first example that comes to mind, the image of Lady Gaga is often viewed as controversial to the point where it might border a certain revolutionary concept, like denying glamour by pushing it to the breaking point, for instance.

However, the specified case cannot be considered revolutionary, because, while mocking the current trend, Lady Gaga, like many other artists, who resort to the same technique, does not offer anything substantial or new instead. Therefore, her image is a clear-cut example of commercialization of music.

True, the same cannot be said about such singers as Iyeoka (an African-American singer), Tango with Lions (a Greek indie and alternative music group), and a few more.

The aforementioned musicians make admittedly authentic music, thus, introducing the audience to a range of new ideas, if not revolutionizing the current perception of music as it is. These artists, however, exist in a specific niche, which is too far from the mainstream product to introduce something new to the stage (Luvaas 96).

It would be wrong to claim, though, that pop music witnessed or stirred any major revolution in the 50s and 60s or introduced revolutionary ideas to the society.

Though some of the artists of the 50s and 60s are considered the representation of the fight for women’s rights, the calls against racial profiling, etc., the artists themselves never started the specified movements – they just jumped on the bandwagon, noticing how big these movements were becoming.

Even the people, whose personalities would later on be turned into a cult, such as Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley, cannot be credited for changing a specific aspect of the U.S. social life entirely.

For example, Sinatra is often mentioned as the singer, who was altering the image of a woman in American society by addressing the issue of relationships between a man and a woman.

However, a closer look at the trends of the 1940s and 1950s will reveal that Sinatra was not the only and, most probably, not the first one to come up with such an idea. In the era of the WWII, when women were encouraged to be emancipated, independent and strong, following Rosie the Riveter’s famous slogan, the sudden shift of the focus from household to social engagement was far too stressing (Goldin 743).

Hence, the romantic drama movies like Casablanca, the traditional damsel-in-distress characters like Lois Lane from 1948 Superman movie, and the romantic and light-hearted songs like Come Fly with Me and From Here to Eternity allowed for maintaining the balance between the two extremes. People did not need songs about female empowerment since they had already been fed up with the WWII propaganda of a “strong and independent woman.”

Compared to the 80s and 90s, when the early marketing endeavors of the pop music industry were quite obvious, the modern attempts at making pop singers look “revolutionizing” seem almost subtle.

The huge success of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (which is defined as rock, yet was a major hit among the general audience at the time) was unbelievable, yet hardly unpredictable, seeing how the kids-rule theme had swept the entire MTV by the time that the song was allowed to be seen in prime time (Hains 110).

It can be suggested that pop artists may come up with a unique product. Moreover, it is possible that this product is going to change the current pop culture entirely, giving it a new meaning and even creating a new movement. The question is, though, whether this product will be allowed into broadcasting.

Unless the ideas that musicians are trying to get across comply with the general set of products and ideas that the society and, therefore, the pop music industry, is ready to deliver to young listeners, an artist will never be able to create anything revolutionizing within the pop music format.

Consequently, in the realm of the pop music industry, be it contemporary or not, revolution is literally impossible, because every single band, artist and song are scrutinized and shaped until there is nothing socially disruptive left in them whatsoever. It is often maintaining their success and keeping the audience’s attention and interest peaking that makes pop artists come up with controversial statements and material.

It is quite remarkable that in case the need for an artist to restore their fame arises, modern music industry does not restrict these artists in the choice of the shocking material that they decide to come up with – as soon as the audience starts forgetting a certain pop artist, the latter is practically incapable of tricking them into paying attention, not to mention following the artist’s lead.

Because of the specifics of the process that music has to undergo in order to be labeled as “popular” and be broadcasted via modern and traditional media, there is no way that pop music can be revolutionary in the exact meaning of the word.

While popular music may spawn a new subgenre and even define the culture of an entire generation, as it was with the Generation X and grunge, every step that the industry makes is a result of months of marketing strategies development.

While at the very first stages of their evolution, pop artists and bands may come up with a relatively fresh and unique concept, the music industry will inevitably turn these early manifestations of rebellion into an on-coming trend, therefore, making the realm of pop music one of the safest and the most profitable money making machines ever created.

Works Cited

Goldin, Claudia D. “The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women’s Employment.” The American Economic Review 81.4 (1991), 741–756. Print.

Hains, Rebecca C. “Power Feminism, Mediated: Girl Power and the Commercial Politics of Change.” Women’s Studies in Communication 32.1 (2009), 89–113. Print.

Luvaas, Brent. “Exemplary Centers and Musical Elsewheres: On Authenticity and Autonomy in Indonesian Indie Music.” Asian Music 44.2, (2013), 95–114.

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"Music and Rebellion in the Era of Commercialization." IvyPanda, 17 Mar. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/music-and-rebellion-in-the-era-of-commercialization/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Music and Rebellion in the Era of Commercialization." March 17, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/music-and-rebellion-in-the-era-of-commercialization/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Music and Rebellion in the Era of Commercialization'. 17 March.

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