Adorno begins with the insight that popular music is characterized by the synthesis of entertainment values and mass art. Twentieth-century popular music is mass art because commercial forces now produce it on an industrial model. It is a commodity aimed at the largest possible number of consumers. Therefore it must combine a high degree of standardization with relative accessibility, and so the same rhythms and structures appear again and again. Yet a constant supply of new “product” must be marketed to consumers. As a result, popular music competes with and replaces local and regional folk traditions (In the wake of the industrial revolution, genuine folk art is no longer possible.). In a commercial world where one popular song sounds much like any other, popular music cannot function as a medium of genuine communication. At best, a philosophically reflective stance sees that its standardization and commercial presentation reflects important facets of the socio-economic conditions that shape it. Its standardization reflects the alienating, oppressive standardization of modern capitalism. The momentarily pleasurable diversions offered by popular music are mere distractions from this alienation – a process that the music itself reinforces. Since it fails to satisfy any genuine needs, exposure to popular music encourages an endless repetition of the cycle of consumption, boredom, alienation, and fresh distraction through consumption.
The performance has gotten out of hand as well; all of the lights, smoke, and fire keep you guessing on what is going on. It would be nice for them to just stand up at the front of the stage and sing. Heck, sit on a stool with a beer next to you for all I care, but keep things simple. In addition, the more fireworks they put in these shows, the higher the ticket prices get. Times aren’t that great to be able to shell out 60 to 100 dollars for one ticket to a concert. Keep it cheap so we the fans can come see the people we admire. I’d rather see them in a bar anyway, since chances are I’m going to want to drink; and none of that light beer junk, give me a cold Hamms or a Pabst Blue Ribbon, in a can of course. Like I said before, this should be for the common man, not the high dollar executive.
A good example of how the folk revivalists actually commercialized an artist can be found in the story of John Hurt. Rediscovering old blues players was quite en vogue in the 1960s. In Hurt’s special case, his discovery revived his completely dead career, as he had stopped playing live and doing records since more than 30 years. Nevertheless, as Hurt totally corresponded to the transfigured image of an old black isolated man sitting in his one room house and playing his guitar after a long day of hard work, he became hyped by the folkies. In consequence, Hurt played his first major gig at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival (Barker & Taylor, 2007). After his appearance, Time magazine called him ‘the most important rediscovered folk singer to come out if Mississippi’s Delta country’ (as cited in Barker & Taylor, 2007). In fact, Hurt lived in Carroll County, which was predominantly white. In the aftermath of the Newport Festival Hurt was playing in TV shows, further festivals, university campuses etc. His artist name was complemented by his record company through the telling word Mississippi , so the illusion of the ‘authentic’ black blues/folk singer Mississippi John Hurt was perfect. As Hurt was professionally marketed back then, and he definitely was commercially successful, a musician who failed in the 1920s, because his music was too traditional, who can tell the difference to the pop music business, were marketing functions the same way? As this example is in fact questioning the practicability of the folk ethos, there is a need to go further and even say that this ethos comes from dubious origin, with ignorance, hypocrisy and racism leading to the answer of the fundamental question, what ‘folk’ was and what not. In other words, what for them was ‘real’ music and what was ‘fake’ music.