Many of our current philosophical concepts are symptoms of the suspicions toward logic and sense, not to mention the liberating devices put forth in their name. In the postmodernist (and poststructuralist) view, there is a reoccurring relationship between power and knowledge, which does not relent in the discourse of the arts.
Postmodernist art exhibited a new eclecticism, playfulness, and insouciance against modernist values of purity, seriousness, and individualism. While there is entertainment in bad music, few can deny its corrosive effects on the social polity.
In The Subject and Power, Michel Foucault wrote, "Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are, but to refuse what we are," and that seemed to be a theoretical development facing music in the 1960s.
Popular musicians refused to acknowledge what they were, and instead followed consensus. The late-'60s saw a decisive historical mutation from industrial capitalism and Western values, and while that brought us a deluge of great music, it put into the minds of the artist a prolific popularization of subjective response. Formalism, realism, and pretention were abandoned for cynicism, irony, commercialism, and nihilism.
What else can explain Davy Jones' jump in oppositional currents from "You Got a Habit of Leaving Me" to his first single, "The Laughing Gnome" (1967), under his new name, David Bowie?
We blindly trust in the arts, as the loss of ethical absolutes and certainties are said to expose reason as non-beneficent, nor a humanizing force. The direct correlation between liberal-humanist principles and moral conduct fails to hide the dark pessimism in the decline of utopian values, and tear the veil hiding the congenial coexistence of avant-garde music and the Holocaust, as on track three of Captain Beefheart's 1969 LP, Trout Mask Replica.
That same year, the logic bemoaning the loss of community and identity had helped the world forget The Shaggs' Philosophy of the World album, until Frank Zappa, deploring the rise of mass culture, felt it was the right time to help erode classical standards of music on an episode of the Dr. Demento Show in the early-'70s. Sounding like the end of bourgeois ideals, while cramming antinomic rebellion and hedonistic impulses into the grooves of simple vinyl, Debra Cohen of Rolling Stone magazine called the record "the sickest, most stunningly awful wonderful record..."
Soon, the radical assault on tradition kept exhibiting itself, as a combative narcissism clashed with the organizational urgencies of musical providence and prefecture, in what became known as disco. Undercutting the civic will, dance and drugs fueled the inadequacy of contemporary capitalist modernity, and complemented the celebration of instant gratification by selling out its own genre.
Within no time, DJ Rick Dees supplanted the liberating features of the era with his pessimistic take on the trajectory of modern society through his 1976 satirical smash hit, "Disco Duck."
The rise of expansionist instability, and the decay in new commodity spectacles, encouraged the adoption of new forms. Seeing as reality only consists of objects and events as they are perceived by the human consciousness, it was best to transform the differential sets of binary opposites through a reconstitution of function, hence the restructuring of Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman's "Suicide is Painless" becomes the detritus that is The New Marketts "Disco Theme from M*A*S*H."
As I wrote in a previous No Echo piece ("Punk Posers on Parade"), cooptation is one of the smaller, though sadder, epiphenomena of music. One band—which I still scratch my head over not including in that work—are Barnes & Barnes, who excluded the underlying system from the explanatory scheme of punk, with their "new wave" pastiche study in practice theory, "Fish Heads." Though, we may ask, what else is to be expected from a music video that premiered on Saturday Night Live (December 6, 1980)?
It was such a hit, the show re-ran the video the following week, and MTV—claiming they had not many music videos to run—made it a staple in their rotation.
Not long after, in an attack on the conceptual representations of a subject through simulacra, Frank Zappa obtained his only Top 40 hit in 1982, using his daughter Moon Unit to deconstruct the linguistic signifiers of an entire subculture.
Peaking at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100, it devalued through parody—what he believed to be—the San Fernando Valley's inferior term position, but instead created a significant increase in "Valspeak" slang.
That same year, a full range of hidden mechanisms concerning economic tendencies within the institutionalized semiurgy of the consumerist socio-historic structure developed due to the musical actions of Akron, Ohio's Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia. Releasing an entire pop record devoted to video games not only caused a heterogenic rupture in age groups, but accelerated the proliferation of comprehensive media-meets-market inquiry.
There is no definite explication as to how Buckner & Garcia obtained, or the American mindset allowed, "Pac-Man Fever" to chart well into the Top 40—whether through furor or outright manipulation remains to be seen.
Later, marking the point where record labels experimented in dissolving the endless flux of totalities in the transcendental/empirical doublet, it would make sense to juxtapose fields independent of one another, such as the music industry and Hollywood. In 1989, there was no one better to trumpet that apocalyptic discontinuity than Crispin Glover, with his presentation of his problematically titled release The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let it Be. The actor's objective positivism is constituted in his rap undertaking, "Clowny Clown Clown."
Herbert Marcuse proposed developing a "libidinal rationality," which would administer an emancipatory substitute to the restrictive reason of the subjectivist tradition, and valorized an "aesthetic-erotic" dimension of experience. It seems Aqua took that to heart, adding a capitalist dash of product placement in their 1997 hit single, "Barbie Girl."
A qualified manufactured warping of Jürgen Habermas' ego-alter model, its powerful emphasis on solipsistic individual experience had a consensus of exaggerated desirability and conclusively proves species potential takes a backseat when driving toward pop stardom.
Jean Baudrillard claimed in 1983's In the Shadows of the Silent Majorities, "Information dissolves meaning, and the social, into a sort of nebulous state leading not at all to a surfeit of innovation, but to the very contrary, to total entropy." It's almost as if he had seen the future, with Insane Clown Posse's signing of solo artist Boondox to their Psychopathic Records.
Georgia rapper David Hutton's incorporation of hip-hop and country music stresses Lyotardian agonistics beyond the rhetoric of musical justice. By 2010, he had proceeded to unleash on the world his fourth LP, which produced dissonant tempests such as "We All Fall."
Today, contemporary sources of transgression still suppress totalizing narratives through the antagonistic arguments of what "good (or bad) music" may be. As if there are no social components to ethics, recording artists are placed in positions of power, and all output seems free from the pervasive operations of negative criticism. In 2012, proof is suggested by Scott Walker's dropping the recuperative primacy of his early work, in a possible pursuit of modeling his vocals after acid-crippled crooner Arcesia.
With everything that's been said, who is to say what makes certain tracks acceptable, or others without value? Who am I to gauge one's experience in the rhizomatic methodologies found throughout musical genres?
As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari wrote in their 1983 tome, Anti-Oedipus, "We live today in the age of partial objects, bricks that have been shattered to bits, and leftovers... We no longer believe in a primordial totality that once existed, or in a final totality that awaits us at some future date."
Whether there has been a purposeful genealogical and epistemological basis for a disciplinary decentralization of harmony, tunefulness, melody, and measure within song structure, it is up to a greater musical historian than I. Besides, this may all simply be one big bluff hidden inside just another joke on you, dear listener.