(Not So) Postmodern Authenticity



Authenticity is a central term not only in music criticism but also in general discourses on the value of popular music. Leach (2001) observes two basic strategies to ascribe value to a certain piece of music (or an artist/a band): either to position it on the positive side of the dialectically related pair of oppositional terms, or to question the underlying binary itself. Doing both of these things simultaneously is considered a typical postmodernist strategy, because it transforms the good-bad-dichotomy into ambiguity. In Rock music however ambiguity seems not to have arrived yet. In showing how the ideals of Romantisicm are prevalent within the notion of authenticity in popular music, Marshall (2005) identified seven key aspects of rock authenticity:

1. Being true to oneself

2. Showing an antipathy against the commercial side of the music industry

3. Valorising the anti-rational characteristics of music

4. Being suspicious towards technology

5. Being related to the “roots” of Rock music

6. Stressing the importance if live-performance

7. Being related to a certain community.


The aim of this paper is to show that even in postmodern times authenticity is still constructed and perceived on the basis of  “Adornian” value dichotomies.

Main Contribution

Pearl Jam gained world wide knowledge for their debut album Ten (1991) and are generally associated with the Grunge-Genre which emerged in the early 1990´s. In constructing their authentic image they rely on the traditional markers of Rock music like emphasising live-performance or opposing the commercial aspects of the music industry. On the basis of Peter Wicke`s concept of “pop songs as media” (Wicke, 1992) the analysis will not refer to particular songs or lyrics but will take a different approach accounting the band’s general image cultivation. I therefore will be looking at different aspects of the band`s image construction and try to show how these aspects serve the purpose of authentication.


Although authenticity may no longer be the exclusive mode of distinction it still is of vital importance to discourses on the value of popular music (cp. Grossberg, 1993). In addition to that many of these discourses (especially in Rock music) share Theodor Adorno`s late-romantic definition of musical art, highlighting autonomy from its commercial value (Middelton, 1990).


Grossberg, L. (1992). We gotta get out of this place: popular conservatism and postmodern culture, New York: Routledge.

Grossberg, L. (1993). The Media Economy of Rock Culture: Cinema, Postmodernity and Authenticity. In: S. Frith & A. Goodwin & L. Grossberg (Hg.), Sound and Vision. The music Video Reader, London: Routledge, 185-209.

Leach (2001). Vicars of ´Wannabe´: authenticity and the Spice Girls, Popular Music 20/2, 143-167.

Middleton, R. (1990). Studying Popular Music, Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Wicke, P. (1992). «Populäre Musik» als theoretisches Konzept, PopScritpum 1/92, Berlin: Forschungszentrum für populäre Musik, 6-42.

links-for-2009-11-02 (Interview-Stuff)

links for 2009-11-01 (PJ Wiki)


One response to “(Not So) Postmodern Authenticity

  1. Pingback: New Day. New Project. « cut, copy and paste

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