Pop-Rock, Cultural Cosmopolitanism and the Global Cultural Market of Youth Identities

In: Youth and Globalization
Motti Regev The Open University of Israel,

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This article offers a sociological framework for understanding the functioning of pop-rock music, in its plentiful genres, styles and related phenomena through the years, as an agent in thrusting cosmopolitan youth identities, and thereby cultural cosmopolitanism in general. The article develops the notion of a global cultural market of youth identities, created by the structural emergence of ‘youth’ as an age based social category in modern societies. Following a discussion of cultural cosmopolitanism and an elaboration on the nature of pop-rock music as a global meta-category of musicking, the article discusses the functioning of pop-rock as a realm of content and meaning for youth identities across the world. This is developed and illustrated through the concept of aesthetic cultures of pop-rock; and by a focus on the notion of pop-rock knowledge.

One noticeable phenomenon in the global field of pop-rock music in the first two decades of the 21st century is k-pop. A genre of pop music produced in South Korea, it consists of a carefully designed mixture of various musical styles (electronic dance, rap, rock and more), placing much emphasis on the visual aspect of its very young female and male performers. Emerging in South Korea in the 1990s as a local take on the idol music format from Japan, k-pop was successfully exported by the early 2000s to the entire East Asian region. Some ten years later, it became highly popular among youth in countries around the world, thanks primarily to distribution through social and media networks on the Internet. K-pop fandom, in other words, became a component of youth identity across countries and regions, rendering teenagers and young adults in multiple national and ethnic location participants in the same cultural formation (Jung, 2017).

Back in South Korea, in the mid 1990s, another cultural enclave was being shaped, centered on a different genre of pop-rock

The terminology, ideology and attitude of all things ‘indie’ began to develop in Korea … Contemporary forms of Anglophone pop-rock styles were the main sources of inspiration for these emerging Korean indie bands…. , and this music starkly contrasted with mainstream Korean pop inspired by Japanese idol (aidoru) music. The scene began to grow when the bands found support from local critics and enthusiasts; infrastructure and a critical mass began to form in the Hongdae area [of Seoul]. One of the pivotal events in the early indie scene was held in 1995 … titled A Tribute Concert for Kurt Cobain, the event was held as a mark of respect to the Nirvana singer-songwriter who had died the previous year, and it attracted young people who were fans of the grunge sound … A steady number of indie bands emerged in the scene… they were welcomed as a component of the new generation’s culture. Indie bands may have been agents of cultural and creative change (Shin, 2011: 153).

Anglo-American indie (or alternative) rock domesticated by Korean youth, and global mainstream pop made in Korea are two cases, in one country, exemplifying the major role played by pop-rock genres and styles in propelling current cultural cosmopolitanism among recurrent generations of youth all over the world (see also Cicchelli & Octobre, 2018).

Pop-rock music and youth have been closely linked from the outset. It is a premise well asserted by research, and hardly needs to be reminded (Frith 1981; Fornäs, Lindberg & Sernhede 1995). Yet far from being monolithic, and depending on the time and place it was practiced, each generational identity centered on pop-rock genres took on a certain local, national or ethnic variance. Over the years, these identities accumulated into a global series of cultural enclaves, trends, fads and fashions that afforded youth in numerous countries a sense of participation in (perceived) forefronts of modern culture. By practicing their identities through engagements with pop-rock genres and styles, youth groupings became practitioners, and in many ways heralds of cultural cosmopolitanism in their countries. In other words, global pop-rock music has been a prime supplier of meaningful artifacts for a constantly expanding and increasingly sophisticated global cultural realm of youth identities.

This article offers a sociological framework for understanding the functioning of pop-rock through the years, in its plentiful musical genres or styles, and in related phenomena such as fandom, fashion and visual culture, as an agent in thrusting cosmopolitan youth identities, and consequently cultural cosmopolitanism in general, across the world. The theoretical framework consists of three interrelated components, each outlined in a separate section: a perspective on youth identities as a global cultural market of identities; aesthetic cultures of pop-rock as genre centered identities, ranging in their nature from ardent to casual fandom; and pop-rock knowledge, being the core cultural material of this global phenomenon. In between, the article devotes some space to explicate the notions of cultural cosmopolitanism and pop-rock music.

I should clarify at the outset that by understanding the close link between pop-rock and youth in terms of a socio-cultural market of identities, this article follows a Bourdieusian logic. Doing so, the article does not aim to criticize, but rather to expands on, and divert in certain ways from the long held approach to the link between pop-rock music and youth cultures, one that centers on cultural enclaves known by terms such as subcultures, scenes or neo-tribes. Indeed, much of the literature on youth and pop-rock music has centered on this set of concepts and related approaches. Pioneering work on subcultures (Hebdige, 1979; Thornton, 1995) was followed by massive and highly influential body of work by Bennett (see for example Bennett, 2000, 2011). Other work, concentrating on cases beyond the English speaking West, also followed this approach (see for example Guerra, 2016; Guerra & Silva, 2015). Thus Feixa (2004), in a detailed review of youth cultures in Spain from the 1950s onwards, offers a panoramic view of these series of socio-cultural phenomena that emerged worldwide in the post-war period, and reviews the literature that addressed it.

Pointing to the particularities of the Spanish case, but also to similarities with parallel youth cultures in the UK, the usa and other countries in Europe and Latin America, Feixa’s is an excellent review of the history of youth cultures from the 1960s to early twenty-first centuries in many countries, and a concise summary of the trajectories of scholarly insights about them. While focusing on the complex relations between youth cultures and deviance, his review nevertheless affirms the centrality of musical styles and genres, all being part of pop-rock musical culture, in the self-definition of these youth cultural enclaves, in the ways they practice and perceive their identities (see also Huq, 2007).

Subcultures and scenes, being enclaves with relatively clearly defined cultural contours, render themselves convenient for ethnography and analysis. But the centrality of pop-rock music for youth identities takes additional forms, beyond this set of enclaves. It is manifested also through much looser practices of partial and occasional fandom of genres and styles. It often goes further than a commitment to one specific genre, into omnivore patterns that include multiple genres and mainstream styles. A broad sociological understanding of pop-rock music in the formation of youth identities across the world has to address therefore, in addition to its central role in scenes or subcultures, the rather routine like practices of taste in everyday life – as well as the relationship between these two patterns and their impact on culture in general. Such an understanding will point to the prominent role played by youth cultures and pop-rock music in practicing and being heralds of current cultural cosmopolitanism.

In what follows than, I briefly review the concept of cultural cosmopolitanism and then develop the notion of a global cultural market of youth identities, created by the structural emergence of ‘youth’ as an age based social category in modern societies. This is followed by a brief elaboration on the nature of pop-rock music as a global meta-category of musicking. The article proceeds with two sections, discussing how pop-rock functioned for half a century as a realm of content and meaning for youth identities across the world. One section develops and illustrates the concept of aesthetic cultures of pop-rock; the other section focuses on the notion of pop-rock knowledge. Throughout, the article is dotted by empirical examples, drawn from the slowly accumulating ample body of research on the subject. Serving as illustrations to the general arguments, the examples have been selected to cover various parts and regions of the world, and a range of genres and styles of pop-rock music (for expanded discussion and additional examples and cases see Regev, 2013). The article concludes by considering the impact the accumulation of pop-rock practices had on the consolidation of cultural cosmopolitanism as a global condition.

1 Cultural Cosmopolitanism and the Global Market of Youth Identities

Cultural cosmopolitanism relates to a current world cultural order, a global cultural formation that emerged after half a century of intensive globalization (Regev, 2019). It is characterized by permutation and reconfiguration of traditional patterns of diversity and increased cultural commonalities between nations, ethnic groups and other forms of collective identity. While nations and ethnic groups tend to preserve and foster strong perceptions of cultural uniqueness rooted in indigenous traditions and heritage, and thus maintain world cultural diversity, they nevertheless face increased similarities between their own cultures and those of other social units around the world. This overlap, or common cultural ground, stems from multidirectional flows and global circulation of creative techniques, expressive means, stylistic elements, affective meanings and evaluative criteria through cultural industries and media of all types. The reality of cultural cosmopolitanism is materialized in localized, domesticated, hybridized, indigenized and vernacularized variants of such globally circulating cultural objects, consumer goods and practices, as well as art forms, genres, styles and trends in visual and performing arts, music, fashion, food, design and advertisement. In the condition of cultural cosmopolitanism, national, ethnic and local cultures of all sorts, while retaining features and a sense of singularity, are fully entangled in one world culture, resulting from their openness to and absorption of globally circulating cultural materials alien to their own native traditions.

Two sociological dynamics govern the expansion of cultural cosmopolitanism, and in both of them youth function as major agents. One of them, best understood in terms derived from world society theory (Meyer et al., 1997; DiMaggio & Powell, 1983), consists of expressive isomorphism. Here, normative, imitative or coercive dynamics propel collective actors within fields of national culture to follow globally disseminated models of life style practices, perceived as representing the forefronts of modernity. This is done by adopting, adapting, adjusting, incorporating, and legitimating creative technologies, stylistic elements, genres, and forms of art derived from such world models within the context of national cultures. In fact, the very institutionalization of youth as a global age-based social category is one essential phenomenon intricately connected to the isomorphic processes of world society. In an early and classic comparative study of the very notion of age groups as social categories, Eisenstadt’s (1956) asserted that youth groups tend to emerge as distinct social categories once societies become more complex. In the case of modern societies, inseparable from the structural formation of youth is the fundamental constraint to shape it, invest it with particular meanings, and make it culturally discernable from other social categories (Gillis, 1974). It is in this context that Kahane (1997) pointed to youth formations in early to mid- twentieth century created or supported by state agencies, political parties and civil society organizations. As he further asserts, once these formations declined,they have been replaced in late twentieth century by youth formations based on consumption, reception and articulation of goods and objects produced by cultural industries and art fields.

It is this second type of youth identities whose very existence in the post-war period is largely shaped by genres and styles, fads and trends in pop-rock music. It is a linkage not unlike the correspondence characteristic of modern societies and pointed by Bourdieu (1992) between the rise of ‘high’ vs. ‘low’ life-style hierarchies, and ‘pure’ vs. ‘commercial’ taste hierarchies. In a similar vein, the link between the structural recurrent emergence of multiple youth groupings around the world and the lineage as well as diversification of pop-rock genres and styles can be envisaged as a ‘structural and functional homology’ (Bourdieu, 1992: 162). This homology revolves around a socio-cultural market of youth identities. On the demand side of this market, not only demography, but also class inequality, diversification of education and professions, gender, ethnic and other identity politics and additional social variables join to structurally and recurrently generate multiple youth groupings, all seeking to express and practice their singularity and distinction as contemporary cultural social units. On the supply side of this market stand the products of global cultural industries and artistic fields organized around constant aesthetic innovation. Driven either by ‘commercial’ interests or by variants of the ideology of ‘pure creativity’ (or any combinations of both), the global field of culture constantly produces fashions, trends and fads of life-style and consumption practices, presented as exciting new forefronts of modernity. These two aspects of the market reinforce and feed on each other to create, in accelerated speed, recurrent youth groupings and multiple youth fractions differentiated from each other not only chronologically, but also concurrently along various identity variables. It is a dynamic that allows public (and sometimes scholarly) discourse to characterize these groupings in terms reminiscent of Mannheim’s notion of ‘generations,’ (1952) as in the cases of using calendar labels (1960s generation, 1980s generation, millennials) or letters (x-generation, y-generation) as tags designating such groupings. Among youth themselves, it propels the coining and local adaptation of labels such as nerds, freaks, geeks, cool and others. One effect of the history of this market is the constitution of a mentality of always anticipating and expecting the next globally circulating genre and style, upcoming fashion, trend and fad. It is a disposition that propels youth groupings around the world to seek their self-definition of identity through recent products of the cultural industries and certain fields of art. It thus renders them cultural cosmopolitans at a very fundamental, self-evident and banal level. In other words, the global market of youth identities gave rise to a modern cosmopolitan youth habitus of expecting and immediately embracing new trends, fashions, fads and variants of aesthetic idioms, in order to construct micro identities organized around tastes in music, body language and nuances of visual appearance, and performed through boundary work in language, spaces of congregation and interactions rituals. In doing so, and by carrying elements and aspects of this cultural arsenal into their adult life, recurrent youth groupings have become not only prominent practitioners, but also heralds of current cultural cosmopolitanism.

The cosmopolitan nature of youth identities stems then from this constant flux of globally circulating cultural materials and objects that are adapted, incorporated and domesticated to become elements of local, ethnic and national cultures. Youth identities crystalize not only by following imported trends and styles, but also, and perhaps primarily, by creating and engaging with localized, domesticated, indigenized and vernacularized variants of such globally circulating cultural objects, consumer goods and practices, as well as art forms, genres and trends in visual and performing arts, music, fashion, design and advertisement. In doing so, youth groupings become prime exponents, if not heralds, of the condition of cultural cosmopolitanism in which national, ethnic and local cultures of all sorts become entangled in one world culture. Within this market of youth identities, pop-rock music has been one major, if not the most prominent supplier of styles and trends for shaping, through musicking and related practices, multiple and constantly emerging nuances of identity. The essence of pop-rock genres and styles in propelling cosmopolitanism is succinctly described in this reference to hip-hop fans in Mali: ‘hip-hop seems to offer them a way to come to terms not only with their personal dilemma but also with their desire to imagine themselves as modern, cosmopolitan and “kuul” citizens of the world’ (Schulz, 2012: 134).

Before discussing the dynamic by which pop-rock functions in this regard, I briefly elaborate in the next section on the dynamics of stylistic diversification in pop-rock over the years and around the world. This dynamic of artistic change and evolution constitutes the supply side of the global market of youth identities, by providing musical styles and genres around which youth groupings construct and define senses of nuanced identities.

2 Pop-Rock as Musical Cosmopolitanism

Pop-rock is a global aesthetic framework, a musical culture that includes a wide range of styles, genres and related phenomena across nations, ethnic groups and countries. The elements that interconnect all styles and genres of pop-rock music are primarily their creative technologies – electric and electronic instruments, sound manipulation equipment of all types (in recording studios or as accessories to instruments) and amplification. Also typical is the use of certain techniques of supposedly untrained vocal delivery, mostly those signifying immediacy of expression and spontaneity. For pop-rock musicians, the technologies of sonic expression are creative tools for generating sonic textures that cannot be produced otherwise (Gracyk, 1996; Wicke, 1990). In pop-rock, all this technologically saturated creativity is targeted towards the sonic materiality of a recorded product as the musical artwork.

The aesthetic musical culture of pop-rock emerged in the United States in the mid 1950s and expanded during the next half century to become the major global popular music culture. The history of pop-rock is typically narrated as an unfolding lineage of styles, organized around a symbolic divide between earlier periods and the ‘rock era.’ All styles of pop-rock are characterized in such narrations as developments, mutations, and expansions derived from the original style of rock’n’roll and then from the successive styles that developed from it. The period of approximately twenty-five years, from the mid 1950s to around 1980, is in this regard the formative era of pop-rock, during which its major idioms and genres have been explored and defined, including thereby the formation of its essential, overwhelmingly Anglo-American canon of musical works (mostly albums) and musicians (either as individual artists or as bands). Since the 1960s the musical culture of pop-rock has been increasingly adopted and indigenized in countries all over the world, to the point of becoming in many of them the major popular music culture (Regev, 2013). By early twenty-first century, the stylistic genealogy of pop-rock includes – or has included – genres, styles, forms, periods, fashions, trends, and fads of music known by names such as hard rock, alternative rock, punk, progressive rock, power pop, soul, funk, disco, dance, house, techno, hip-hop, heavy metal, extreme metal, reggae, country rock, folk rock, psychedelic rock, singer-songwriters, and notably, pop – as well as many more. These are augmented in countries around the world by various labels that refer to local, indigenous and national variants of such phenomena. A partial list includes rock nacional (in Argentina and Brazil), rock en español (Latin America), Anadolu rock (Turkey), yéyé (1960s France), (electric-) soukous (Congo), desert blues (Mali and Niger), Algerian pop-rai, Afro-pop, Afro-beat, J-pop (for Japan), K-pop (for South Korea), Cantopop, and many other uses of nation names as adjectives, i.e Ruski rock, hip-hop Italiano, rock indo (Indonesia) as well as numerous others.

Given the stylistic and generic range of pop-rock, the notion of ‘mainstream’ is of particular significance when considering history and change. The mainstream in pop-rock is the cultural realm in which aesthetic explorations that have been successfully established in the context of specific genres, styles or national forms of music are absorbed, diffused – and made accessible or known to large publics. At any given moment, the mainstream consists of the most widely known works and musicians of pop-rock, past and present. As it constantly changes and expands with the infusion of new works and also new styles and genres, the mainstream of pop-rock is ‘best conceived as a process rather than a category … [as] mainstreaming’ (Toynbee, 2002: 150).

Stylistic and generic developments and music originating from specific national or ethnic contexts are two primary, sometime overlapping sources of musical materials for the mainstreaming process. Pop-rock genres function in this regard as a sort of avant-garde terrain, frontiers of creativity, where new forms of musical expression are tested and formulated, catering in most cases to narrower audiences. Pop-rock genres thus have their own trajectory of development and change, but they are also suppliers of works and stylistic input to the general, mainstream repertoire of pop-rock. While some genres had a limited historical impact in this regard, others have evolved into long lasting suppliers for the mainstreaming process. Thus, for example, the genre of progressive rock, following its heyday in the early 1970s, contributed to the mainstream the work of bands such as Genesis and Pink Floyd, but later on its effect has narrowed down significantly. On the other hand, a genre like hip-hop has become since the 1980s a rather constant supplier of materials to the mainstreaming process of pop-rock. In addition to the long lasting effect of historical genres, styles and related phenomena, at the time of writing (late 2010s) pop-rock mainstreaming seems to thrive on four major generic sources: hip-hop and R&B, electronica, indie (or alternative) and metal.

National and ethnic forms of pop-rock are a second supplier of materials for pop-rock mainstreaming ever since musicians and works from countries beyond the English speaking West started to make inroads to international success. One of the most significant examples in this regard is probably reggae, the pop-rock genre from Jamaica that since the 1970s, led by the work of Bob Marley, gained prominent presence among audiences all over the world. Another noteworthy source consists of genres from African countries that affected the mainstream through the international success of bands and musicians, ranging from Youssou N’Dour, Fela Kuti or Papa Wemba in the 1980s, to Amadou & Mariam in the 2000s. African styles of pop-rock have been also a significant source of stylistic inspiration and influence for musicians in other parts of the world. Other notable examples of non Anglo-American suppliers of materials to the global mainstream of pop-rock are French electronic bands such as Air and Daft Punk, Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira, Swedish band Abba and Italian singers such as Eros Ramazzotti or Laura Pausini.

In addition to mainstreaming, national forms of pop-rock often contribute works and musicians to specific genres, rendering those genre global and cosmopolitan. Thus, the genre of extreme metal has seen significant contributions from Brazil (the band Sepultura), Nordic countries (Amon Amarth, Darkthrone), Germany (Kreator), Japan (Sigh) or Israel (Orphaned Land), for example. The indie/alternative genre of pop-rock also became genuinely cosmopolitan when bands such as Boris, Mono (both from Japan), Sigur Rós (Iceland), Café Tacuba (Mexico), The Hives (Sweden) gained international critical acclaim.

Regardless of their contribution to the international mainstream or to specific genres, many countries maintain a prolific local culture of pop-rock music in various styles and genres, all sung in native languages, including a national mainstream. Although not necessarily known to audiences beyond these countries, the thriving of such national pop-rock cultures is a major manifestation of the cosmopolitan nature of pop-rock music. Countries as diverse as Russia, South Korea, Argentina, Italy or Indonesia have each developed a multi-genre pop-rock culture, including scenes of hip-hop, electronic dance music, metal, alternative rock, singer-songwriters and, most significantly, their own variant of folk or ethnic pop-rock in which local music traditions are welded and mixed with electric and amplified pop-rock aesthetics. All such genres, in each country, are in constant dialog with their respective globally circulating stylistic innovations, and they also influence each other to create a local mainstream of pop-rock.

From its most remote corners of generic experimentation and exploration, ethnic or national indigenization, to its enormous core musical works and musicians known to fans and listeners across the world, pop-rock stands as the major global musical culture in early twenty-first century. Providing constant flux of genres and styles, trends and fads, pop-rock repeatedly geared consecutive generations of teenagers and young adults around the world to perform fandom through rituals of worshipping in concerts and festivals, in small clubs and large stadiums, all within the context of cultural formations referred to below as aesthetic cultures of pop-rock. Central to these performances of fandom stands acquisition and familiarity with pop-rock knowledge. That is, close acquaintance not only with successful songs, albums, styles and genres, but in a more essential way with the sonic vocabularies of electric, electronic, amplified and manipulated musical idioms.

3 Aesthetic Cultures of Pop-Rock

Pop-rock fandom among youth in countries around the world takes shape along a continuum, a range of practices that stretches from the most ardent practitioners to casual and accidental ones. As mentioned above, research on the functioning of pop-rock in the life world of youth has tended to focus on one end of this continuum, namely the rather well defined enclaves of ardent fans that have been traditionally conceptualized as subcultures, scenes and neo-tribes. Other patterns have been explored through survey research, especially the approach known as omnivore studies (Peterson & Kern, 1996; Cicchelli et al., 2016; Leguina et al., 2016). The entire spectrum of fandom has not been conceptualized under one approach. One way to sociologically understand the full spectrum of how of pop-rock music functions in the life world of youth around the world since the 1950s, I suggest, is to conceptualize it as a cluster of aesthetic cultures (a concept roughly adapted from the notion of epistemic cultures, originally coined in the sociology of science: Knorr Cetina, 2007).

Any aesthetic culture of pop-rock is a set of practices, arrangements, and mechanisms bound together by affinity and historical coincidence which make up how individuals experience, evaluate, and sense the world of objects that conventionally belong to given genres or to pop-rock at large, and what these individuals know about it. Aesthetic cultures of pop-rock are frameworks of creating and warranting criteria of evaluation, modes of worshipping, cognitive and emotional dispositions pertaining to given worlds of musical and related objects. When understood in this way, various genres of pop-rock may be seen as aesthetic cultures, while the entire range of pop-rock genres, styles, sub-genres and sub-styles may be understood as the aesthetic meta-culture of pop-rock. Thus we may speak about the aesthetic cultures of metal, of hip-hop, of alternative/indie rock, of electronic dance music, to name the most obvious, but also the aesthetic culture of mainstream pop.

Disseminated from their Anglo-American origins since the 1950s, entangled in an aura that mixes rebellion, fun and hedonism, experimentalism and exploration of uncharted sonic and aesthetic grounds, aesthetic cultures of pop-rock have continually attracted adolescents and young adults in almost any part of the world, catering to their identity interests. Finding in them universes of meaning for experiencing, practicing and delineating youth identities perceived as cutting edge modernity, yet rooted in their own local, national and ethnic realities, adolescents and young adults sought to participate in pop-rock aesthetic cultures, including thereby establishing their own native and indigenous variants of such cultures. However, while some – as musicians, knowledgeable fans, or some other capacity – became fervent practitioners, many others remained casual partakers in the aesthetic cultures of pop-rock.

Participation in any given aesthetic culture of pop-rock can be envisaged in this regard as a series of expanding circles. The innermost circle consists of experts and ardent fans of the aesthetic culture. They have detailed knowledge and highly refined taste. These are the aficionados, the knowledgeable individuals, the active amateurs Hennion (2004) refers to, for whom engagement with music amounts to much more than fleeting moments of listening. They are the ones who tend to ritualize boundaries between one aesthetic culture and another, and construct firm group identities around their engagement with music – in other words, they are the makers of subcultures and scenes. The outermost circles, on the other hand, consist of individuals who are occasional fans, with superficial knowledge of one or another work or musician. Participation in a given aesthetic culture is for them just a casual practice, one taste preference among others. These young individuals might equally well be partially engaged in the outer circles of several aesthetic cultures of pop-rock. Some of them might be characterized as omnivorous pop-rock consumers, individuals whose taste covers several pop-rock genres. Also notable is the movement of individuals between circles. The fervent participant in a subculture today might be the casual follower of tomorrow, as she or he moves in their life trajectory.

Here are three cases illustrating the multiple paths taken by youth in various countries, at different points in recent history, to construct national variants of pop-rock aesthetic cultures – paths that propels them in effect into cultural cosmopolitanism. First is the case of rock fandom in Argentina during the 1960s. As pointed out by Manzano (2010), pop-rock first emerged as local music in Argentina early in that decade, when several pop idols, especially those associated with the popular television show El club del clan, emerged to become national celebrities, worshipped by youth. Not exactly a subculture or scene, pop-rock idols where essentially an object of consumption, cutting across multiple social sectors, especially middle-class youth. It was only later, towards the end of that same decade, when various bands and musicians (later to be know as rock nacional) as well as their ardent fans, embraced a declarative stance of counterculture around musical styles such as folk rock and progressive rock (Manzano, 2014). In other words, the transformative agency of pop-rock in this country, propelling youth into cultural cosmopolitanism, took shape along two aesthetic cultures. Ardent Argentinean fans of rock nacional tended to erect symbolic boundaries between the music they glorified as artistically authentic and mainstream pop-rock idols. But one can nevertheless hypothesize with much probability that many other fans included both types of pop-rock in their taste preferences and self-perception as participants in cutting-edge modernity.

Another example comes from metal music in Indonesia, in the early 1990s. Concerts held in Jakarta by the internationally successful Brazilian metal band Sepultura in 1992, and by the US band Metallica in 1993, ‘attracted both middle class and elite fans able to afford ticket prices, as well as lower class metal and punk fans who, unable to purchase tickets, eventually restored to frustrated rioting’ (Bodden, 2005: 7). This very mass enthusiasm, however, signaling the mainstreaming of certain extreme metal styles, was seen by ardent metal fans in Bali as ‘instances of inauthenticity’ (Baulch, 2003: 199). Consequently, these Balinese fans shifted the anchor of their metal identity towards sub-styles and bands perceived by them as faithful to the core aesthetic culture of extreme metal music.

This is a typical dialectic between the inner circles of a given aesthetic culture of pop-rock, metal in this case, and the outer circles of intermittent participants. When musicians representing the artistic authenticity of a genre gain popularity beyond the core followers, a move sometimes labeled as ‘sell-out,’ ritualized boundaries are erected by the ardent followers, who seek new musical forms and expressions of the genre. One aesthetic culture of pop-rock in which this dynamic is practiced at an increased pace around the world is electronic dance music. Here, a multitude of labels is constantly invented to create an endless line of styles that maintain hierarchies between hardcore clubbers and youth who are just occasional visitors to dance clubs (McLeod, 2001; Saldanha, 2002).

Finally, a third example comes from pop-rock culture in China. By the 2000s, youth in China demonstrates ‘a surprising fusion of patriotism and cosmopolitanism’ (de Kloet & Fung, 2016: 78). This form of identity is largely practiced through engagements with aesthetic cultures of pop-rock music in which global languages of such cultures are given a local adaptation, rendering them expressions of contemporary Chineseness. One such aesthetic culture is mainstream pop-rock, ideally expressed in the musical output and media personality of female singer Chris Li (Li Yuchun), whose career began with her winning the singing contest ‘super girl’ in 2005. This mainstream pop is

an emerging potpourri of genres, ranging from the more popular pop, rock, electronica, R&B and hip-hop to big band and jazz. Non-exclusivity is one of its characteristics, but that non-exclusion rule is largely applied to Western music, regardless of genre… by integrating different Western musics and presenting the finished product as Chinese, it distances itself from the longer tradition of Chinese music… which represents to the younger generation the obsolete, the passé and the pre-modern China (Fung, 2013: 86).

Yet if mainstream pop affords a cosmopolitan identity based on a hodgepodge of pop-rock idioms, than at the other end of the spectrum stand Chinese youth identities ardently committed to one genre. This is the case with punk. Almost twenty years after this global genre was first introduced in China in the mid 1990s, an ethnography found individuals in their early thirties conducting a life style based on punk aesthetics of music and appearance, first adopted by them around 2000 (Xiao, 2018).

As these randomly picked examples illustrate, the functioning of pop-rock music in constructions of youth identities is not confined to ardent participation in subcultures or scenes that are centered on particular genres. Youth identities are practiced in additional ways, and are often centered on mainstreamed variants of pop-rock genres. In any case, by practicing their identities through engagement with pop-rock music, these youth groupings are in effect, advertently or inadvertently, practitioners of cultural cosmopolitanism.

4 Pop-Rock Knowledge

The ability of youth in countries around the world to participate fully or partially in aesthetic cultures of pop-rock has been determined by the availability of, and their access to pop-rock knowledge. Historically, a gradual process can be detected from earlier periods, when dissemination of such knowledge was intermittent and partial, to latter periods when global media, evolving into satellite services and internet platforms, afforded youth around the world instant and perpetual participation in aesthetic cultures of pop-rock, rendering such participation, and their cosmopolitan identities, self-evident. Pop-rock knowledge, in the sense of cultural information stored and inscribed in the bodies (including thereby the minds) of individuals (not necessarily music professionals of any kind), and enacted through bodily motion, sensory and affective experience, or simply through talk about music, consists of three basic layers. The first two layers constitute the core elements of participation in aesthetic cultures of pop-rock. A third layer stems from the accumulated impact of recurrent generations of youth participation in aesthetic cultures of pop-rock.

One layer of knowledge is informative in essence. Or rather, it is a database type of knowledge, consisting mostly of names of musicians, albums, songs, genres, genealogies of styles and periods, and some additional details or items. It most often consists also of acquaintance with the institutionalized evaluative hierarchies of pop-rock in general, or of specific aesthetic cultures. That is, knowledge about which bands and musicians are the sanctified master artists, and which musical works are the masterpieces of pop-rock and of its specific styles. This layer of knowledge is discursive by nature. One can obtain it by reading texts, listening to lectures or talks, or through conversation. Indeed, magazines and newspapers, as well as radio talk or discussions among fans were central in introducing discursive knowledge of pop-rock (Varriale, 2017; Val Ripollés, 2017), and thus in triggering curiosity and eagerness to get acquainted with the music itself.

Another layer of musical knowledge consists of acquaintance with musical works, with their actual sounds. This type of knowledge is affective and experiential, and closely connected to auditory memory. The only way to obtain this type of musical knowledge is by listening to musical works. It usually takes more than one listen in order to acquire a sort of cognitive and affective ownership of such knowledge, gaining thereby familiarity that allows one to say that he or she knows, likes, or enjoys a particular musical work. Once such knowledge is acquired, an individual is able to identify a specific piece of music, and anticipate its continuity when the work starts playing. Acquiring this type of knowledge has depended on steady supply of music through broadcasting media and sale of phonograms (vinyl, cassettes, cd’s).

Participation in the global market of youth identities through aesthetic cultures of pop-rock has followed certain linearity in the availability of these two types of knowledge. In earlier periods, pop-rock knowledge of these two layers in many countries was partial, intermittent and in any case strongly perceived as ‘foreign’ to local culture. Increased influx of both types of knowledge in latter periods facilitated both the emergence and consolidation of local variants of pop-rock aesthetic cultures, and intensified participation in the global market of youth identities. This change in the enactment of pop-rock knowledge in many countries is in many ways best exemplified in the case of Mongolia, being a country whose image is often one of remoteness and isolation. Thus Balchinjav Dolgion, composer, producer and bearing the title President of the Mongolian Rock and Pop Music Academy, relates to early pop-rock in this country:

We used to listen to LPs smuggled into Mongolia, mostly by the children of diplomats who had been living abroad wherever their parents had been posted. It was risky though, to be a fan of the Beatles in those days, we had to listen in hiding and turn the volume down in case the neighbors heard…..’ (Mongolia Views, 11 March 2010,, accessed March 28, 2012).

In the 2000s, by contrast, youth in Mongolia

employ the costumes, gestures, language and other signifiers drawn from hip-hop’s roots with such zest and enthusiasm… a testament to how savvy they have become at appropriating the mediated images of global hip-hop… The music that emerges from this exploration is a unique Mongolian take on global hip-hop traditions, reflecting just how tied in this generation is to global popular culture (Marsh, 2010: 356).

Summarizing this cultural trajectory, another researcher concludes that in their participation in aesthetic cultures of pop-rock music,

modern urban youth in Mongolia are chaotic and spontaneous: they borrow and (re)appropriate their identities through playing, manipulating and negotiating with transcultural flows and translocal languages…. The flux of ‘Global Popular Music culture’ undoubtedly had an impact upon young urban Mongolians, inventing and constructing, refashioning and crafting the language practice and identity of its members in their local context (Dovchin, 2011: 332).

Once these two layers of pop-rock knowledge became legitimized, fully localized, indigenized and vernacularized, aesthetic cultures of pop-rock have been institutionalized as a self-evident arsenal for possible youth identities, available to adolescents to pick from for their particular purposes. And as several subsequent generations of youth have molded their identities in this way, a third layer of pop-rock knowledge became prevalent, consolidating a generalized condition of cultural cosmopolitanism.

5 In Conclusion: Thrusting Cultural Cosmopolitanism

The continuous functioning of a global market of youth identities, constructed around aesthetic cultures of pop-rock, propelled a lasting impact on cultural cosmopolitanism. This impact is encapsulated in the third layer of pop-rock knowledge. It is a form of experiential and affective knowledge, involving a rather basic mode of acquaintance with the palette of typical sonorities, the vocabulary of characteristic tones and timbres of electric, electronic, manipulated and amplified sonorities associated with pop-rock music. Regardless of specific style and genres, recurrent generations of youth since the 1960s all over the world, who have constructed their sense of identity through engagement with pop-rock music, have become an adult population for whom this third layer of pop-rock knowledge is banal, self-evident and trivial. It is through this trivialization of pop-rock sonic idioms that recurrent generations of youth have been major agents in first heralding and then thrusting cultural cosmopolitanism as a banal condition of everyday life. In other words, an accumulated effect of pop-rock music being an identity defining factor in the life-worlds of successive generations of youth has been to naturalize into the cultural environment of countries all over the world the musical languages of pop-rock music.

Put differently, as a consequent of their involvement with pop-rock, as ardent or casual participants in aesthetic cultures of pop-rock and in the global cultural market of youth identities, individuals in all parts of the world became proficient in deciphering, routinely and intuitively, conventional meanings connoted by musical phrases of electric guitars and synthesizers, electronic beats, constructed studio sounds of overdubs and other sonic textures, insertions of sampled sounds, electronic or amplified manipulation of vocal delivery, and the overall sound of pop-rock ensembles. Embodied in this way and shared by whoever was (or is) a fan of pop-rock genres and styles, routine enactments of this third layer of pop-rock knowledge in musicking practices all over the world, are a prime epitome of cultural cosmopolitanism in our time. Perpetuated by youth for half a century around the world, embodied knowledge of pop-rock sonic vocabularies has evolved to become a doxa of sorts for participation in the global market of youth identities.


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