Prejudice Against Popular Music

[Updated 03/31/09 for improved international video access:]

Why are so many academics and classical musicians prejudiced against popular music?

Ask, and you may discover that many cannot identify a single popular music performer from recent years that they would consider to have artistic merit.

Does wholesale dismissal of contemporary popular music as trivial and worthless represent an informed or a naïve position? Many academics in the field of music (and performers in classical and jazz styles) have never tried songwriting nor performing in popular music genres on appropriate instruments, so their opinions are actually based on assumptions rather than experience or research.

Those who understand popular music genres realize that it takes genuine artistry to establish such tight and intense grooves as can be found in some recently popular songs, such as Radiohead’s “Jigsaw,” Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock and Roll is Dead,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” or Incubus’ “Dig.”

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Radiohead: Jigsaw

Lenny Kravitz: Rock and Roll is Dead

Stevie Wonder: Superstition

Incubus: Dig

It also takes creative artistry to produce the compelling melodies, insightful lyrics, and unique song forms encountered in much of the music of Keane, Coldplay, Sting, Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones, and others.

Keane: This is the Last Time

Here is a website for more of Keane:


Coldplay: See You Soon

Coldplay: Trouble

Coldplay: Shiver

Sting – a rock musician – singing a great jazz standard

Sarah McLachlan: Possession

Norah Jones: Don't Know Why

Suzanne Vega: Caramel

Finally, Nordic musician Bjork seems to be among the most creative and daring artists in popular music today.

Bjork: Human Behaviour (live on BBC)

More Bjork:

Bjork on musical snobbery:

While much of popular music is mass produced with maximum profits as the aim, some performers successfully manage to combine both artistry and popularity, even today.

Here is a link for resources in popular music studies:


Here is a link to a young organization that specializes in scholarly analysis of popular music: http://www.unc.edu/music/pop-analysis/conferences.html

I have recently completed the chapter on “Jazz and Rock Music” for the third edition of Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education (Rowman Littlefield/MENC).

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