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Monday, January 21, 2013

When did pop become the dominant culture?

There was an interesting irem on the Today Programme this morning in which James Naughtie talked to a couple of politicians about the remarks of Liz Forgan, outgoing chair of the Arts Council. She said nowadays politicians are reluctant to let their constituents know they've been to classical concerts or the opera, for fear of being seen as elitist. Whereas, she said, they're happy to be seen going to rock festivals.

This was followed by a very good Start The Week which featured America's foremost classical composer John Adams talking about where "serious" music stands. Adams described popular culture as a behemoth flattening everything in its path. "You can't try on a pair of pants without listening to hip hop," he said.

Of course Adams is right. Pop is now culture's default position. It's unimaginable that a new arts programme or supplement could be launched today without an interview with Damon Albarn or a think piece about Scandinavian detectives. It wasn't always like this. When did this change take place? Some of us grew up in a world where pop was still the sub-culture. It was always being chased up trees by the dominant culture of serious music and serious books and serious people. Pop was the brightly-coloured alternative world into which you could momentarily escape through "Top Of The Pops" every Thursday or every other Wednesday with "Smash Hits".

About fifteen years ago I realised there had been a war between serious culture and pop culture. It had ended and Pop had won. Clearly. Trouble is I have no memory of that war taking place.

8 comments:

PK said...

I think you need to be a bit clearer in defining "pop". After all, one of the great battles in that cultural war you're describing was when "rock", which was "serious", replaced "pop", which was "frivolous" - and perhaps that was the turning point?

And Damon Albarn as "pop"? Did you HEAR that composition he produced for the anniversary of the BBC? As serious as any piece of avant-garde composition...

Mikey said...

I blame the Beatles. For EVERYTHING.

John Medd said...

You can't imagine the suits walking under the Apple building in 2013 bemoaning the racket going on above their heads. Pop is no longer the counter culture.

Michael Cook said...

Pop won the war round about Live Aid, I'd say.

Nick Smale said...

Not a war, just a generational shift. The serious people died of old age, and the pop people, being younger, outlived and replaced them. Given another generation with different priorities, things could easily change back.

rivets said...

Also something to do with teachers and schools and the curriculum and just a slow shift away from regarding "serious" music as something special. Possibly also a decline in people taking formal music lessons which are still utterly tied to the classical canon, and instead picking up a guitar and just learning. It's a lot easier to sound good on a fretted, stringed instrument when you have not much technique, as compared with anything else. The Banjo had a burst of popularity in the '20s for similar reasons, also the current fashion for the ukulele (and that had its time earlier on too)

londonlee said...

When the people who grew up on rock and roll became the establishment.

Blackacre said...

Caught up on a Desert Island Discs with Eric Pickles whose records were a mix of jazz and opera. So not all politicians feel the need to be populist.