USC Sociology Professor on pop music

Dr. Mathieu Deflem, USC professor of “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame,” Photo by Michael Brown/provided by Dr. Deflem

Seeking the definition of pop music, I contacted Dr. Mathieu Deflem, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina who teaches the course “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame.” This is the insight that he had to share on how pop music compares to other genres.

1. In terms of music production and cultural significance, how does pop differ from other music genres?

Culturally, pop is more popular, by definition, and therefore more significant in terms of reaching people. As music is always a form of communication (or, music is not music until it has an audience), pop music is more socially significant than any other genre. Music production has mainly changed over the years because of technological advances (synthesizers, digital recording etc).

2. How does the current pop music scene compare to that of previous decades? If not, how is it similar?

Not sure, but as always, musical genres go through waves of popularity, and right now pop is at the top of popular music, absent any decent rock music except those rock genres that stay underground.

3. What is a quality that today’s most successful pop stars share?

They share an ability to connect with fans, mostly influenced by the use of new communication technologies (social networking) while at the same time also being visible in the more traditional media such as radio and TV.

4. What does a newcomer have to bring to the table in order to be successful? Where does a powerful voice rank?

You have to have a distinct musical talent to make it in the long run. Luck will only take you to the top for a short while, a moment. Record companies, who are presently most important for promotion and giving an artist exposure, are not willing to invest in any performer unless there is some idea that there is a considerable musical appeal, which will eventually mean financial gains. Many artists of yesteryears will not get signed in this day and age, with both good and bad consequences for the musical landscape in contemporary pop and rock.


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