Music over the past half of the twentieth century has become incredibly complicated, especially with all these cultural and mass-market infrastructures: critical publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork Media; major and independent record labels like Capitol and Arts & Crafts; MTV in the ‘80s (before it became the reality TV monster); and the scandalous free downloading agent Napster and others to follow. Music has become massive.
I believe people today would much rather be told what to think, because we have been partially raised by television and media forms that have been feeding us opinions all of our lives. Not even the music opinions of my 14-year-old self were purely formed without media influence. So the crisis I’m attempting to get at is: what makes music good? What, for that matter, makes music art?
Defining art itself is another troubling matter, but it must be considered with music as a subcategory. I used to believe that art worked similarly to the way Stendhal Syndrome works. To clarify, Stendhal Syndrome happens when someone looks at a piece of art and becomes so overwhelmed that he or she becomes dizzy, faint or even delirious.
In essence, I believed that art had to have an element of shock. With the Stendhal Syndrome in mind, I thought art would occur to someone instantaneously. At times, music has done that to me, although it feels a little weird to admit that Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” roused a spazz-out session on my part. But the instantaneous sensation of music itself may not answer the question entirely.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who had recently gotten into Lady Gaga. He explained that although lines like “I want your love and I want your revenge,” could come off as immature, in combination with the next line, “you and me could write a bad romance” could suggest that she is posing the question of exactly how our generation now perceives love, especially when we’ve grown up with romantic comedies and soap operas that show us how acts of love should appear.
He went on to support that with a stance made by German philosopher, Theodor W. Adorno, who said that art is something that questions the time in which it’s made, as opposed to giving answers. Additionally, Lady Gaga knows how to deliver that question in a way that is stylistically accessible to a wide audience.
It’s an interesting notion and more importantly, the questions that true art provide is a form of shock value. Even now, I don’t feel an instant connection to Lady Gaga’s music, but my friend’s conjectures made me realize that I was not entirely correct in thinking that art was something that happened instantly to a person. What he did was immerse himself into the music completely and bring something provoking about it into realization.
To realize art in music, we have to get past, though totally not ignore, the sexed-up music video, the catchy techno beats and the seemingly superficial language and see the artist and what he, she, or they are trying to articulate.
To quote Gwen Stefani, “Underneath it all, you’re really lovely.”

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