The Never-ending Debate Over Musical Authenticity–Whatever That Is

Here’s a quote from Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker:

Why is pop music the only art form that still inspires such arrantly stupid discussion? The debates that surround authenticity have no relationship to popular music as it’s been practiced for more than a century. Artists write material, alone or with assistance, revise it, and then present a final work created with the help of professionals who are trained for specific and relevant production tasks. This makes popular music similar to film, television, visual art, books, dance, and related areas like food and fashion. And yet no movie review begins, “Meryl Streep, despite not being a Prime Minister, is reasonably convincing in The Iron Lady.”

Then there’s this debate over the return of Fiona Apple.  According to this Valleywag article, critics seem to believe that she’s authentic while Lana Del Rey isn’t.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “The Never-ending Debate Over Musical Authenticity–Whatever That Is

  • June 22, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    The reason people still debate the authenticity of musicians is because music is capable of a much deeper and more personal emotional expression than other art forms (film particularly). Popular music is poetry set to melodies, and those in combination have the potential to express things about the artist that no other art form has. That's why when a musician appears to be expressing an emotion or experience that turns out not to be authentic (ie not the creation of the artist but rather "art by committee"), the audience feels a bit ripped off.

    The reason this is acceptable nowadays is because almost all music is fake. Both from a musical standpoint (you can make anyone a good singer with auto-tune) and from a lyrical standpoint (all those "angry" post-grunge bands are really just privileged white kids looking to make money).

    When Springsteen sings about America, you believe him because he knows something about the American condition. He's lived it. When David Lee Roth sings about partying in Los Angeles, you believe him because he's done it. He's been there and thru the music, you get to go there too.

  • June 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    – As the father of three boys that, currently, play 7 instruments between them, I feel like I can share some relevant thoughts. You compare "Pop" to Meryl Streep, but we've never seen Meryl Streep pumping out movies, McDonalds pumps out burger's on a holiday weekend! Therein lies the issue. A Legit artist endures the process, not caring, probably knowing deep inside that the finished product is mostly relevant to him or herself. These people aren't rushing a product to the printer to meet a deadline. It's this whole "Pop" meets "P-Diddy" meets "Jay-Z", that made it sickeningly corporate & industrial. Are you an artist making music or are you making a T.V. show about "Simon Says", if you jump through this hoop, I'll give you a job? That's what "The Popular Music Industry" has become. I'm not "raging" at anyone individual, to be sure. Getting paid to make music, means developing a line of "merchandise" today. I'm certain, when Ozzy was belting out Children of The Grave, at the California Jam in '74, he didn't give a F'k, about his Merchandise Development Group, & he certainly wasn't auto-tuned! To this day, there are those that will, never leave the basement, they'll do it because it's the right thing to do. The Church, & Science need the philosopher & the artist to balance the equation, & there are those that will butcher a Picasso if it will put $ in their bank account, What the heck does Jeune fille endormie mean anyway ? … right !?


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