Applying Political Economies Theories to Music

Examples of theories discussed:

Standardisation is a key term put forth by Adorno comparing how the process of mass-production of goods (particularly through the development of Fordism in the early twentieth century) relates to the production of cultural pieces such as music.

Comparing annual chart positions throughout years or even decades illustrates Adorno’s theory as you can visually see trends in the artists that are dominating the charts. This is because when labels see the audience (the public) accepting, consuming, and enjoying an artist or group they begin to replicate and churn out similar music – the cash cow theory.

For example, the official top 40 singles of 2014 (accessed at Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 13.23.28 displays songs such as ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, ‘Timber’ by Ke$ha ft. Pitbull and ‘All About That Bass’ by Meghan Trainor. which may be classified as traditional, catchy pop songs but do not hold much be substantial lyrical or musical value.

On the other hand, transitioning into 2015 there is a shift to artists such as Wiz Khalifa, Major Lazer, Years & Years, and The Weeknd (Accessed at This may be classified or defined as more electronic pop music. Through having artists of a similar genre dominating the charts at the same time, it supports Adorno’s theory as the music that is popular is then replicated and mass produced to exploit and maximise on the trend and thus audience.

However, standardisation may not apply to all popular music because there are still ‘breakthrough artists’ who effectively break the trends and move the audience forward into a new genre or eventually style. Usually, such artists are said to be bringing a new wave of music, claiming individuality and uniqueness. However, Adorno coins the term ‘Pseudo Individualisation’ to counter this. Linking the term to music, artists will try and market themselves with the previously stated terms – individual, unique, and new. This isn’t absolute truth though and they still act as a standardised product.

An example of this in practice is the rebranding of Harry Styles and Zayn Malik as solo artists following their exit from One Direction. One Direction were essentially branded as the ‘boys next door’ with catchy pop hits and love ballads with a primary demographic of young to teenage girls. While their reputation as the biggest boyband in the world withheld itself, it was kept no secret throughout their final year in 2015 as a band that all wanted to be taken as more serious musicians. Columbia Records and SYCO Music who successively signed Harry Styles and Zayn Malik as solo artists capitalised on this and rebranded them with new looks.

A quote extracted from the NME track review of Harry Styles debut single ‘Sign of the Times’ stated: “Rumours of his ‘rock’n’roll’ sound have been circulating for months, with such legendary names as David Bowie and Queen being uttered alongside the tousled 23-year-old’s.”

This suggests the route that Harry Styles was taking in terms of developing himself as his Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 13.23.42own artist; the new Bowie, bringing an essence of the 70’s into the 21st century.  In reality, this is pseudo-individualisation in practice. The audience believes they are consuming something completely new and raw and in this example, those who choose to consume Harry Styles’ new music believe they are doing so by choice. Instead, Harry Styles has been carefully constructed, with marketers carefully molding his music, style and public appearances to draw in a new (and arguably gullible) audience.


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