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‘… This little ukulele tells the truth’: indie pop and kitsch authenticity

  • Emily I. Dolan (a1)

Indie pop, like rock and other independent genres more generally, has had a complicated relationship with mass culture. It both depends upon and simultaneously deconstructs notions of authenticity and truth. Independent genres have invited scholarly analysis and critique that often seek to unmask indie as ‘elite’ or to show the extent to which indie musics are, ironically, defined and shaped by consumer capitalism. Using songwriter Stephin Merritt's music and career as a case study, this essay explores the kinds of authenticities at work in indie pop. Indie pop, I argue, is a genre especially adept at generating ‘personal authenticity’. It is useful to turn to the concept of kitsch, understood here as an aesthetic and not a synonym for ‘bad’. Kitsch functions to cultivate personal attachment in the face of impersonal mass culture; it is this aesthetic, I argue, that indie pop has cultivated through its lo-fi and often nostalgic sound world and through its dissemination, which has relied upon dedicated collectors. The ‘honesty’ of this music does not arise from an illusion of unmediated communication, but instead from the emphasis on the process of mediation, which stresses the materiality of the music and the actual experience of listening.

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Popular Music
  • ISSN: 0261-1430
  • EISSN: 1474-0095
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