Saturday, September 15, 2012

Adorno "On Popular Music"

This post is a bit late, but I wanted to share the videos I presented during my Media Share on Tuesday!

Just a brief recap, Adorno contrasts popular music with "serious music", and he concludes that pop music is characterized by standardization while in serious music, "every detail derives its musical sense from the concrete totality of the piece which, in turn, consists of the life relationship of the details and never a mere enforcement of a musical scheme."

Pop music examples 

Kpop (similar format, repetition of title)
Gee - Girls' Generation

Sorry Sorry - Super Junior

Taylor Swift - #2 on Billboard 100 list
This song is a good example of how "popularity lists" can play a role in boosting the actual popularity of a song.
Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Same Chord Songs
Also, if you remember in class, we watched the "4 Four Chord Song" by Axis of Awesome.
I was telling Alenda that there are a couple of Chinese popular music combos that use the same concept. Here is just one example:
This is a 13-minute long song that combines about 30 popular Chinese songs. I don't think they use the same four chords throughout, but the concept is very similar.

Hope this helps explain Adorno's concept on pop music!


  1. Thanks, Vivian! What is going on with all of the desserts in the Chinese music videos? It almost seemed like we were watching a movie of the same couple over the course of their relationship. And I love that the medley is titled "情歌王" (Love Song King).

  2. I guess it's a long delayed reply, but the "Love Song King" reminded me of some experience and ideas I would like to share.

    There is another song called 勁歌金曲 sung by the same singer, and that song is combination of 37 Cantonese pop songs. The word "勁歌金曲" means "hit song" in the canton pop culture. Here is the link:

    However, a critic of Hong Kong popular culture once said that such combination could show nothing but the lack of creativity and diversity in canton pop. Lyrics picked from different songs can be put together but still make sense, even tell a reasonable story. And the melody from different hits can be combined together with little difficulty. These facts remind me of Adorno's argument that in popular music every detail is substitutable while serious music is a concrete totality.(19)

    Also, these two songs are often heard in Karaoke. I guess it's because these songs provide people with the opportunity to sing so many hit songs which they are so familiar with. When I thought about the reason why people like to go to karaoke, the reading "Everyone's A Star" occurred to me. I guess maybe it's because the facility and atmosphere of karaoke provide us with the illusion that we are all pop stars singing the biggest hits.