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Pushing the Popular, or, Toward a Compositional Popular Aesthetics

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In this essay, I explore the possibility of a refashioning of the broader category of “the popular,” and further, of “popular music,” which, because of its obvious link to mass consumer culture, presents a challenge for any claims as to its transformative potential and capacity for resistance. This effort must follow the lead of various cultural theorists, who espouse something of an aesthetics of the popular, beyond, above, but also what we witness in contemporary pop and commercial artifacts, not only in terms of what's “hot” and what's not, but also in terms of the genres and artists themselves. This inevitably involves a peculiar paradox whereby we valorize, but also undermine, the popular. We embrace it, but also push its limits. To this end, I draw upon both Chris Cutler's taxonomy and criticism of the more traditional approaches to assessing the popular with respect to music and Jacques Attali's notion of “composition” to show how a reconstituted “popular” music is not only applicable to a broad understanding of music's situatedness, but can also have a significantly transformative social and political impact as well.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-02-01

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