Pop culture and counter-culture: Mutually antagonistic symbiosis

The Seranaders, looking dapper and popular in Florida (early 1900s)

There is a symbiosis between popular culture and counter-culture. Both camps deride, and seem to feel threatened, by the other but they need each-other and form a dynamic system. That dynamism is vital. Cultural evolution is important whether in the mainstream or not, though perhaps for different reasons, and both camps stimulate evolution in the other.

The genesis of this post was a conversation with a friend about the banal nature of Top 40 music, specifically how similar much of it sounds. The initial gambit was, can the computer that writes these songs be rebooted. Much popular music does sound similar and while it has always been thus, to a degree, perhaps that is becoming a more pronounced trend in our age.

Popular music is to a large degree a commodity. Whether it is produced for a major label or by an independent writer the aim is to be liked. This is a tricky aim to achieve and perhaps the best route to success is to model a song on recent hits. This confers the advantage of association as well as being a sound use of a broad kind of market research. This tactic is not going to produce a fast pace of change. Paths become grooves that become ruts that in turn become canyons and will be followed until a wall is hit, perhaps several times with the head of many artists. Then the next path will be sought out.

This approach is not quite a computer but it is systematic and will tend to produce a homogenous output. What is important to note is that there is a feedback mechanism in the system. Future popular music will tend to follow successful past hits. Consumers have a strong influence on the process but only as a group not as individuals. This can be a frustrating position as influence is so dispersed that the lone music fan is disempowered. It is important to remember that music fans are part of a group too. If you don’t like a song don’t buy it and there’s a chance it will fade away. Continue reading Pop culture and counter-culture: Mutually antagonistic symbiosis