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How persuasive is Adorno’s essay ‘On Popular Music’ (1941) in making sense of popular music? In your essay, you should engage with the key points in Adorno’s argument whilst assessing its strengths and weaknesses.

Discussion

Music has always formed a crucial part in human lives. Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have been fascinated by sound and music. Philosophers such as Aristotle considered music as a powerful and enigmatic force that exerts its power over the human beings (Perlovsky et al. 2013). Recent research has also presented the fact that music also possesses  healing power that can assist in healing the disturbed mind. Various cultures have accepted the healing power of music (Thompson and Schlaug 2015). History is evident of the fact that musicians have tried to assess the power of music by analyzing the social circumstances in which it was created (Martin 2013). Popular music has now acquired the role of being the sound track to our very existence (Wall 2013).

In his short essay, “On Popular Music”, Theodor Adorno endeavors to distinguish between the two genres of ‘popular music’ and ‘serious music’ (Adorno). In this essay, he sets the rules for determining, comprehending and judging the subtle nuances of popular music. Followed by this, Theodor Adorno also delves into a discussion of the subtleties associated with popular and serious music. Aiming to trace, analyze and decode the arguments presented by Adorno in his essay, this essay shall delve deeper into the validity and application of the tenets propounded by Adorno in comprehending the idea of popular music.

 This essay also strives to exemplify and justify the arguments that are presented by Adorno in his Essay. In order to justify the arguments, this essay shall cite examples from the recent and ongoing trends of popular music. By referring to the examples, this essay will try to test the persuasive nature of the arguments presented by Adorno. In addition to this, the following paragraphs shall endeavor to elaborate and assess the strengths and weaknesses associated with the arguments proposed by Theodor Adorno.

Generally defined as music that is created for the commercial purpose and that is liked by many,  popular music has served to enthrall the hearts of many people (Wall 2013).

In his essay “On Popular Music”, Theodor Adorno strives to distinguish between the two forms of music by tracing the origin of both the genres of music. He even goes on to classify American music and other forms of music. Adorno argues that American music believed in the fact that the difference between serious and popular music is inherent and undistinguishable (https://260mc.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/adorno-on-popular-music.pdf 2018). Adorno goes on to say that, this distinction had taken place in European music earlier than American music (https://260mc.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/adorno-on-popular-music.pdf 2018).

 His sense of popular music is reflected in his essay where he mentions that popular music is chiefly based on standardization whereas ‘serious’ music depends on other factors. Standardization of popular music refers to the phenomenon of inculcating the similar ideas or tunes to create a particular standard (Wagner 2014).  It can be said that Theodor Adorno’s sense of popular music is quite persuasive because the idea of standardization is quite contemporary and applicable to the modern times. In his essay, “On Popular Music”, Adorno harpes upon standardization that refers to the sameness in popular music (Meier 2017). Thus, it can be said that Adorno’s essay is quite persuasive because it generates a proper sense of popular music.

Strengths of Adorno's Essay

According to the perception of Adorno, popular music fails to incorporate or display any serious or deep idea. As against this, serious music is primary focused on the portrayal of serious issues and ideas through the medium of songs. Theodr Adorno also traces the attributes of serious music that is opposed to the attributes of popular music. He mentions that ‘serious’ music is not dependent on any kind of abstraction. Instead, the constituent parts of serious music conglomerates like an organic whole where each part is irrelevant without the other part.  As opposed to ‘serious’ music, popular or rock music is based on different themes and genres (Baugh 2017). Adorno even goes to the extent of describing the manner in which ‘serious’ music is constructed keeping in mind the greater goal that needs to be achieve through the musical renditions.

It can be said that in his essay, “On Popular Music”, Theodor Adorno tries to establish the nature of popular music in a persuasive manner by projecting the features of ‘serious music’ in the limelight.

One of the major strengths of Adorno’s essay is that his proclamation about the lack of any serious subject in popular music is persuasive and justified by the modern happenings.  As can be seen in the case of the popular song “Tell Me” that was created by ‘Wonder Girls’ in 2007, had the audience hooked to their seats due to the inculcation of the dance steps and catchy lines. Nevertheless, this song had inculcated ideas and lyrics that were incorporated were mostly meaningless (Lie 2014). Recent studies have also traced the relation between violence and popular music. Lacking any proper subject, popular music also dwells on depicting violence through the lyrics or ideas. It is believed that in many cases, popular music serves as the perpetrators of violence (Wagner 2014). Thus, it can be said that Theodor Adorno’s essay “On popular Music” is persuasive enough to generate a proper, valid and contemporary sense of popular music.

One of the greatest weaknesses of this essay is that it does not try to portray the sense of popular music in a positive manner. Instead of presenting the positive sides of the emerging music scenario, this essay plunges into a deep criticism of every aspect of popular music. The author’s tall claim about the lack of any concrete subject or goal in popular music is refuted by the fact that popular music also act as protest music. Singers and artists try to voice their protests through popular music (Peddle 2017). Popular music acted as a reflection and harbinger of the ideas of the war (Garofalo 2013). In addition to this, Adorno fails to recognize the various areas of pop-music and culture. Pop-music and culture also has created a space for pop-feminism that critiques the idea of pop-music (Stehle 2013). Further, recent studies have found that popular music and culture can often conglomerate the local and the global (Brandellero and Janssen 2014). In addition to this, popular music rests on the idea of collating the musical renditions with the consumers and the industry standards. In addition to this, Adorno also hardly takes into consideration the hard work and toil that goes into the making of a popular music (Negus 2013). In addition to this, the author fails to acknowledge the intrinsic importance of popular music in contextualizing and concretizing the success of Hollywood (Spring 2013).

Weaknesses of Adorno's Essay

Despite taking into consideration the various weaknesses, Adorno’s “On Popular Music”, traces the characteristics and generates a fair sense of the ideas of popular music. One of the major strengths of the arguments presented by Adorno points towards the fact that he tries to portray the flawed nature of popular music in a very elaborate manner. In his essay, he stresses upon the idea that the elements of serious music is composed in a manner that does not allow any kind of deviation on the part of the composer. In contrast to this, popular music lacks proper cohesion and offers the scope of deviation.  A closer reading of the essay will present the nature and attribute of popular music and the importance of Adorno’s views regarding popular music. Adorno’s proclamation about the lack of unity and goal in popular music stands true in the case of the current and prevalent scenario.

According to the opinion of (Wall 2013), popular music is defined as a music that has a worldwide reach and is liked by many people. This definition corroborates the ideas presented by Adorno who had classified popular music as a kind of music that easily catches the attention of the listeners. This is directly symptomatic of the recent trends in popular music. This is exemplified in the manner in which the popular song called “Death or Glory” incorporated catchy lyrics that had created an indelible mark on the ears of the listeners (Campbell 2018). Therefore, it can be said that Adorno’s conception of popular music is quite persuasive and effective. In order to justify and elaborate his claims, Theodor Adorno goes to the extent of explaining the reasons behind the popularity of popular music and culture.

His theories are quite persuasive in nature because it establishes the nature and characteristics of popular music. The popular culture and affinity for popular music among the audience creates a false sense of choice for the consumers and audience. This leads to the further perpetration of popular music and the prevalence of popular music. Due to the availability and rampant nature of the prevalence of popular music, listeners can exercise the freedom of freely voicing their opinions and their likes and dislikes for a range of singers and artists. With the gradual technological developments, consumers can access various types of music through the various platforms (Weijter. and Goedertier 2016). With the gradual progression of time, consumers are subjected to various types of music. From American pop-music, the listeners have been given the choice of accessing Korean-pop music that has now become a worldwide sensation (Oh and Lee 2014). The consumers are subjected to the false illusion of exercising the freedom of choice. A closer examination of the various genres will reveal that all the genres follow the same standardization pattern of popular music. Analyzing this idea of Adorno, it can be mentioned that his take on popular music is very persuasive because it depicts and predicts the fate of popular music in countries such as America and others. In the present 21st century, the listeners of music are presented with innumerable choices that makes them feel superior. On the contrary, the popular music that is served to the customers lacks either any inner meaning or any proper total goal. In addition to this, Adorno also points towards the fact that the listeners of popular music often listen to those songs that are sung by popular singers and ‘stars’ (Meier 2017). This leads to the perpetration of the idea of myriad choices for the consumers. Thus, it can be said that Adorno’s essay is strong and persuasive in generating a fair idea of popular music.

The fact that Adorno’s arguments about the popular music is quite persuasive is justified by the fact that in the second section of the essay, he elaborates on the idea of plugging. This refers to the manner in which the music makers strive to create and re-create the similar kind of music that ensures proper consumer support and loyalty. This idea is highly contemporary because it depicts the nature of popular music in the current scenario. Theodor Adorno goes on to mention that in order to generate listener approval, it is necessary for the re-vamped or re-created popular music to include the idea of ‘glamor’. This idea of Adorno is quite persuasive because it helps the current music makers in inculcating the idea of glamor in re-vamped music that helps in garnering the attention of the American listeners. As can be seen in the case of “Tell Me”, its catchy phrases and ideas were trickled down to the grass-root level where every commoner was addicted to the music and the tunes (Lie 2014).

A similar kind of catchy phrases and repetitive ideas of “Tell Me” can be seen in some songs of K-Pop (Lie 2014). In addition to this, “On popular music” also talks about the idea of entrapping the minds of the listeners by incorporating various attention-seeking tactics such as including and enhancing the known rhymes and structures. This helps in grasping the attention of the audience. As can be seen in the popular music genres of this century, majority of the songs try to incorporate the already existing rhymes for children in order to attract the attention of the listeners. In this manner, the audience is relegated to the role of a baby minus the responsibilities of an adult. In addition to this, Theodore Adorno also gives vent to his ideas related to popular music in the section where he mentions that the creators and pluggers try to attract attention by intermingling various genres. This idea is indeed persuasive because it establishes the nature and attribute of the popular music in the recent times.

In the penultimate section of the text, the author of this essay elaborates about the importance and reaction of the listeners when they are exposed to continuous plugging and repetition of songs. In popular music, either the various parts of the songs are taken from previous counterparts or they incorporate the already existing rhymes or poems (https://260mc.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/adorno-on-popular-music.pdf, 2018). Adorno mentions the fact that after a point of time, the listeners can start identifying the repetitive nature of the lyrics or tunes. This argument of Adorno is very persuasive because it foreshadows the condition of the listeners in the 21st century.

  Music segmentation has always inculcated the concept of repetition (Kaiseer and Peeters 2013). Despite the inclusion of repetition in various genres, Popular music’s inculcation of the repetition of music has crossed certain limits. Repetition ensures recognition of the listeners (McVicar et al. 2014). There are innumerable songs that either intermingle existing songs or try to re-invent the existing songs by innovating it. Thus, it can be said that the arguments presented in Adorno’s “On Popular Music” reflects and reinforces the idea and nature of popular music and its recipients. If recent trends are to be believed, the recipients of popular music often undergo a psychological sense of recognition that enables them to identify and compare the source and the present song. Once the recipients start recognizing the source and origin of the previous songs, they tend to reject the songs for feigning and repeating the previous ideas. Adorno even focuses on the fact that the repetitive nature of the music pattern is emblematic of the mundane and repetitive nature of the modern life.

 This argument of Adorno can be seen as a valid and reflective of the contemporary trends. One of the greatest strengths of the arguments presented by Adorno points towards the fact that he has tried to enlist the various problems associated with the rise of popular music that is chiefly focused on rambling the same ideas and lyrics to garner the blind and negligent support of the listeners. Recent studies have presented the fact that despite the ramblings, Americans listen to popular music on a basis of eighteen hours per week (Nunes, Ordanini and Valsesia 2015).

A weakness of “On Popular Music” is that it does not elaborate or lay much stress on the positive effects of repetition in popular music. Repetition assists the listeners in being well-versed with the lyrics (Nunes, Ordanini and Valsesia 2015).

Nevertheless, the fact that Adorno’s “On Popular Music” present persuasive arguments is justified by the fact that he analyzes even the role and nature of the listeners who listen to various streams of popular music. One of the major strengths of Adorno’s essay is that it even endeavors to discuss about the listeners to assess the nature and sense of popular music. Adorno classifies the listeners and mentions that only those who are obedient and emotional listen to every kind of popular music. It can be said that the repetitive nature of the popular music is so compulsive that listeners are bound to listen to the music that the creators have to offer. The emotional listeners tend to connect with the musical renditions on an emotional level where they imagine themselves to be present in the situation. Further, emotional listeners have revealed that emotions can be evoke even by high volume or use of heavy metal instruments (Liljeström, Juslin and Västfjäll 2013). Given the nature of popular music, these emotional listeners cannot stay away from popular music. 

In addition to this, in the concluding section of the essay, Adorno also throws light on the aspect of temporary nature of every popular music. His conception of popular music also throws light on the fact that a form of music might not be able to survive after the span of a time-period. Adorno’s observations are justified and is persuasive in nature.

A closer look at this idea will reveal the weakness vested in the argument. Adorno failed to recognize the development of popular music as the “popular music culture” heritage in countries such as UK (Roberts 2014).  A chief weakness of this Essay is that the author failed to recognize that even popular music can generate and create a heritage of its own. Each genre of music can create its own lineage and hold over the minds of the population that ardently listens to it. Analyzing the various points mentioned by Adorno in his essay “On Popular music”, it can be said that the author has even tried to express his discontent with the popular music.  Adorno considers the effect of popular music on the human mind as a negative one that is indelible and cannot be easily erased. Thus, it can also be said that the author has presented his personal and caustic view of popular music that can be challenged by other followers of popular music and culture. Despite the weakness vested in “On Popular Muisc”, Theodr Adorno enlists the key points that help in generating a fair and total sense and idea of popular music.

Conclusion

After analyzing the above-discussed ideas, it can be concluded that Theodr Adorno’s “On Popular Music” presents a comprehensive and rational view of popular music. The arguments presented in “On popular Music”, in a very persuasive manner, endeavors to create a fair sense of popular music. Though the author fails to take into consideration the various positive attributes associated with popular music, the author discusses about ideas that are reflective of recent trends.    Though there are certain weaknesses vested in the arguments propagated by the author, most of the arguments and tenets propounded by the author are valid, justifiable and strong.  A closer look at “On Popular Music” can reveal the myriad strengths of the essay that delves into an in-depth analysis of the nature of popular music.

References

Baugh, B., 2017. Prolegomena to any aesthetics of rock music. In Rock Music (pp. 3-9). Routledge.

Brandellero, A. and Janssen, S., 2014. Popular music as cultural heritage: scoping out the field of practice. International journal of heritage studies, 20(3), pp.224-240.

Campbell, M., 2018. Popular music in America: The beat goes on. Cengage Learning.

Garofalo, R., 2013. Pop Goes toWar, 2001–2004: US Popular Music after 9/11. In Music in the post-9/11 world (pp. 35-58). Routledge.

https://260mc.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/adorno-on-popular-music.pdf (2018). https://260mc.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/adorno-on-popular-music.pdf.

Kaiser, F. and Peeters, G., 2013, May. Multiple hypotheses at multiple scales for audio novelty computation within music. In Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP), 2013 IEEE International Conference on (pp. 231-235). IEEE.

Lie, J., 2014. K-pop: Popular music, cultural amnesia, and economic innovation in South Korea. Univ of California Press.

Liljeström, S., Juslin, P.N. and Västfjäll, D., 2013. Experimental evidence of the roles of music choice, social context, and listener personality in emotional reactions to music. Psychology of Music, 41(5), pp.579-599.

Martin, P.J., 2013. Music and the sociological gaze. In Music and the sociological gaze. Manchester University Press.

McVicar, M., Ellis, D.P. and Goto, M., 2014, May. Leveraging repetition for improved automatic lyric transcription in popular music. In Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP), 2014 IEEE International Conference on (pp. 3117-3121). IEEE.

Meier, L.M., 2017. Popular music as promotion: Music and branding in the digital age. John Wiley & Sons.

Negus, K., 2013. Music genres and corporate cultures. Routledge.

Nunes, J.C., Ordanini, A. and Valsesia, F., 2015. The power of repetition: repetitive lyrics in a song increase processing fluency and drive market success. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(2), pp.187-199.

Oh, I. and Lee, H.J., 2014. K-pop in Korea: how the pop music industry is changing a post-developmental society. Cross-currents: East Asian history and culture review, 3(1), pp.72-93.

Peddie, I. ed., 2017. The resisting muse: popular music and social protest. Routledge.

Perlovsky, L., Cabanac, A., Bonniot-Cabanac, M.C. and Cabanac, M., 2013. Mozart effect, cognitive dissonance, and the pleasure of music. Behavioural Brain Research, 244, pp.9-14.

Roberts, L., 2014. Talkin bout my generation: popular music and the culture of heritage. International journal of heritage studies, 20(3), pp.262-280.

Spring, K., 2013. Saying it with songs: popular music and the coming of sound to Hollywood Cinema. Oxford University Press.

Stehle, M., 2013. Pop?Feminist Music in Twenty?First Century Germany: Innovations, Provocations, and Failures. Journal of Popular Music Studies, 25(2), pp.222-239.

Thompson, W.F. and Schlaug, G., 2015. The healing power of music. Scientific American Mind, 26(2), pp.32-41.

Wagner, T., 2014. Branding, Music, and Religion: Standardization and Adaptation in the Experience of the “Hillsong Sound”. Religion as Brands: New Perspectives on the Marketization of Religion and Spirituality, pp.59-73.

Wagner, T., 2014. Branding, Music, and Religion: Standardization and Adaptation in the Experience of the “Hillsong Sound”. Religion as Brands: New Perspectives on the Marketization of Religion and Spirituality, pp.59-73.

Wall, T., 2013. Studying popular music culture. Sage.

Weijters, B. and Goedertier, F., 2016. Understanding today’s music acquisition mix: a latent class analysis of consumers’ combined use of music platforms. Marketing Letters, 27(3), pp.603-610.

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