Music of the United States

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Month: October 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Democratic Authenticity

Our discussion in class on Friday about the ‘authenticity’ of Iggy Azalea inspired me to think more bout the role of entertainment and the formation of authenticity.  Performs are judged by the public based upon a myriad of factors- moral behavior, treatment of fans, and authenticity.  Being in the spotlight requires a certain ‘image’ to be presented, and this image must be deemed ‘authentic’ by the public in order to be accepted.  However, as in the case of Iggy Azalea, what the public believes is or is not ‘authentic’ may not coincide with the the true ‘authenticity.’  Therefore, the concept of ‘authenticity’ is socially constructed, especially within the entertainment industry, and what is deemed ‘authentic’ is a story or image presented to the public and accepted by relevant others.

This is not a new idea; the relationship between authenticity and public acceptance has been around for centuries.  In The Prince, a dejected and ostracized Machiavelli states, “a prince will not actually need to have all of the qualities previously mentioned, but he must surely seem to have them..I would go so far as to say that having them all and always conforming to them would be harmful” (69).  For Machiavelli, ‘authenticity’ is a dangerous thing and it is more advantageous to emulate the image the image you desire, rather than reveal your true nature.  The same philosophy is adopted by many popular music artists.  They give the audience what they expect to see, and they are declared ‘authentic.’ We saw this with Black Minstrels, popular Hip-hop music, and Hillbilly music.  All of these genres had specific images associated with their performance, and in order for the performers to be accepted by the public, they lived up to the audience’s expectations by wearing blackface, describing violent communities filled with crime, or wearing overalls, respectively.

How is something socially declared ‘authentic’?  In music, the public has a general image or expectation based upon a basic working knowledge of each genre or group.  But what factors play into this basic level of knowledge?  Richard A. Peterson argues that ‘authenticity’ is based in ethic/cultural identity, the elasticity of group membership, status identity, the authentic experience, and the constructed self.  I would argue that each of these factors is very influential in determine is a performance is authentic, but I would not argue that each of them is equally important for all groups.  For today’s entertainers place heavy emphasis on the “constructed self,” where they remain true to a fabricated self that is deemed ‘authentic’ by the public but is not an ‘authentic’ representation of them as an individual.  This creation of a public identity is an adherence to the same principles described by Machiavelli in 1532, where perception of the public is the most important thing to consider when in a position of social or political power.  The individual must play the role of a ‘performer’ for the public rather than be a true representation of themselves.  They are only an ‘authentic’ representation of the image the public has placed upon them.

The implications of the publics influence over ‘authenticity’ has several implications.  One of the most apparent and worrisome is the changing nature of authenticity.  ‘Authentic’ music is defined by the public and it can be changed by the public.  This is clearly seen in our study of Elvis’s covers of R&B songs originally performed by black artists.  The public believed that R&B was exclusively a black style of music, but when American youth responded positively to Elvis’s performance of R&B, the image of R&B and later Rock ’n Roll was changed forever.  The publics change of perception influenced and defined genres of music who still influence the music industry today.  Recognizing this influence makes me wonder about other examples of where public has lead to the success and failure of musical artists.  It also makes me question the integrity and ‘authenticity’ of music as a representation of the artist/perform themselves.  Is success an indicator of a loss of self, forfeited at the price of fame obtained by being molded and shaped by the public?

Hip-Hop: An Authentic Brand of Music?

Hip-Hop is a cultural movement that formed during the late 1960’s among young African Americans residing in New York City. New York is essentially the birthplace of Hip-Hop, or at least where the records were made. Hip-Hop is characterized by many elements, such as, visuals (art), sound (rap),  and physicality (gangs). Hip-Hop continues to grow globally and these elements have a profound impact as to why. These elements of Hip-Hop culture depict how it is an authentic brand of music because the music tells a story.

Lets take a personal experience of mine, from when I attended a music festival. The performers included, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and other Hip-Hop/rap artists. First, when you enter the building the first thing you see is a multitude of diverse visuals, such as, graffiti and posters. Secondly, you begin to hear the diverse beats and flow of songs from the artists. Finally, the multitude of people who have lined up to see and hear the artists become rowdy and boisterous. These three things that I encountered while first entering the music festival, demonstrates the many elements Hip-Hop is built upon.

In the performance that J. Cole put on at the festival, he sang many songs, but one that stood out to me was No Role Modelz. This song, which is a top hit on his Forest Hills Drive album, stood out to me not just because of the flow or beat, but also because of the story it told about J. Cole. For example, the lines, “No role models and I’m here right now, no role models to speak of. Searchin’ through my memory, my memory, I couldn’t find one.”, tells us how in his childhood, he could not name a role model for him. It also sheds light upon the fact that he made it this far in life and is successful despite not having a father figure growing up. This depicts  how everything in the songs have meaning, from the lyrics to the beat or to splicing and sampling from other artists.

https://youtu.be/e3XquGJfL_I

This type of music is authentic because authenticity in its definition is the full expression of individuality. As we have seen, such Hip-Hop songs, have a meaning beyond what most people may perceive as simply a rhyme or flow and tells a story of the artists themselves or of a place, or a people. It goes without saying that Hip-Hop shows pure expression of the individual and created a new and novel culture in the U.S. that still lives on today.

Works Cited:

YouTube

Blanchard, Becky. “The Social Significance of Rap & Hip Hop Culture.” Edge. 26 July. 1999. Web. 18 October. 2015. https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/socialsignificance.htm

Rockabilly

Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music. It began to become prominent in the U.S. in the early 1950’s.  The term “rockabilly” itself is a combination of “rock” (from “rock ‘n’ roll”) and “hillbilly”. “Hillbilly” music, later gave rise to  a genre we know today as “Country” music.

“Authenticity” and Lana Del Rey

For many, Lana Del Rey emerged with the popularity of her sophomore album “Born to Die” which was released in January of 2012. The album, which included hits such as “Summertime Sadness” and “Born to Die”, was immensely popular with several remixes (such as Cedric Gervais’ electronic remix of Summertime Sadness) reaching the top of the charts in the musical world. These songs contain the similar trend featured in many of Lana del Rey’s albums- a softer, lower, sadder tone often about love with many references to American life in the 50s and 60s. However, Lana Del Rey has often faced heavy criticism aimed at her “indie” musical persona and its authenticity.

Much of the criticism surrounding Lana Del Rey stems from her appearance on Saturday Night Live on January 15th, 2012. Fresh off here recent success of the new album, the January performance was for many their first interaction with Del Rey. It was disastrous. Her live performance on songs such as “Blue Jeans” and “Video Game” was very amateurish and awkward, leading many in the indie world to question whether or not she was actually making this music with sincerity or simply acting (poorly) to fill the demand in a particular market. The Saturday Night Live performance and other live performances she has done seem very different from her persona represented in her various music videos, which are very high quality and well produced. Artists in music videos usually act out a story or play a role, but many question whether the entire persona that is “Lana Del Rey” is an act extending to her lyrics and songs as a whole. The blog “Hispter Runoff” was particularly critical of her authenticity, bringing up facts such that she is supported by a very wealthy, entrepreneurial father and rumors that she underwent several plastic surgeries to change her image. All of their issues with Lana point to her being “fake”, and taking advantage of a genre of music with no real authenticity or artistic integrity.

The success, however, has continued for Lana del Rey as she continued to release hit songs. Her album “Ultraviolence” was released in June of 2014 and was described by the pop singer in a BBC interview as “more stripped down but still cinematic and dark”. If there were any uplifting or happy elements to her music in “Born to Die”, it was all erased in her more recent work, becoming deeper and, against all of the odds, even more brooding. I think that her more recent work including her 2015 album “Honeymoon” highlights her development as an artist since the “Born to Die” days of 2012. I think the change in her music overall in a way dismisses these original criticisms and in a way, her darker tone in more recent years could be a sort of response to the ever-critical media and her detractors. While I myself am personally more of a fan of her earlier music, I think the themes and deep emotions that she brings up are insightful. It is simply good music, and I think it is difficult to say that she is inauthentic or shallow.

 

Frere-Jones, Sasha. “Screen Shot: Lana Del Rey’s Fixed Image.” The New Yorker. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/02/06/screen-shot>.

 

Lena, Jennifer C. “Why Hipsters Hate On Lana Del Rey.” Pacific Standard. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. <http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/lana-del-rey-hip-hop-grunge-rick-ross-authentic-music-50442>.

Authenticity in “To Pimp a Butterfly”

Werktreue is a German term defined that refers to the integrity of a work by a composer. It focuses on the techniques, styles, and composer’s intentions that the work includes, giving it a “real meaning.” As our central question for this unit is, “Are there authentic musical identities?” werktreue is a critical term for understanding authenticity. Relating all of this, authenticity can be defined as the true intentions of the composer, the origins of his music, and the setting in which they perform.

To Pimp a Butterfly is an album by Kendrick Lamar that was released in March of 2015. The authenticity of this album is unquestioned; not only did Kendrick Lamar fuse funk and rap together in a similar fashion that Elvis fused rock and roll and the blues (such as in his first recording, That’s All Right), but he did it in a way that was true to his location, Compton, and made a point with his album in the process.

First, let’s examine the fusion of two styles of music, funk and rap. The album is officially classified under the genre “hip-hop,” but through Lamar’s usage of bass in many tracks in a funk-like style while applying rap lyrics really qualifies it as a genre of its own. Part of this album’s authenticity comes from venturing into an otherwise untouched genre, giving it a unique musical identity.

Kendrick’s unparalleled loyalty to Compton is also a key part of the album, seeing as he mentions his city in almost every song. If we examine location and place as a key element of authenticity, then To Pimp a Butterfly exemplifies authenticity to perfection. We saw with N.W.A. that ties to location are not only a great selling point, but also a key indicator of an identity. N.W.A. gave themselves the identity of Compton gangsters and were authentic in that identity. Similarly, we see Kendrick Lamar discuss the issues of Compton and his upbringing there, giving him the identity of a Compton boy who endured the troubles of a hard city.

Lastly, the social commentary of this album is unique in that Kendrick is talking about how he came out of the hood and became successful. In his final song Mortal Man, which sums up the entire album beautifully, he says that even though he was from the hood, he respected the process and respects people, regardless of race or gang affiliation. Lamar recognizes that he now has an incredible influence on listeners, and wants to spread a message of respect through his music.

Werktreue and authenticity are seen throughout the entirety of To Pimp a Butterfly. Kendrick’s ties to Compton, fusion of funk and rap, and his honest intentions to spread a message of respect all combine to make this album truly authentic. It’s no wonder that Kendrick Lamar is one of the best rappers right now, as he makes profound points through his clever rhymes.

Works Cited:
Ball, Jeffrey S. “Werktreue: Or How We Handle Composer’s Intent.” MUSC 930 Romantic and Modern Music. Brown University, 9 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

Fabian, Dorottya. “Meaning of Authenticity and The Early Music Movement: A Historical Review.” JSTOR. Croatian Musical Society, Dec. 2001. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

Hillbilly Music and Authenticity

10607Possum-HuntersWhen I think about Hillbilly music, the stereotype of a backwoods man with a banjo comes to mind. Why is this? Does this accurately portray “authentic” Hillbilly music? This connotation was purposefully engineered by Ralph Peer and other producers of the Bristol Sessions. Dr. Humphrey Bate and the Possum Hunters were a popular band, representative of the genre, who were known for their mastery of strings and the harmonica. The band members wore clothing that fit the stereotype of Southern Appalachia despite Bate’s medical degree and Vanderbilt education. The group was originally known as the “Augmented Orchestra,” but changed its name in an effort to fit the southern and “hick” persona dictated by producers of Hillbilly records. Allan Moore states that authenticity is related to “[the singer’s] fundamental role to represent the culture from which he comes.” (209) This implies that authenticity is tied to honesty and truth. This definition de-authenticates Hillbilly music because of the façade that it is marketed with. Early photos of the group at a recording studio show them in proper attire, but a marketing ploy took them back to indecorous dress that would advertise them as “backwoods” artists.

Hillbilly music encompasses many varieties of music, including but not limited to country, gospel, ballads, and classic fiddling tunes. Bristol, Tennessee, the “metropolis” of Appalachia, is where Peer and a recording crew set up shop for a temporary recording studio where they recorded (and discovered) many Hillbilly artists. While the artists were true to themselves in Bristol, the music put forth on records conformed to societal expectations. This false presentation of the artists defies the aspect of truth that Moore discusses when referring to authenticity. Since the presentation of the artists lacks integrity, it is safe to assume that other aspects of the genre share the same deficit. Bate and his family lived in urban Nashville, yet on stage his daughter wore a gingham dress that would have been appropriate for a prairie girl. Early Hillbilly music was recorded in Bristol, but later acts were recorded in cities like Nashville where equipment and sound quality were significantly more advanced. But, records sound the same. This is because recording engineers and producers manipulated tracks and staging in order to falsify a low quality experience.

In conclusion, Hillbilly music is inauthentic because authenticity is impossible when truth and integrity are not central to the process. Taruskin, referenced by Moore, states that authenticity is “independent of the values, opinions, and demands of others.” Unfortunately, Hillbilly music does not live up to this definition because it is based on the values and opinions of customers.

 

“Dr. Humphrey Bate and the Possum Hunters | Biography & History.” AllMusic. Accessed October 15, 2015. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/dr-humphrey-bate-and-the-possum-hunters-mn0001241955.

Tick, Judith, and Paul E. Beaudoin, eds. Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

The Rolling Stones and Southern Authenticity

In her article “’There’s No Home for You Here’: Jack White and the Unsolvable Problem of Blues Authenticity,” Kimberly Mack cites The Rolling Stones as an example of a band that attempts to authentically enter a distinctly American music scene. The fact that the Rolling Stones are British certainly does not help them in this pursuit. Mack references Stones member Keith Richards’ assumption of the character of a blues musician, but I would like to carry her discussion into the realm of their “Southern rock” or “country” work. The Rolling Stones, a London based band, admittedly do not achieve the authentic Southern personas they seem to be trying to represent in a large part of their body of work. The Stones are an important band to me—my parents love them so I grew up with them, and they were my first concert. It’s hard for me to set my love for the Stones aside, but their failure to achieve an authentic musical identity is important to recognize.

“Sweet Virginia” stands as an example of the Stones’ attempt to create music that fit in the musical scene of the American south. This song evokes something “Southern” through its use of an acoustic guitar. This song does includes drums whereas traditional hillbilly music only uses string instruments. Mick Jagger’s drawling way of singing on this asserts a dominant Southern aesthetic over the whole song, though. The song does not sound like British men wrote it, and it also does not sound like it was recorded in London and Los Angeles*—it sounds like a country song.

“Wild Horses” is a similar example of the Rolling Stones’ take on Southern music. Mick Jagger’s drawling vocal style is present in this track as well. Moreover, the first minute and seventeen seconds of the song mainly feature his voice and an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar occasionally chiming in but never taking precedence. This song eventually has a drumbeat, too, but its simplicity allows the track to showcase the country-sounding guitar parts. “Wild Horses” is the third track on the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, part of which was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. Even so, the rest of the album was recorded in London, and a recording location in the American south does not add authenticity to the Stones’ attempt at creating Southern music.

The elements in both “Sweet Virginia” and “Wild Horses” that do resemble elements of authentic Southern music still do not add up to an authentic Southern identity in the Stones’ music. In her article, Mack cites various blues critics who contend that “blues music is racially marked as black, and no non-black musician can, therefore, authentically play the form” (Mack 178). Authenticity is therefore tied to identity, which, in turn, is often tied to place. Hillbilly music, out of which the genre of country music grew, is rooted in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The Rolling Stones, then, can borrow elements of this musical style and incorporate them into their own sound, but they cannot achieve an authentic musical identity.

 

*“Sweet Virginia” is the sixth track on The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, which was recorded at Olympic Studios in London, and Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles.

Mack, Kimberly. “’There’s No Home for you Here’: Jack White and the Unsolvable Problem of Blues Authenticity.” Popular Music and Society 38.2. (2015): 176-193.

Authenticity and Gangster Rap

Gilbert and Peterson–as referenced by Allan Moore in his article “Authenticity as Authentication”–note that “authenticity [is] guaranteed by the presence of a specific type of instrumentation…[the singer’s] fundamental role [is] to represent the culture from which he comes” (209). Such a definition implies that authenticity is an umbrella term for which artists speak the truth of his or her own situation, the truth of the situation of (absent) others; and the truth of their own culture, which thereby represents present others (Moore 209).

Moore offers that there is first, second, and third person authenticities that can be assigned to a particular artist. First person authenticity entails that a performer succeeds in conveying the impression that his/her work is one of integrity. Meaning, acts and sonic gestures are interpreted by an audience as investing authenticity in those acts and gestures. Second person authenticity depends on what the musical experience is constructed around—or, what the music denotes. Third person authenticity entails trusting that a judgment is legitimate within a particular community.

Moreover, according to Richard Taruskin as referenced by Moore, authenticity is a “‘sentiment of being’…that is independent of the values, opinions, and demands of others” (67).

Because social, cultural, and socio-technological constructs are how audiences perceive a performer as being authentic, it is impossible to truly identify a performer as authentic. Additionally, according to Kimberly Mack in her article “‘There’s No home for You Here’”: Jack White and the Unsolvable Problem of Blues Authenticity,” authenticity is specifically tied to race. For instance, a white musician who writes blues music is not authentic, but rather is showcasing an “honest expression.” Therefore, because authenticity is not palpable, and there is not a consensus on its definition, it cannot exist.

Specifically, characteristics of gangster rap are not in accordance with the Moore’s definition of authenticity, if there truly is one.

Primarily, to be a successful rapper, one must own turf—similar to a gang takeover. According to Dr. Dre, as referenced by Quinn in his article “Nuthin’ But a G’ Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap,” “‘Compton exists in many ways in the music to sell records’”—an indication that a region can be used as a brand identity (an obvious commodification) (76). After N.W.A.’s release of “Straight Outta Compton” groups including CMW and Quik emerged. Although they battled to be the top rap gang, these three groups were allies, “black entrepreneurs” as stated by Quinn, who worked to consolidate “Compton’s status as preeminent ghetto’ (78).

Furthermore, rappers who rapped about “‘beefs’” with other communities drew media attention, which “helped forge gangsta’s trademark antagonism” and increased sales (79). For instance, in Murder Law’ single “Murder Rap,” rapper Go-Mack attacks Ice Cube’s upbringing to which Ice Cube responds calling Go-Mack a “‘poseur’” who is not from a real ghetto (79). Similarly, New York rapper Tim Dog attempts to delegitimize the southern Californian style in several of his verses.

The United States became fascinated with gangster rap music especially after “rap music gained national video exposure and a large white youth audience with the arrival of Yo! MTV Raps in 1988, following the launch of Rap City on BET” (84). It provided a supposed insight into black ghettos and underdeveloped urban areas. The presence of gangster rap was solidified when Niggaz4Life reached number one on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart in 1991. Ever since, gangster rappers have achieved fame and fortune since entering the industry.

Perhaps one may feel like the rapper N.O.R.E who stated in an interview—“‘right now, I really don’t care if an artist is talking about he’s killing people and he’s going home to potpourri in his bathroom’”; never-the-less, gangsta rap has become an industry in which selling albums is paramount, thereby proving that it is not authentic music (Tardio).

 

 

 

Origins of the blues in the southern United States

In our class textbook, Judith Tick showed us the early origins of the blues in the southern United States. In chapters 41 and 43 specifically, we read about “slave songs,” which were songs that slaves sung together and shared an identity in.

In the videos that we watched in class, we saw multiple African-American men singing “work songs” in unison so that everyone was on the same pace. These videos were examples of early blues, and the blues are a type of music that early slaves shared in authentic identity in.

Works Cited:

Tick, Judith, and Paul E. Beaudoin. “Chapters 41, 43.” Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. 219-224, 229-234. Print.

Werktreue

“Werktreue” is a German term that refers to the integrity of a work by a composer. It focuses on the techniques, styles, and composer’s intentions that the work includes, giving it a “real meaning.”

Works Cited:

Ball, Jeffrey S. “Werktreue: Or How We Handle Composer’s Intent.” MUSC 930 Romantic and Modern Music. Brown University, 9 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

Fabian, Dorottya. 2001. The Meaning of Authenticity and the Early Music Movement: A Historical Review. International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 32(2): 158.

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