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Behind The Music
Posted on February 18th, 2010 at 9:58 pm by silvercc and

Both the Filene and Kyriakoudes articles talk about the misrepresentation and manipulation of the image of various musicians. Both articles raise the question of authenticity and display examples of misrepresentations in order to gain popularity, appeal to certain audiences, and/or fulfill the expectations of society.

Leadbelly was a 44-year-old inmate in a southern prison who knew a variety of songs in addition to being skilled on a twelve-string guitar. The Lomaxes’ wanted to portray American music in a pure, raw form, and would therefore search for talent in deserted, less common areas such as plantations, ranches, prisons, etc. The problems arose with the Lomaxes’ taste in songs that depicted the struggle that African Americans were going through, yet their desire to avoid confrontational songs that would question or challenge the current inequality in the system. They would alter song lyrics and falsely represent Leadbelly’s character in order to portray a “reality” of American culture and call it American folk song, although “their collecting was shaped by the cultural climate of the thirties, their standards of anthropological investigation, and their personal musical preferences. (Filene 619) Yet and still, the article does state that “Leadbelly… [is] considered folk forefathers of rock, pop, and blues.”

Similarly, George D. Hay, provided what Kyriakoudes describes as “a fabricated vision of rural life…a ‘misremembered’ past that Hay manipulated to create an image of rural white rusticity on the radio.” In addition to this, he would pick names such as “Possum Hunters” and even stage sets and wardrobe such as, “overalls and wide-brimmed straw hats, standing alongside hay bales and pig sties.” (Kyriakoudes 71) The Grand Ole Opry started out at a genuine folk level, then quickly transitioned. Instead of portraying the realities of the rural south through folk music and culture, he created a new type of southern music that had originated from a rural past but had hidden agendas behind his programs (like promoting life insurance to his listeners) in response to anxieties about modern life and new technology, and attempted to ease the fears by blending both worlds.

Although I am unfamiliar with folk music or culture, I can recall of an artist who was molded into a certain image, other than what she wanted to portray. The artist I am referring to is Pink. On VH1’s Behind the Music, Pink described how her R&B sound and image was manufactured and how her first album didn’t represent her, but what L.A. Reid (her record producer) wanted her to be. By her second album, perfectly titled “Missundaztood,” she completely transformed her sound to a pop-rock artist, what she really was. This album not only was more representational of her character, but also sold more albums. L.A. Reid soon realized that the more “authentic” Pink was more profitable than his image of her. In her first video “There You Go”, all the aspects from the R&B sound (lyrics and instruments,) to her movement, wardrobe, and attitude portray a completely different artist and genre, in comparison to a more recent video, like “Sober”.

I use this example to show that even in the mainstream popular music industry, (where pretty much anything goes), more “authentic” songs are preferred because they are more personal and as a result, heartfelt. (Not to say that there aren’t plenty of artists in the mainstream music industry living up to an “image.”) And since my understanding of folk music is that it is based on traditions and customs within a culture, I found it very interesting that it, too, can be manipulated. The very fact that someone would try to alter representation of folk music takes away from the authenticity and because the whole essence of the genre or culture is based on its authenticity, how can it still be considered folk music?

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Comments so far:

Link Here | February 22, 2010,

I liked how you were able to compare Hay’s manipulation of a “fabricated vision of rural life” for the sake of rural whites to L.A. Reid’s molding of Pink to the pop industry. I think it is important to know that all music genres, whether mainstream or not, have the same purpose which is to manipulate their artists to represent themselves into what audiences would find most appealing and to bring to life music executives depiction of what is “pop”, or for Lomax’s what is “folk”.

  Stephanie |

Link Here | February 22, 2010,

Great connection between the fabricated mythology of early folk and country music and the production of contemporary pop stars. The Pink example is interesting to me on an even deeper level. I think that some pop stars can fabricate their own veneer of “authenticity” (often justifiably) by portraying themselves as artists outside the machine of the industry, resisting the manipulation of producers and labels. But many of these same artists are quite eager to mold and polish their own image to fit the demands of the market. This isn’t a criticism of Pink or any other artist in particular, but more a commentary on the myth of authenticity in general– is there any performance that isn’t, on some level, a fabrication?

  Amy Herzog |

Link Here | February 22, 2010,

I also agree with Prof. Herzog, it’s hard to tell if an artist is really portraying their true self trough their songs/ image or if the producers are just trying to fit them into the popular scene in order to make profit. You won’t know until the artists themselves mention it in interviews. This reminds me of something I read with Sara Bareilles. She had metioned that producers were pushing her to write a song as fast as possible and she had to meet their deadline. So artists also have to deal with limited time they are given to write songs. But in this case, she was able to take that stress/anger and make it into a hit song called “Love Song”.

  schen |

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