Welcome to The International Association for the Study of Popular Music UK and Ireland Branch

Mainstream Silence: Thinking about the Music Everyone Listens to but Nobody Really Discusses

Posted: June 22nd, 2022 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

University of Strasbourg
December 1-2 2022

Organizers: Elsa Grassy, University of Strasbourg, Isabelle Marc (USIAS-UCM)
Scientific committee: John Mullen (Rouen), Christophe Pirenne (Liège)

Whether we choose it or whether it is chosen for us, music is with us all the time, both during exceptional events in our lives and in the humdrum everyday. Researchers have delved into the use of music in daily life, in particular in connection with sound reproduction technology and with socializing habits (DeNora 2011, Kassabian, Boschi et Garcia Quiñones 2013). However, rare have been researchers, particularly in France, who have looked at majority or mainstream music genres, artists, or songs with the aim of analyzing them from an aesthetic or social point of view (Pirenne 2021). In this way, popular music studies seems to have reproduced inside the popular field the aesthetic and value-ridden hierarchy which held sway between classical and popular music.

It is clear that most studies concentrate on musical production which is considered innovative, which is thought to carry a subversive message or subcultural capital, or which is characterized by some originality of form. In this way the ideology of modernity is followed, as these productions are seen as going beyond “everyday” forms of music and validating a teleological understanding of music. The result is that most music which people listen to, the music which tops the hit parade of records or streaming statistics, the music which speaks to millions, is scarcely mentioned in critical studies. This music is, in practice, silenced, absent from critical discourse while listened to more than any other.

Beginning with this identification of the absence in research events of that music characterized by its popularity and its integration into the market economy, this conference aims to look at majority music and what makes it mainstream, both from an aesthetic point of view and from the point of view of the diverse representations of mainstream music. We wish to define and describe mainstream music in its cultural context, analyze its banality and its complexity, and look at the particular ways it is produced, broadcast and received. We will attempt also to understand why so many discourses, academic or not, seem to ignore or even despise this music, even if there are a few exceptions (Wilson 2014, Steinbrecher 2021, for example). Why does the quantitative success of the popular tend to make people discredit it as vulgar? Why does the vision of the ordinary slide into the denunciation of the abject?

The conference will concentrate on the contemporary period (1980 to 2022) and contributions will be rooted in a specific cultural context. The following topics are suggested, and interdisciplinary approaches are preferred:

  • Quantitative aspects of “popular” music
  • The mainstream and the disciplines of popular music studies (anthropology, musicology, sociology, history, literary studies, media studies and so on)
  • The art of the mainstream (images, text and sound)
  • Naming the mainstream (“light,” “pop,” “easy listening,” etc)
  • Mainstream genres and their use in chart statistics and audience measurement
  • Broadcasting the mainstream: the role of streaming platforms, social media such as Twitter and Tiktok and video applications such as YouTube and Vimeo.
  • Mainstream music and the image
  • Audiovisual aspects of mainstream music.
  • Identifying and describing mainstream music scenes in a specific cultural context
  • Mainstream music audiences and how they are represented (“fangirls,” Gaga’s “little monsters,” BTS’s “army,” and so on).
  • The effects of mainstream music on listeners
  • The aesthetics of the mainstream
  • Ideology and mainstream representations
  • Mainstream music and emotion
  • Journalistic criticism and the mainstream
  • Majority music and moral panics
  • Shame and mainstream music – “guilty pleasures”
  • Hating mainstream music
  • Gender and sexuality in mainstream music

Papers may be given in French or in English. Proposals should be sent to Elsa Grassy [email protected] and to Isabelle Marc [email protected] before July 1st, 2022 (response of scientific committee by 15 July).

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