Popular Music Fandom
eBook - ePub

Popular Music Fandom

Identities, Roles and Practices

Mark Duffett, Mark Duffett

  1. 234 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Popular Music Fandom

Identities, Roles and Practices

Mark Duffett, Mark Duffett

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This book explores popular music fandom from a cultural studies perspective that incorporates popular music studies, audience research, and media fandom. The essays draw together recent work on fandom in popular music studies and begin a dialogue with the wider field of media fan research, raising questions about how popular music fandom can be understood as a cultural phenomenon and how much it has changed in light of recent developments. Exploring the topic in this way broaches questions on how to define, theorize, and empirically research popular music fan culture, and how music fandom relates to other roles, practices, and forms of social identity. Fandom itself has been brought center stage by the rise of the internet and an industrial structure aiming to incorporate, systematize, and legitimate dimensions of it as an emotionally-engaged form of consumerism. Once perceived as the pariah practice of an overly attached audience, media fandom has become a standardized industrial subject-position called upon to sell box sets, concert tickets, new television series, and special editions. Meanwhile, recent scholarship has escaped the legacy of interpretations that framed fans as passive, pathological, or defiantly empowered, taking its object seriously as a complex formation of identities, roles, and practices. While popular music studies has examined some forms of identity and audience practice, such as the way that people use music in daily life and listener participation in subcultures, scenes and, tribes, this volume is the first to examine music fans as a specific object of study.

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Mark Duffett
DOI: 10.4324/9780203795125-1
Both TV channels now run weekly programmes in which popular records are played to teenagers and judged. While the music is performed, the cameras linger savagely over the faces of the audience. What a bottomless cavern of vacuity they reveal! The huge faces, bloated with cheap confectionary and smeared with chain-store makeup, the open, sagging mouths and glazed eyes, the hands mindlessly drumming in time to the music, the broken stiletto heels, “with it” clothes: here, apparently, is a collective portrait of a generation enslaved by a commercial machine.
Paul Johnson (1964 [2006], 53)
It seems a strange place to start a book on popular music fandom by talking about a long-forgotten paradigm. In an age of Twitter and Lady Gaga, Paul Johnson’s tirade against the “Menace of Beatlism” in New Statesman looks more than a little out of place. However, critiques of mass culture have always drastically shaped the way that dedicated music audiences have been understood. Although now we more often oppose such critiques, we are, I think, still haunted by their shadows. By “critiques of mass culture,” of course, I mean deductive and polemical treaties from twentieth-century intellectuals in the Frankfurt School and American Left who questioned the merits of commercial media. Writers from Adorno (1938 [2001]) to Horton and Wohl (1956), Macdonald (1957) and Marcuse (1964) felt decidedly uncomfortable with commodity culture and located media audiences as inadequate groupings deluded by their engagement with its personalities and products.1 After discussing the tone set by mass culture criticism, this chapter will chart the progress of popular music fandom, both as a changing popular construct and also as an emergent research object. My aim is to map the context of the diverse contributions in this volume.
Mass culture research reflected its own era of media production, made its own assumptions about the role of the audience, and located its own concerns and contestatory politics. It did more than reflect the vitriol of lofty academics; it shaped a way to understand pop culture that extended from the lecture theatre to the bleachers. The critique positioned fans as exemplars of a mass audience, said that they were alienated by broadcast media, primarily saw them as passive consumers separated from cultural production: a tribe of infantilized, alienated, celebrity-following individuals who could assemble in unstable crowds to pursue their emotional interest in simplistic cultural forms. Supposedly, their enthusiasm represented either a clinical obsession, an outpouring of repressed sexual energy, or misguided means of seeking spiritual transcendence. Mass culture theories implied that fans’ lives were based on empty day dreams, delusions and fantasies; that they focused on imagined, one-way relationships to cover up for personal senses loss, longing or social inadequacy. As supposedly vulnerable and unfortunate human subjects, fans could be broken out of their distractions by revealing the material basis of reality, celebrating obscurity, or contesting the value of mass spectacles.
Since the heyday of the mass culture paradigm—roughly between the 1930s and 1950s—there has been a creeping change of regime in academic theory, media culture and popular music. Thanks, in part, to growing social radicalism and a revamping of the folk music movement, popular music in the late 1960s became widely seen as a literary and politicized cultural form. Young people could point to artists and say, “There’s something happening here.” That “something” was creative, oppositional and countercultural. As Martin Cloonan (2005, 80) put it, “The era from 1967 and the release of the Beatles’ landmark Sgt. Pepper album saw the development of pop—or more specifically rock—being described as an art form.” The vanguard of popular music then became understood as articulating the political concerns of its time. A shift in understanding audiences had already begun. After all, how could “the masses” like intelligent and playful music? Rather than immediately redeeming audience engagement with popular music, however, initial assessments separated feminized “hysterical” affect (Beatlemania) from intellectually mature, artistic appreciation. The counterculture therefore simultaneously embraced engaged participants and negated their designation as music fans per se. Bands like the Grateful Dead drew political lines that meant it was difficult at the time to simply be a “fan” of their music without being seen to align with a whole political charter. New words were found for dedicated music audiences: they were alternative communities, hippies and flower children, not simply a fan base, but a generation. Anxieties about the power relations of rock fandom were, nevertheless, still there and expressed by framing dedicated female fans as “groupies”—a term that demarcated the vexed and changing gender politics of the permissive society (see Rhodes 2005).
Another body blow against mass culture ideas came from a gradual questioning of the tenets of cultural elitism.2 From the 1970s to the 1990s, the diverse consequences of globalization, economic collapse and emerging multiculturalism meant that the unilateral and patronizing attitude implicit in the project of modernity was called into question. As the 1960s dream dissipated in the face of entrenched warfare, economic crisis, political cynicism and growing individualism, the zeitgeist shifted to a point where Right-wing parties received enough support to pursue stringent economic policies. By the 1980s, notions of consumer sovereignty came to the fore explicitly in service of cultural production. MTV began in the summer of 1981. In an era of music video channels, pop merged even further with its own marketing. Critics were—relatively speaking—gradually stripped of their cultural authority. They became more like consumer guides. Within the academy, fans were gradually celebrated as autonomous free individuals. From all directions, the rug was therefore being pulled from beneath the condescending perspective of mass cultural criticism.
As use of the Internet grew exponentially in the 1990s and 2000s, the mediascape shifted yet again. By August 2000, 51% of US households had a computer, 42% had the Internet and 4% had broadband. At the end of the first decade of the new millennium, 72% of households now had a computer, 69% had the Internet and 64% had broadband. In other words, as the first decade progressed, a third more households installed the Internet, but broadband uptake rose amongst those who had net from 10% to 93% (Blank and Strickling 2011, 1). With its ability to store a vast accumulation of posted material in an open and accessible form, the net acted as an archive and helped to make fan communities much more visible. Fan clubs migrated online and particular genres and artists acquired vast networks of interested commentators. The net has also helped to shift music from a stockpiled physical commodity (the sound carrier) to a seemingly available and ambient resource that travels down an electronic pipeline (the stream or download). Musical sound has become used as much to facilitate mood as display cultural conviction. Perhaps the most significant early shift of the new era came around the user-controlled, illegal redistribution of MP3s through the peer-to-peer networking application Napster, which ran for two years beginning in the summer of 1999. Metallica’s protest upon finding their song “I Disappear” circulating ahead of its release, and beyond their immediate revenue system, precipitated a moment where avid fans were branded as music pirates. In fact, the net simply exposed and augmented the existing practices by which fans redistributed material—whether sold as pirate copies, traded as bootlegs or exchanged as gifts—in the public arena. The evident tension between perceptions of fans as pirates, patrons and promoters has continued into an era where bands have worked with online firms such as Web Sherriff to increase control of their intellectual property and distribute songs in advance as free samples (see Lewis 2011). In a process that is akin to the “spoiling” of television plots, fans can act as a scout audience in this context, either pirating or legitimately releasing material in advance (see Bennett 2012). New opportunities for distribution have also somewhat blurred the line between amateur and professional music making. Indeed, many fans have uploaded their creations and remixes on video sites and audio platforms like Soundcloud.com (which started in 2008).
If music distribution is now partly in the hands of the audience, in some cases the net has also promoted a limited kind of collaborative democracy of music production: sites like Kickstarter.com (launched in 2009) invite interested audience members to become investors before music products are created. Indeed, the “star performers” of the last decade were as likely to be designated as social media platforms—YouTube, Facebook, Twitter—as individual musicians. One result of the increasing availability of past music is a feeling of cultural stasis, or “retromania” as Simon Reynolds (2011) recently described it. In Britain, the shift from the BBC television series Top of the Pops (1964–2006) to TOTP2 (1994 onwards) has indicated a move from a perpetual present of the weekly music chart summaries to a nostalgic, out-of-time culture of library footage and re-runs. TOTP2 has been syndicated and repeated on channels like Dave, Yesterday and BBC4; it has become increasingly indistinguishable from the playlists created by some of the users on YouTube. A vast array of recorded music and performance footage has become freely available in the digital mediascape. This immersive environment exposes material previously left—or lost—to generational memory, changing the traditional foundations of cultural capital, and allowing musicians of all ages to explore obscure sounds from far off times and places.
The net has, for the most part, transformed fandom. I say “for the most part” because attention to the ways that it has changed the game also means considering what has stayed the same: elements of music fandom that have essentially remained from the pre-Internet era include a fascination with music, various romantic and folk ideologies, an emphasis on the star system, a tendency of fans to form social communities, to pursue shared concerns, and to follow characteristic practices. For many of us fans, the net has offered new and better ways to more easily do what we previously did before. What has changed is that it is hard in the Internet era not to see and therefore to say that fans are, at best, communicative, imaginative, communal, expert, interesting and intelligent. Online social media platforms demonstrate this in a more public and visible way than, say, talking on a mobile phone. They have operated as a forthright challenge to the idea that electronic mediation is an alienating and impersonal process. Uses of the net have visibly brought music listeners together (see, for instance, Hodkinson 2004). In an age of “geek chic,” fandom seems to be at the forefront of an astute, techno-savvy consumer culture.
How have all these shifts in the mediascape changed perceptions of popular music fandom? Matt Hills (2012, 113) has recently argued that “fandom has indeed become part of marketing strategies 
 [but] we cannot deduce from this industrial normalization that wider cultures have embraced such fan identities as uncontroversial.” A case in point is the reception of Chris Crocker, whose camp and dramatic “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE! (Part 2)” video was uploaded on to YouTube in September 2007. In three years the video had 35 million views and 500,000 comments on site. Whether Crocker’s rant was a carefully constructed performance or a genuine emotional outburst is a moot point; its immense popularity demonstrates that mass cultural stereotypes of fandom can still, in sharp contrast to the perspectives offered by cultural studies, strike at the heart of the popular imagination. Another example of this has been the constant use of the headline “Fans go Gaga” in reference to the followers of Lady Gaga. If the media write such lines to “normalize” mainstream non-fan audiences, what writers such as Hills (2012) are increasingly showing is that fans themselves can also lever such critiques to degrade and dismiss factions of their own brethren that they consider inferior.
Given that broad set of historical co-ordinates, it may now be useful to look at the last two decades of academic responses to media fandom in general and popular music fandom in particular. Two books published twenty years ago became particularly important in cultural studies understandings of media fandom. Henry Jenkins’ influential ethnographic study Textual Poachers (1992) was inspired by both John Fiske’s (1989) notion of the “active audience” and Michel de Certeau’s (1984) book The Practice of ...

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Normes de citation pour Popular Music Fandom

APA 6 Citation

[author missing]. (2013). Popular Music Fandom (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1680129/popular-music-fandom-identities-roles-and-practices-pdf (Original work published 2013)

Chicago Citation

[author missing]. (2013) 2013. Popular Music Fandom. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1680129/popular-music-fandom-identities-roles-and-practices-pdf.

Harvard Citation

[author missing] (2013) Popular Music Fandom. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1680129/popular-music-fandom-identities-roles-and-practices-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

[author missing]. Popular Music Fandom. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.