#1: "Authentic Music"

The readings for this post have to do with idea of Authenticity in popular music. As a starting point we were assigned to read "4 Real: Authenticity, Performance, and Rock Music" by David Pattie long with "Authenticity Within Hip-Hop and Other Cultures Threatened with Assimilation" by Kembrew McLeod.

The authors here take two different, yet, I might conclude, similar approaches to the issue of authenticity in music. Pattie argues in large part that authenticity has to do with the musical connection that a performer or ensemble has with their audience. What makes the group and/or the music authentic is the fact that the music and performance is transformed from a performer/audience perspective to one in which the performer and audience have an experience together revolving around the music. Contrary, McLeod takes a much more "scientific" approach o looking at the issue of authenticity within Hip-Hop music. He comes to the conclusion that authenticity has to do with a number of factors that can be attributed to all music types: Social-psychological, Racial, Political-economic, Gender-sexual, Social location, and Cultural. Within the Hip-Hop world, those who are "authentic" are those who remember the roots of the music they sing, remember where they came from, and worry more about accurately portraying who they are and the life they lead (and writing music to that effect) as opposed to "selling out" by trying to adapt their music to a more popular market.

These two concepts are seemingly different, but I would argue that they are perhaps the same. One might argue that for a performer and audience to have the chance to have an "experience" with each other that the music itself (and the performer for that matter) needs to be authentic. And according to McLeod that means that they stay true to the musical genre and the meaning within that genre...they don't change their image to market themselves...they don't change the music to be more marketable or "popular".

I have to admit that I have never really heard of "authentic" versus "fake" before in the musical world. I have heard of a similar debate which I am sure has been raging on since music and art were first invented...what makes "good" art. The issue here is that what makes art "good" is in the eye of the beholder that looking/listening to that work of art. I have a feeling that the same thing is true with what makes art "real" or "authentic". It depends on what perspective and criterion you are using to define a musical genre as an "authentic" one. Taking for example McLeod's work, he narrows down to very specific categories what makes Hip-Hop authentic. What gives his argument credence s the fact that he is looking to those who were perhaps originators of the art form or part of the underground that writes in the same vain as those original founders to determine what it means to be "authentic". One of the issues that I see here is that it doesn't leave room for the development of an art form. Hip-Hop began on the streets, but does that mean that it can't evolve into something else? I can see us saying that something has an "authentic" sound but it seems that putting a series of categorical restrictions on what the "authentic" music can and should be holds it in a very stagnant pattern that doesn't allow the music to grow. Also, the fact that race is one of those categories that determine if a music is "authentic" or not is a little disturbing. That is like saying there is no white person ever who grows up on the streets and has similar experiences and can write and perform music about them in the same style and manner of a black person.

I see a potential issue with that of Pattie as well. Just because there is an "experience" that occurs between performer and audience does that mean that the music is "authentic" or "real" or does it simply mean that the performance or shared experience as it were is "real" or on a different plain? I liken this to a solo song recital. There are many works that I love to sing, that I connect with and that I perform exceptionally well because of that fact. However, as a performer, I take special pride in being able to communicate the message of a song and bring my audience into a performance regardless of the work that I am singing, the amount of life experience I bring to it, etc. I think that is part of being a great performer. And one other aspect that is perhaps ignored (or that I perhaps overlooked within his argument) is that it takes a special set of circumstances for one of these types of performances to occur (and in fact I believe he does mention this). Does one of these performance make the music all the more "authentic"...I would argue that it makes the performance at that moment in time more "authentic" but that is a reflection of all the elements coming together. However, it could be argued that a great performance cannot occur with bad music...or at least an experience such as the one being described. Food for thought...

I guess one of the questions I would ask is what are we trying to be authentic/real to? Am I looking for someone who is authentic to the genre, to a culture, to themselves? The Fresh Prince for example...many Hip-Hop artists get on his case for the fact that he "sold out". His music has moved to a commercial vain and that he has lost touch with his roots. I can see this argument, but I would ask if the music that he performs now is more of a reflection of him now? Is it who he really was the whole time? Where should his loyalties lie in this vain? Is it better to be true to who you are or to the genre you began in? Would his music be as good as it is if he were trying to force himself to stay "authentic" within the genre he is writing? Could we ever get to the concert "experience" if he didn't believe in what he was singing about?

I guess this leads me back to the very beginning...what is "authentic" or "real"? How does one know that what they are hearing is "authentic"? Do we need someone to tell us when we have heard this music? Does the market determine it? Is it only people who are inside this music that really know if the music is "authentic" or not? At the same time, how do we ensure that all the music we listen to doesn't end up as an empty shell...music that is far more concerned with obtaining an audience and making the almighty dollar rather than actually saying something...being that "authentic" music that broke in in the first place?

There is no doubt that record executives will latch on to the latest, greatest thing and try to water it down to be a marketable commodity. Country music, for example, has been mainstreamed with a "pop" music type sound. Many people have said that these artists have sold out. One might argue instead that they have brought the genre to a new group of people. Regardless, while there are still elements from the original country sound, the music is not "authentic" as it were if we compare it to Hank Williams Sr. for example.

It is definitely a tough question to determine regardless of how you view it...

I have a hard time with the second part of this assignment as I do not listen to all that much "popular" music. The only lens that I can look through this question is with art song recitalists, which is, I am sure, exactly where you would not like me to go with this post, so I will try to look at country music, which I used to listen to long, long ago.

Back in the 90's when I listened to country music; I used to listen to the likes of Tim McGraw and Collin Ray. The first question is would I define either of these as authentic? And the first question I would ask back is authentic compared to what? If we are looking at the old country music of Hank Williams Sr. and the like I would definitely say that they are not authentic. But if we are looking at the country rock genre that has developed over the years I would say that they are fairly authentic representations of this genre. A genre that has taken a number of the elements of country (the steel guitar, the country "twang" in the voice, and a great deal of the subject material) and added a more rock undertone to them. However, I don't think this is what people mean when they ask about "authenticity" in the sound so...it is a bit of a catch 22.

The more important question, weather we are discussing authenticity or what makes for "good" music is how do you prove it to someone who does not feel the same way? The simple answer for me is that I have no idea. You can bring up all the great artists of the past who established the genre and try to show the comparisons between them and your artist. You can try to discuss the elements of a particular genre and show how the artist uses these elements within their music. You can try showing them artists within the genre that defiantly are not authentic as showing them how your artist does not compare with them. Regardless, at the end of the day, it is a matter of perspective and attempting to bring them to yours through education..."there are no right or wrong answers in music...only more educated ones."

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by schoe385 published on June 2, 2010 11:25 AM.

#4: Reading response to 70's and 80's music was the previous entry in this blog.

#2: Assignment around authenticity is the next entry in this blog.

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