Pop Music and the Press

By Frontani, Michael R. | Journalism History, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview
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Pop Music and the Press

Frontani, Michael R., Journalism History

Jones, Steve, ed.

Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002. 270 pp. $19.95.

This collection of essays examines the role of popular music criticism and critics since the 1950s, with contributors theorizing about both criticism practice and reception.

Steve Jones, a professor of communication at the University of Illinois and the author of Rock Formation: Popular Music, Technology, and Mass Communication (which was published by Sage in 1992), as well as editor of Cyber Society 2.0: Revisiting Computer-Mediated Communicationand Community (Sage, 1998), has collected a number of essays with the central purpose of introducing systematic analysis to popular music criticism and surveying its history and evolution. The focus is on criticism of music in the rock era-that is, criticism since the 1950s, a period in which criticism came to focus not only upon the music but also upon its cultural impact.

The book is divided into three sections covering institutions and history, discourses, and case studies. The first section, a chapter by Gestur Gudmundsson and others, evinces the strengths of this collection at its best-a strong grasp of the historical, political, and cultural forces shaping popular music and its criticism. The piece convincingly details the impact on British popular music criticism of analysis originating across "the Pond" (and influence passing in the other direction), and it describes the concerns influencing the ensuing evolution of popular music criticism.

In the 1960s, importantly, sales figures (once a mainstay of comment on popular music) became less a part of the critical discourse as notions of authenticity came to the fore. Authenticity, a core value of the counter-culture to which popular music criticism catered, continued to exert influence into the next decade. Increasingly, however, authenticity receded as a value, and the artifice of pop art became a cornerstone of both music (Punk and New Pop) and criticism. In the 1980s and 1990s criticism continued to flourish, becoming-like its audience-increasingly segmented (in terms of age and genre) and polarized (with regard to publications catering to record buyers on the one hand and connoisseurs of alternative and avant-garde music, on the other).

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