Simon Frith - "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" - summary
In "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" Simon Frith examines the question of value judgments of pop music and the function of these judgments in shaping the experience of listening to popular music. Frith rejects the widely held notion that "serious music matters because it transcends social forces; popular music is aesthetically worthless because it is determined by them". On the contrary, according to Frith it is this sociological constructivist approach which enables an aesthetic of popular music.
Frith is asking about the nature of the link between certain social groups or subcultures to certain types of music. To start answering this, Frith claims that pop music preferences are not only the product of out socially constructed taste – they also take part in the construction of this taste. Frith also argues against the notion of popular music as essentially a commercial function for "even if pop tastes are the effects of social conditioning and commercial manipulation, people still explain them to themselves in terms of value judgment".
Frith holds that popular music is a kind of Althusserian ideological apparatus which tells people who they are, and it does so by defining "its own aesthetic standard". Popular music for Frith does not (only) reveal taste, it creates it. When relating to measures of popularity like pop charts Frith argues that "their use is always for the creation (rather than reflection) of taste communities… 'women's music… is interesting not as music which somehow expresses 'women', but as music which seeks to define them".
The pop music experience according to Frith is that of positioning. Popular music is more open to personal appropriation than other forms of culture. On the other hand, while being a function which allows the formation of a personal identity, popular music is still determined "out there" and creates an imagined community of affiliation around it with which people can identify through music. And as Frith concludes the first part of "Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music" – "other cultural forms… can articulate and show off shared values and pride, but only music can make you feel them".