Rocking the Economy: On the Articulations of the Popular Music and Creative Economy in Late Modern Culture
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Tampere, Finland
Introduction: Relocations of Popular
One of the most common topics in the Finnish media up to May 2006 was the poor success of Finnish bands in the international popular music market. Even though some Finnish heavy metal bands like Nightwish or HIM have achieved fame during recent years, it was not before Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest that the establishment of a new self-esteem for Finnish popular music became at last possible. The win also prompted huge media events and increased the band’s esteem. A good example of this is the honours Lordi received after their win in May 2006: according to the Finnish newspaper Aamulehti on 22 May 2006, the northern Finnish town of Rovaniemi, where the band’s front man Tomi Putaansuu was born, re-named a square after the band. Aamulehti also wrote on 22 June that a monument was erected to honour the female member of the band, Awa, in the yard of the school she used to go to. In addition, another Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, wrote on 25 May that the band had been awarded a medal for Finnish Work and there were plans for the Mint of Finland to strike a jubilee medal. Almost all these tributes were agreed within a week after Lordi won the contest.
Rewards of this kind for popular music stars are not, of course, altogether new in the history of popular music, as can be seen from, among others, the Beatles (MBE medals in 1965) and Bono (honorary British knighthood 2006). However, in Finland such massive recognition is new, and it is in contradiction with the unwritten values concerning pop/rock music culture which have prevailed among the Finnish public. Just a couple of years ago Lordi was seen first and foremost as a representative of counterculture in the press. Moreover, the question is not just about awards, because nowadays pop and rock culture seems to have more significance in the Finnish media than ever before. It is possible to find the names of the same artists and bands in advertisements for different kind of enterprises from banks to the cosmetic industry, and even the national strategy for economic growth is benefiting from them. Several people in the political and economic arena seem to be true “fans” of pop and rock music.
These observations are the starting point for this article, in which my aim is to discuss how some recent phenomena, such as the growing importance of the creative economy and the branding of music are shaping the field of popular music culture in the 21st century. Of course, it is possible to claim that the examples I will analyze are not new as such; as a commercial product, popular music has always been linked with different kinds of interests in capitalist society. However, I will argue that changes have happened in the ways ‘popular’ – here I refer to the pop and rock genres mainly – are positioned and valued in Western societies, and that theories of subcultures, for example, are not satisfactory in characterizing the situation. In other words, I do not see the question about the success or the image of Finnish pop and rock music being fundamentally important here, but rather I am asking what makes popular music attractive in the eyes of economic life in the 21st century.
My debate can be linked with some recent perspectives from cultural studies and popular music studies. In his article “Do Cultural Studies Have Futures? Should it? (Or What’s the Matter with New York?),” Lawrence Grossberg (2006, 9) argues that studying popular culture texts as such is not as a whole sufficient to analyze today’s cultural condition. The reason for this is, according to Grossberg, conjunctural crisis, which calls for critical examination of the special dynamics between politics, the economy and culture:
“…I prefer to say that we are in the midst of a conjunctural crisis in which culture itself is being rearticulated and relocated, and in which the ‘centre’ of culture as it were has moved. In other words, while the emergent structure of feeling is constituted within and constitutive of the domains of politics and economics ‘directly’, these domains are absolutely inseparable from culture (largely understood in both discursive and technological terms) increasingly foregrounding matters of what we have to call political and economic culture (but not as these have been so inadequately conceptualized within their respective disciplines).” (ibid. 18.)
Grossberg (ibid. 23) further argues that “in this conjuncture media and popular culture are becoming both less important – in terms of questions of ideology, or identity (ethnos), or as meaningful sites of agency, and more important in other, as yet largely unexplored, ways.”
In this article, by analyzing empirical material, I aim to locate the processes of relocation and rearticulation of the popular: I debate both what these relocations and rearticulations are and where they emerge. That arena can be characterized as standing on the crossroads of consumption and affects provided by popular (music) culture; secondly, it is surrounded by certain economic values and the special value of publicity in 21st-century culture. The concept of rock has a key role in my analysis: it comes up constantly in the various discourses of the creative economy (especially in the imago construction of the enterprises in the examples given in this article), advertising and national competitiveness. What the reason is for this, and what it indicates about rearticulations of popular, is the focal question of this article.
I want to emphasise that my reasoning is based on examples from Finnish music culture. They reflect the special historical background and the position at the margins of popular music culture, although the confrontation between ‘centre’ and ‘margins’ is not as significant any more as it used to be in popular music culture (see Frith 2004, 45). Branding artists and marketing music via product tie-ins are a matter of course in the UK and the US, whereas in Finland these ideas have entered the music business quite recently. However, I will argue that Finland is not just an exotic example but serves as a model of how the global is being localised, namely how certain characteristics of late modern culture come to be articulated in specific cultural circumstances.
My discussion can be linked with perspectives given in the ‘virtual symposium’ published in Popular Music (2005, Vol. 24/1), where several popular music scholars debated the concept of the ‘popular’ and how relevant it is in today’s culture as an epithet next to music. Referring to that discussion I would call my viewpoint as ’discursivist’ (see ibid. 143); I am interested in discourses and practices which produce the popular as a cultural phenomenon.
The Topography of the Popular in the Era of Economic Reasoning
In popular music studies Richard Middleton’s (1990) perspective in studying musical categories topographically can still be regarded as an important starting point; according to Middleton (ibid. 7), the popular should be considered ‘the ground on which the transformations are worked’. In that terrain, multi-level relationships, struggles and contradictions can be seen as constituting ‘popular’ as a cultural category. Middleton sees these struggles and contradictions grounded in the oppositions of, for example, ‘elite-common’ or ‘imposed-authentic’, although the question of power is interpreted in Middleton’s book according to British cultural studies as a complex question of hegemony: domination through ideology or discourse.
The cultural condition of late modernity, however, requires even more subtle ways to examine hegemony and signification processes. The issue has been debated recently and, for example, Scott Lash (2007, 56) has argued that power has become more internalized: according to him there has been "a shift in power from the hegemonic mode of power over to an intensive notion of power from within (including domination from within) and power as a generative force." This, in turn, is an indication of the change from representation to communication, which makes it possible, according to Lash, to talk about post-hegemonic cultural studies. Post-hegemonic cultural studies is a consequence of “the meltdown of the classic institutions and their regime of presentation”, which means that “politics leaks out”: politics has become ubiquitous (ibid. 75). Then resistance to power becomes complicated to establish, because domination is (re)produced within subaltern groups. Richard Johnson (2007) strongly criticizes Lash and sees that the question of hegemony (and hegemonic formations) is still important; the meltdown of institutions, for example, is, according to him, “a recomposition applying the same abstract plan of ‘reform’ across the different institutions: internal markets, privatization from without or within, public/private initiatives, complex subcontracting, surveillance and regulation of performance (ibid. 107)”.
Without going here into further details of this dispute, it implies, as does Grossberg’s article, that many concepts and theories concerning modernity and modernization are now being rethought and one of them is the relationship between (popular) culture and the economy. In popular music studies the economic structures are often highlighted but they rarely have come under extensive and serious research, with the exception of studies concerning the music industry. Quite often the economy seems to be, more or less, an ‘external fact’, with which musicians, fans and the music industry have to live. The reason for this is partly the critique of ‘mass culture’ of the 1960s and 1970s which encouraged sharp and one-eyed conceptions about the music industry.
As the debate referred to above indicates, today’s cultural condition calls for studies in which popular music culture is examined as existing within a set of relations, where power and hegemony are acting in complex and contradictory ways and where the economy has an essential role. It means that economic reasoning enters in a new way within the practices and values of popular music culture. As a consequence, consumerism is highlighted and, for example, new actors, which earlier had been considered ‘outsiders’, such as enterprises operating within the sphere of the entertainment industry, are entering the field.
Motti Regev’s (2002) article “The ‘Pop-rockization’ of Popular Music” is connected with this kind of subject area. Regev focuses on the same question as Grossberg, on the change of dynamics in cultural practices (in popular music culture), but he does it by examining an actual cultural practice. In his article, Regev proposes how the emergence of a special pop/rock canon in Western popular music can be seen as a result of new collective entities and identities, which break the traditional aesthetic and cultural categories and create new cultural capital in this way. Typical of this pop/rock canon is the logic of change that comes into being in “the constant emergence of new styles and genres, applications of the rock to ‘non-rock’ styles and genres and new entries to the canon” (ibid. 255-256, 262). In this way these “new collective actors” struggle for recognition and legitimacy.
My further question concerns what produces this logic of change, and I debate it from the macro level; that is, I am not seeing the phenomena only as a question of cultural capital in the sense of the kind of cultural capital it affords the individuals, but rather how this new cultural capital is produced in the terrain which includes various cultural, economic and political actors, relations and struggles.
In what follows, I first analyze why popular music, especially rock, attracts activity of an economic nature and what this attraction is based on. Secondly, I study how popular music is given value in the national media by being represented in a particular way. Finally, I debate how the new articulations of popular music culture can be analyzed as a part of the late modern cultural condition.
As I noted above, my examples come from ‘pop’ and ‘rock’ music. What should be seen is that in the research material that I have used these categories are mixed with each other. When I am talking about rock as a metaphor, which can be found in certain economic discourses of today, rock actually includes both rock and pop artists. The essential factor is the success of the artist, not the genre or style which s/he represents. This, of course, supports Motti Regev’s idea about pop-rockization and is one sign of the relocation of the popular.
Creative Economy and Popular Music
In everyday life the associations between popular music and economic interests are often taken as self-evident: popular music is defined as a commercial product. From the point of view of popular music scholars, popular music as a product is a special combination of economic and aesthetic interests. As Simon Frith (2004, 56–57) indicates, this combination has its roots in the 1960s when the division of the youth market into subcultures first gave rise to a process by which pop and rock music became an identity marker. The production of identity and difference was the starting point for a trustworthy aesthetic, and this aesthetic soon became so powerful an element that the commercial ambitions behind music-making stopped calling the music’s credibility into question.
Combining aesthetic and economic interests in a special way – the idea of the romantic commodity – was a characterizing part of the intellectual climate in British art schools, and it gradually laid the foundation for the self-understanding of the Anglo-American popular music culture (see Frith & Horne 1987, 163–165). This is also one reason, according to my view, that the economy often seems to have a second role in popular music research, too: the focus is on popular music texts, production and consumption, looking from the inside (from the perspective of actors: musicians, critics, audiences) of these practices. Hence, popular music culture (pop- and rock-genres) in western countries can be perceived as a subsystem: it has relative autonomy in society; it aspires to maintain its borders, and it has its own language. As a subsystem its position in national value and economic systems varies from country to country. In some countries, for historical reasons, the popular music industry has carved a role for itself in the national economic structure, while in others, like Finland, the extensive economic interest in popular music has sprung up quite late, from the 1990s onwards.
The main reason behind today’s growing interest in popular music culture is the widely used concept of the creative economy, which goes back to the writings of Richard Florida (for example 2002). Using the slogan “growing power of ideas”, this new branch of the economy is based on the principle that culture offers grounds for new inventions and economic growth. Although there has been criticism concerning how the creative economy is just one example of today’s hype, the discourses surrounding this concept do seem to have a significant amount of authority. In many European countries, for example, governments have planned for the creative economy to be a major player in the national economy in the future. In many countries, special programmes have been developed which aim to create new strategies for cultural policies and the creative industry. One of the most well known is the Creative Industries Taskforce (CITF) in Britain, but similar programmes have been implemented in France and Denmark, for example. (Aulake 2006.)
Brand marketing is the most evident example of the creative economy, and is a key to understanding its principles and practices. Branding as a marketing practice established a foothold at the end of the 1980s. If manufacturing goods was formerly seen as a priority of industries, branding gave priority to images: by creating positive associations and expectations of products, brand marketing aims to entice customers into the emotional world of commodities and to modify these commodities to life styles. (see Klein 2000.)
In the 21st century, branding has become a focal concept in the music business, too. Besides naming the practice of marketing, it represents a particular kind of politics. For example, when listing the “top 10 truths” about the future challenges confronting the music business in their book Future of Music, David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard (2005, 21–23) state that “the artists are brands, and the entertainment is the main attraction”. The authors are thereby offering branding as a solution for the crisis in the music industry, which they see as unavoidable. According to them, branding highlights the importance of the artist in the digital age, when the interaction between artists and fans is more intensive than earlier, especially because of the Internet, and when traditional market strategies do not work. Although these authors’ views remain slogans, they demonstrate, nonetheless, attempts to make distinctions within the field of the music industry. This ethos can be read from the first pages of the book, where they define their stating point: “In this world, we share, contribute, collaborate, and trade music amid a constant flow of new songs that suit our tastes and preferences, without any palpable constraints or limitations. Music is ubiquitous and served up in easy, friendly formats” (ibid. x).
This quotation can be seen as an indicator of what Regev (ibid.) describes as the emergence of new collective identities, but it also implicates the consumerist culture where customer orientation, emotions and experiences are put in first place. The authors call this the Experience Economy (ibid. 171–72), where the “heart offers as opposed to brain experience identity, aesthetic, esteem impulse and emotion, intuition and foresight.” Although Kusek’s and Leonhard’s visions can be regarded as being made by ‘young rebels’, the Experience Economy and branding also raises questions, because it seems to be consistent with phenomena which I call the ‘rocking economy’. What is especially interesting is that the rocking economy is located outside of traditional popular music culture. How it is constructed in the imago construction of enterprises is my first case.
Rock as a Metaphor for Economic Practice
The concept of the creative economy emphasizes the conceptual and practical convergence of (creative) individuals with cultural industries, in the context where new media technologies have an essential role. According to John Hartley (2005, 6), the concept also suggests the possibility of moving beyond the distinctions of elite-mass, high-trivial, sponsored-commercial, etc. However, in Florida’s texts qualities of creativeness have drawn exclusively from the stardom of popular music culture. For him a rock star/band is an optimum example of creativeness; he sees similarities between Jimi Hendrix, Microsoft, Samuel Beckett and U2 from the point of view of economic success – according to Florida their action is based on a similar kind of creativity. Respectively, the qualities of the so-called creative class defined by Florida resemble those of pop and rock stars: they are constantly searching for the new, and they often both think and behave in an unorthodox, bohemian way.
The attractiveness of the concept of rock is probably represented most eye-catchingly in the book Brands That Rock: What Business Leaders can learn From Rock’n’ Roll by Roger Blackwell and Kristina Stephan (2003). Here, the authors debate how, for instance, the Rolling Stones or Madonna can maintain their popularity over time and why fans remain loyal to the stars. Based on their findings the authors end up giving advice to business leaders on how to innovate successful brands. For example, these “lessons” include the following: “Create an emotional connection with your customers; nurture it over time”, “Define the brand by more than just the product; include the functional and emotional attributes of the brand” (Ibid. 23–24). The authors’ primary claim is that commodities such as ‘rock’ brands can and should keep up their popularity in the same way as rock bands. Secondly, they see that consumers’ relationship with a product should be similar to being a fan of a certain band/star.
What is notable, however, is that the concept of rock has nothing to do with the history of the actual genre of rock; there is no intention to treat that concept historically. Instead, the concept of rock has become the metaphor for new economic practice. By this I mean that the myths and practices derived from rock culture – or from the western world of art in general – are put into a new context. At first, the creative economy is seen as being based on the work of persons who combine a bohemian way of life with rational economic thinking. In other words, “rock as a way of life” – a passionate attitude towards music-making – is seen as a starting point for a flourishing business. The second aspect, which is more hidden, is that “rock as a way of life” includes the myth about artistic practice typical of modernity. A creative person has special qualities: s/he is a genius and a hero at the same time. Thirdly, rock has been regarded as an authentic form of music and rock musicians as truthful actors blessed with originality (see, for example, Kallioniemi 1990).
These kinds of qualities imply the view typical of modern societies, i.e. that the world of art is metaphysical in its nature and therefore independent of other fields of society. What is important is that the myth remains a myth; it is not made explicit. This is important, because it prepares the ground for other values and practices. For example, traditionally there has not been much criticism of the wealth of pop/rock stars: if one has made it from rags to riches, there is no room to judge him/her. Likewise, it can be argued that the flourishing business made possible by the lessons of the creative economy – whatever the means are – is beyond all criticism.
Of course, another matter is how seriously one should take the various claims made in Blackwell and Stephan’s book. At least it is an example of the ways of thinking that the creativeness hype causes. However, one can indeed find many examples recently in the Finnish media about the concept of rock becoming a kind of a slogan which describes the ethos of economic practice, and how, in turn, this slogan is used to create a certain kind of public image for enterprises. In 2005 the Finnish Sampo Bank, for example, offered its customers the option of obtaining a bank card sporting a picture of Nightwish or Lordi. On one hand, this can be seen as an attempt to create a fresh and cool image for the bank. On the other hand, it could be argued that in doing so the bank aims to introduce itself as a medium which transmits special cultural capital to its customers: when one owns the Nightwish bank card there is an implication that he/she has a piece of the success and cultural capital of the band. Of course, it is possible to argue that the same happens when one uses a shirt with the band’s image on it, for example. I claim, however, that it is important to notice that it is the bank, not the band, that offers this image. According to Sampo Bank’s communication manager Kaj Stenvall, interviewed in Aamulehti newspaper on 15 September 2006, the launching of ‘rock cards’ has been successful; some people have even changed their bank because of the cards.
As a second example, Nokia, the Finnish mobile phone company, has attempted to create a rock image in order to stay in the front line and occupy an influential foothold in the mobile music market. For instance, in autumn 2006 Nokia launched the Music Recommender service. The idea of the service is that each month experts from forty independent record stores around the world make a selection of the best tracks in their genre of expertise. These selections are subsequently emailed to the subscribers, who can browse through the tracks and listen to short 30-second sound clips. According to the company, “In this way music lovers open themselves up to the best music of all genres, including hip hop, indie rock, jazz and Asian pop, without having to spend time trawling through the crowded racks of a music store” (Perspectives 2006). The company opened an Internet music store in the UK and Germany at the end of 2007 and in Finland in 2008. The store has also announced that in future it will pre-release exclusively the albums of certain artists in Finland. These examples clearly show how the company wants to present itself as a professional and convincing actor in the pop/rock culture. In addition, the company’s mode of action in different fairs and conventions often resembles a rock concert with huge screens and loud background music, as Olavi Koistinen reported in Helsingin Sanomat on 15 February 2005.
However, I am not claiming that the rock image is a guaranteed way to reach the front line in the market. Actually, the effectiveness of a rock image is often decided on the razor's edge. For example, Lordi’s image has almost been over-exploited in the Finnish media. One example of this is the free post cards delivered by Finland Post Service with a photo of Lordi. This easily reduces the value of the image and turns it into trash: too large a variety of products cannot necessarily catch the attention of fans. But, again, actual economic reasoning is behind this: Finland Post Service has made an agreement with BMG Finland that gives it a monopoly of using BMG artists on its products. This is because the enterprise wants to give, as one might expect, an impression of dynamic, future-oriented activity and attract young customers (see Suomen Posti: Ajankohtaista 2006).
Probably the most telling example of the new articulation between popular music culture and the economy is the advertisement of the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, which was published in various newspapers in the spring of 2007. In the picture, Eicca Toppinen, a member of Apocalyptica, a heavy metal band, introduced himself as a member of the federation with a slogan “As an entrepreneur I create the new and go far”.
The above examples demonstrate that rock is not only a metaphor for economic practice as such but a metaphor for a practice which has been given a special value. The central feature in this new articulation of rock is that the non-rational features of popular music culture (stardom, the idea of authenticity, creativity, even rebelliousness) are tied with the rational aspects of economic life (risk-taking, payoff). This articulation is so powerful that it has enabled the final legitimization of rock: if, from the 1960s onwards, popular music has gradually gained ground in the academic world and in public discourses – so that it has become cultural capital – the tie between economic interests and popular music has also turned it into symbolic capital, that is, it is legitimized (see Bourdieu 1998, 97–100). Of course, it is possible to argue that popular music has already been legitimized in countries like the UK and Sweden, because its economic significance has been approved of, whereas in some countries the same process is just beginning, as in Finland.
I argue, however, that the legitimization is not a straightforward process, which, despite some doubtful phenomena, like rock hype, improves the status and visibility of pop- and rock-music and benefits the actors of the field. Legitimization impels one to examine popular music in a wider context rather than just as a question of sub-culture or sub-cultural capital: legitimization modifies the terrain of popular in profound ways, which, for example, are manifested in how the nature of, and investment in, cultural identity are constituted. My examples strongly suggest that emotional investments connected with popular music culture have become a part of the systems of exchange; hence these investments are gradually losing their capability to work as countercultural signs. This indicates that there is a special need to analyze the connections between popular music culture and other fields of society and to debate how special alliances are developing between them, and how these alliances generate special articulations of the popular. Therefore, in addition to the discourses of economic life, some public discourses must be studied. One of these discourses is constructed by the national media, and next I will take some examples of how pop- and rock-genres, and especially Lordi’s victory, have been given value in the Finish media.
Appreciating Rock in Public Discourses
Until the 1990s popular culture was not given much space in the most authoritative Finnish media. The main channel of the Finnish Broadcasting Company – TV Channel 1 – and the most influential newspapers maintained a serious, educational policy. Popular culture was accepted, but it operated mainly in its own field and when it got room in authoritative media the attitude towards it was negative or at least conditional: it was accepted if it was seen as educational.
The situation changed dramatically at the turn of the 21st century. Nowadays, TV Channel 1 reports the latest news from the pop and rock scene, as well. On the Internet page of the Finnish Broadcasting Company all kinds of news are mixed with each other: next to news about a serious accident one can read about a tour undertaken by a certain rock band. Sometimes popular music gets the first place in the daily news. For example, vocalist Tarja Turunen’s abrupt departure from Nightwish was the main headline in the news in November 2005. In addition, the international success of Finnish bands has been a frequent topic. As a matter of fact, Lordi’s first place in the Eurovision Song Context turned the whole news broadcast upside down: two thirds of the entire broadcast was devoted to the band.
What is interesting is that the question is not just about the increase in the amount of publicity pop/rock receives, but also that there is a new evaluation given to pop and rock. This could be seen very clearly during the Lordi sensation, when TV news and newspapers were full of laudatory articles – and what is notable is that not only journalists but also chief editors took a part in commenting on the national victory.
One of the most astonishing addresses was given by chief editor Antti-Pekka Pietilä of Ilta-Sanomat newspaper in his editorial “Follow the Example of Nokia and Lordi” on 20th May 2006. There he pointed out how Lordi took a risk behind their latex masks when they entered the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest. The reward for this act of courage was that now they could earn as much money as they wanted when touring around the world. According to Pietilä, Finnish politicians and the leaders of the labour unions should take an example from Lordi: “The problems of the paper industry cannot be solved by hanging on to achieved benefits and old structures. The future of the welfare society cannot be built on the traditional policy of sharing goods (ibid.)”.
A year before Lordi won the contest, most of the Finnish paper mills were on strike for over a month in protest over the increasing number of employees being sacked and the transplanting of mills to countries with lower production costs. In Pietilä’s article, Lordi and the future of the paper industry, and even the future of the welfare society, are on the same line. If, for Pietilä, the welfare state cannot be an option for the future, Lordi’s success then serves as a new model for the national economy. It is based on the idea that the individual has responsibility for his/her own future; s/he just has to have the courage and willingness to stick his/her neck out. What’s more, Pietilä seems to propose that paper mill workers should understand that, just like ups and downs are inevitable for a rock band, getting sacked is just the rock ’n’ roll of life!
Quite unrestricted admiration was also expressed by Janne Virkkunen, chief editor of Helsingin Sanomat, on 22nd May; he saw that Lordi’s success did not just mean winning a music competition but was, in fact, an event that would benefit the national image by making Finland well known internationally. According to Virkkunen, the secret of Lordi’s success was that the band had been able to develop a brand noticeable in the international market.
There is little doubt about Virkkunen being right, but what is staggering is the lack of interest in examining the competition context. If Lordi was distinct, it is not made clear what that distinction was based on in the context of the Eurovision Song Contest and how it was possible that the value of the competition could shoot up overnight. Before Lordi’s win, Finland’s bad luck in the Eurovision Song Contest was a continuous topic in the Finnish media, but never before had the topic been covered by editors-in-chief.
The examples above show very well how rock – or actually success in the area of popular music – has been legitimized, and how it has become a phenomenon that goes beyond all criticism. The context for this legitimization is a nation state, because the products that represent an originality derived from the national culture are the most significant and successful capital in the global market.
Rocking B(r)ands: from Popular to Popular Experiences
In this article, using Finland as an example, I have discussed how certain recent phenomena in the Finnish media and advertising are signs of the relocations of the popular in 21st-century culture. These relocations are based on articulations, where the practices, historical stereotypes and emotional structures originated from western pop- and rock-culture are conjoined with the values of the competitive economy. These articulations highlight, then, aspects like originality, authenticity and success, which are seen as most important qualifications of both individuals and flourishing business in general. If, in the past, the relationship between a musician and the product was easily recognizable in marketing and advertisements, branding obscures this relationship and gives economic meaning to cultural products and, eventually, to the life-worlds of individuals. The effects of this kind of promotional culture (Wernik 1991) or attention economy (Fairchild 2007) have been widely discussed, but I argue that the subject area will become more and more important when examining the topography of popular music. The key question is what the consequences of the process are when the music industry is gradually becoming embedded in the larger structures of the entertainment industry. How, for example, can one consider Eicca Toppinen’s stardom if it is introduced in the context of the federation of enterprises?
It is, thus, easy to argue that the new formation of the popular does not maintain the sites (the forms of agency) that popular culture has traditionally offered to individuals (for example, popular culture as a countercultural or sub-cultural identity marker), but maintains rather different values, derived from both the ideological basis of late capitalism and the history of the popular, which are in the constant process of struggling for signification. Thus, simultaneous and contradictory value positions are typical of this new formation of popular – different actors from the economy and the media rush to give value (and legitimize) the attributes which are in the agenda of current politics: entertainment (overflow of feelings), national competitiveness, national identity, etc. In that sense, questions of hegemony and resistance have leaked out of their traditional places, as Lash (2007) suggests. It can even be claimed that the category of the popular has become a ‘popular experience’ – a concept which David Chaney (2000) uses in his book Cultural Change and Everyday Life. By popular experience, he means processes by which cultural objects or performances are in the course of shifting from their traditional places (where they function as representations) to a terrain where they constitute the matrix to experience everyday life (ibid. 6-7). A salient point is that elements from different cultural objects or performances – from music to sports – are mediated through similar kinds of media discourses: the emotion and consumption are put into first place (ibid. 174).
However, Chaney’s viewpoint is probably too narrow and too straightforward. For example, the new formation of popular I have charted here does not pinpoint the whole field of popular music culture in Finland. In other words, there are still arenas where traditional high-low distinctions are at work. The Finnish Radio Channel 1, for example, still presents itself as ‘serious’. In addition, there are magazines that continue to keep up notions about classical music as a superior form of music, and there are magazines that present themselves as representatives of critical (low) popular culture.
However, simultaneously there are cases like Lordi, which, in addition to being originally positioned within the popular, seem to have the possibility to go beyond the category of ‘traditional’ popular – as the examples analyzed above show – or, to put it differently, the location of the band seems to take place under a new kind of logic, which put the value of publicity, success and, in general, the strategic role of consumer culture in first place.
To fully understand the nature of this struggle, one should also bear in mind the special context generated by the late modern cultural condition which Beverley Skeggs (2004, 96) characterizes as proximity: “contemporary is not distance but proximity”, she argues. If earlier the struggle over popular was based on ideas about distance – i.e. ‘high’ located far away from ‘low’ – now that geographical thinking has changed our everyday media it includes all from high to low, from mundane items to festive items, and this lays the ground for a thorough mixing of values and representations. This becomes obvious when listening to young musicians whose work is just starting to be written about in the media, whose habitus is pretty ‘rebellious’ and who say that their biggest dream is to take part in the Eurovision Song Contest. In this case my question would be how these musicians recognize the field into which they are entering, and if they are aware of the historical tensions defining the field of popular music culture. Does rebelliousness in this context represent ‘authentic’ experience, which forms part of the systems of exchange and produces difference (and class) as Skeggs suggests? Or, alternatively, is their habitus ‘a camouflage’, which is actually an essential condition of working in that field? Here the question of hegemony comes up again; is this a sign of the recomposition of hegemony which Johnson (2007) suggests, which regulates and positions individuals.
The concept of proximity can also be connected with the overall context produced by today’s media, for value positions or intentions can so easily turn around in a way one cannot influence. I had, for example, planned to study the rise of ‘esprit de corps’ among Finnish fans during the Lordi sensation. One of the proposals often mentioned in newspapers was that a special (flag-raising) day should be granted to Lordi. When I checked from the Internet, from www-page adressist.com (‘petitions.com’) the kind of movement this was, I noticed that there was an equal number of names below the petition for ‘a flag-day for Lordi’ as there was below the petition entitled ‘take the heels out of the bags of bread’. Is this a sign of how the Internet is making culture more democratic (everyone can make their voices heard), or is it a sign of uncontrollable chaos which we have to learn to navigate? Such are questions which we face in late modern popular culture.
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