A Reading List
There is a fundamental “dirtiness,” an impurity, in disco and pop music precisely because of their contradictory nature, their capacity and willingness to be used in alternative and subversive ways, and this partly accounts for the bias against these uncontrollable musical forms. The art held up as most superior according to highbrow standards prizes individualistic forms of cultural production—the artist, after all, must have a “vision” or else he/she is a phony—and often lapses into an instrumentalist view of art, that it can be used to reshape society in a very mechanistic, cause-and-effect manner. One fundamental difference here, then, is in who is given the final authority in “completing” the work of art, so to speak: is it the artist, who fashions a work narrow and tailored enough to communicate a very specific vision (that you either get or you have somehow missed something), or is it the audience, who takes a somewhat “incomplete” (read: open) work of art, such as a pop song, and repurposes it to suit a variety of needs.
Trevor Link writing about “Pop Utopianism: A Manifesto” in Occupied Territories
I have no objection to dance (I like dancing, and at one time thought I was good at it), and I have no objection to dance music, I just don’t agree with the idea that in order for music to be danceable that it has to have a certain neo-fascist time signature without rhythmical variation, most of it played, these days, by machines. To me this is the sound of corporate enterprise more than it is the sound of music.
[We] Americans export our dominant culture to the rest of the world. We shouldn’t be too horrified when two French whiz producers chop it up for their own purposes and then show up to claim their Grammys.
“Obviously you can’t compete with sheer dollars,” says Jasper Goggins, label manager for Diplo’s Mad Decent, which recently branched out with a radio-targeting R&B singer named LIZ. “Those [major label] campaigns, when they’re trying to build a pop star, there’s money being spent on everything from vocal coaching to choreography to videos to studio time to producers to topline writers.” So the dwindling importance of traditional platforms like radio airplay means major label money is mitigated, not devalued. Now those same resources shift to, say, ensuring the artist is getting prime Vevo side-banner action. But there are certain holes that money can’t fill.
“Building the Imperfect Pop Star”, Amos Barshad on Charli XCX for Grantland
Now it is unambiguously the case that disco is produced by capitalist industry, and since capitalism is an irrational and inhuman mode of production, the disco industry is as bad as all the rest. Of course. However, this argument has assumptions behind it that are more problematic. These are of two kinds. One assumption concerns music as a mode of production, and has to do with the belief that it is possible in a capitalist society that are outside of the capitalist mode of production.[…]
The second kind of argument based on the fact that disco is produced by capitalism concerns music as an ideological expression. Here it is assumed that capitalism as a mode of production necessarily and simply produces ‘capitalist’ ideology…This becomes particularly problematic for capitalism when dealing with an expressive commodity–such as disco–since a major problem for capitalism is that there is no necessary or guaranteed connection between exchange-value and use-value. In other words, capitalism as productive relations can just as well make a profit from something that is ideologically opposed to bourgeois society as something that supports it…Cultural production within capitalist society is then founded on two profound contradictions–the first, between production for profit and production for use; the second, within those institutions whose job it is to regulate the first contradiction. What all this boils down to, in terms of disco, is that the fact that disco is produced by capitalism does not mean that it is automatically, necessarily, simply supportive of capitalism. Capitalism constructs the disco experience, but it does not necessarily know what it is doing, apart from making money.
Richard Dyer writing “In Defence of Disco” for the Gay Left Review, Issue 8, Summer 1979
A sea change was happening around the new millennium, and it was also tied to anxieties about the unknown future of technology. In his devastatingly smart 33 1/3 book on Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love– subtitled A Journey to the End of Taste– Carl Wilson chronicled rockism’s rapid decline: “It came with startling speed. A new generation moved into positions of critical influence, and many of them cared more about hip-hop or electronica or Latin music than about rock, mainstream or otherwise… Online music blogs and discussion forums sped up the circulation of such trends of opinion. The Internet pushed aside intensive album listening in favor of a download-and-graze mode that gives pop novelty more chance to shine.” For the music fan, the move from analog to digital means a sudden shift from scarcity to unlimited access. And as many writers have observed, the person with the most discerning taste was no longer the “music snob” devoted to obscure subgenres and hating on anything that might be popular, but instead the “cultural omnivore” who likes a little bit of everything and gives all genres– including pop– a fair shake. The tectonic plates are still shifting and colliding as we continue to sort all of this out. It remains a confusing, anarchic, oddly liberating moment. The money is spewing out of the ATMs, so to speak.
“This Must be Pop”, by Lindsay Zoladz for Pitchfork