Taylor Swift has conquered New York. What she plans to do with it, and whether New York needed conquering at all, remain open questions. Swift dominates the current moment in pop music with an undeniable, if understated, charisma.
Her presence in my thought processes at all is a sort-of inexplicable phenomenon. Swift’s music does not grab my attention, I am not her target demographic in any way, and yet I notice her influence everywhere. It’s our apparatus of cultural commodification in action, I suppose, grinding on as it does with diminishing returns.
On my daily rounds patrolling the interwebs the other day, I ran across this article (Metro State log in necessary) published in The Musical Quarterly. The author, one Arved Ashby, professor of music at The Ohio State University, examined the aesthetic and historic placement of Frank Zappa’s musical corpus. (Those wishing to pay their respects to Zappa’s physical corpus should find comfort here.
I point to the Marxist-Freudian idea of fetishism as the common denominator of Zappa’s projects…he defined himself against the fetishist subcodes of orchestral music, at times exploding them in his own compositions and at other times satirizing them…
If you are current on your Marxist theory, or Vietnam-era pop musicians for that matter, you won’t be surprised to hear Zappa’s work described in this way. As Marx would have asked (but probably never did ask), What is the inherent value of pop music? Zappa answers by exploding the process by which my (and your, and Amazon’s) subjective value of T. Swift becomes the objective value shared by all.
While Frank Zappa’s work exists as the contrapuntal voice antagonizing Swift’s soaring cantus firmus, as Ashby might describe it, he needed the Swifts of his era more than they needed him. The cold, blue light of satire reveals a Taylor Swift, less “Freak Out!” and more “We’re Only in it for the Money,” who rests comfortably in society’s spotlight (counting her piles of cash, assumably). Zappa is gone and with him went our anti-corporate gadfly.
Much of the scholarly literature through which we can understand our current moment in pop music has been unlocked for readers on iPads, iPhones, Android devices, and Kindle, thanks to Metropolitan State Library’s new subscription to BrowZine, which allows you to browse journals (like The Musical Quarterly, Popular Music, Capital and Class, and many more), save/email articles, and keep track of your favorite publications on your tablet or mobile device. For a list of publishers whose journals appear in BrowZine, click here, and to download Browzine to your device, check out the library’s LibGuide!