In the advanced industrial countries pop music is defined by standardization: its prototype is the song hit. A popular American textbook on writing and selling such hits confessed that with disarming missionary zeal some thirty years ago. The main difference between a pop song and a serious or-in the beautifully paradoxical language of that manual a “standard” song is said to be that pop melodies and lyrics must stick to an unmercifully rigid pattern while the composer of serious songs is permitted free, autonomous creation. The textbook writers do not hesitate to call popular music “custom-built,” a predicate usually reserved for automobiles. Standardization extends from the overall plan down to details. The basic rule in the American practice that governs production everywhere is that the refrain consists of 32 bars with a “bridge,” a part initiating the repetition, in the middle. Also standardized are the various types of song-not only dances, whose standardization would be plausible and by no means new, but songs celebrating motherhood or the joys of domesticity, nonsense or novelty songs, pseudo-children’s-songs or lamentations at the loss of a girlfriend. For the last, which may be the most widespread of all, a curious name has become customary in America: they are called “ballads.” Above all, it is the metric and harmonic cornerstones of any pop song, the beginning and the end of its several parts that must follow the standard schema. It confirms the simplest fundamental structures, whatever deviations may occur in between. Complications remain without consequences: the pop song leads back to a few basic perceptive categories known ad nauseam. Nothing really new is allowed to intrude, nothing but calculated effects that add some spice to the ever-sameness without imperiling it. And these effects in turn take their bearings from schemata.
Do these ideas hold told true for all forms of popular music creativity and consumption?
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