Music Case Study Using Ardorno

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Case Study #1 With the essay, On Popular Music, Theodore Adorno theorized that the average American was simply a mindless machine, programed with the popular music they found comfort in. Furthermore, Adorno speculated that all popular music was nothing but the same song with minor changes. This repetition puts people at ease and allows the songs themselves to have a degree of control over the listener. The control is then perfected through a number of effects including glamour, baby talk, rhythm, and the most important plugging. The idea of controlling music can be seen in the popular song Sleepyhead, by Passion Pit.

Sleepyhead, while never quiet making it to the Billboard top 100 still reached major mainstream success, making it a pop song by Adorno’s standards. The song was released in 2008 and peaked at 105 on the pop charts but the electric tune was “plugged” in commercials internationally. The song was used to advertise the Palm Pixi cellphone and later a videogame, Little Big Planet. The song was then featured on a popular television series Skins. The song continues to be used and remixed today, and is a constant in stores and on indie radio stations.

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The song’s title, Sleepyhead, ultizes childish language. The use of the phrase is both visually appealing and pleasing to the ear, it acts to instantly calm the listener by giving off a friendly very non-combative feeling. This is because the phrase in itself sounds like something a child would say because it is something a child woud say. The song then begins with an over synthesized high-pitched voice that acts to further relax the listener. The voice has been so distorted that the words cannot fully be understood; yet the singing is oddly soothing.

It acts as the stimulatory effect Adorno discussed. The high-pitched voice while gentle is paired with a melody that is constantly changing, almost challenging the listener to keep up. The music acts to stimulate while the “lyrics” begin to calm. This calming effect caused by the title and vocals can best be related to Adorno’s theory on baby talk. The two combined give off the “I want to be happy feeling” that children demand. The main vocals of the song begin about forty seconds into the song. The second singer has the sticky sweet voice of the original vocals but at a lower pitch.

The change in vocals is accompanied by a repetitive beat making the song more natural. The vocals are kept around the same note throughout the remainder of the song and are always harmonized with the same music, and in this sense the framework is similar to that of countless other songs. However the breaks in vocals allow the music to change slightly, these are the details that are described in the essay. It is these details that are the more stimulatory part of the song. The music is the same throughout the song but during the breaks it is built upon with more synthesized sounds that add dynamism.

The new sounds engage the listener and “evince stronger reactions to the part. (pg. 18)” In the case of Sleepyhead, the music that accompanies the vocals is catchy, and electric. These sounds are the, “over-sweet sound colors, functioning like musical cookies and candies (pg. 30)” Adorno described. The song is like endorphins released into the listeners brain, it creates euphoria and leaves them craving for more. The tune is simply upbeat and easy to digest. It acts as a release from the stresses and makes the listener want to dance. The lyrics themselves contain little to no substance.

While at times the lyrics seem poetic the song they are merely about the artist having sex with his girlfriend. The track consists of two versus with no chorus, relying solely on the repetition of the lyrics, “And everything is going to the beat” at the start of the song, and the phrase “sleepyhead” throughout it; together the two act as a makeshift chorus. This odd format is the only area in which the song maintains any semblance of uniqueness. The standard song consists of a thirty-two bar chorus, which this song lacks. The change in arrangement attempts to attract attention, much like the redish neon lights Adorno described.

However this deviation is nothing but a glamour meant to “overcome [the] humdrum reality,” yet in this effort it becomes “more humdrum than reality itself (pg. 29). ” The song lacks the depth to create any strong emotional response. While the tempo, melody, and music emanate joy the lyrics proved to be superficial. The beats however are somewhat intricate allowing the listener to be slightly engaged and distracted without any real effort. The song is rhythmically obedient in the sense it was meant to be different and in its effort was the same. Sleepyhead was easy classified as indie alternative.

By definition indie is something different, the artist are on lesser-known labels, the music is created solely based on the artist discretion versus label constraints. Sleepyhead was a prime example of indie because it utilized synthesizers, and multiple keyboards, dismissing the common drums and guitar for their electronic counterparts. Passion Pit used their distinctive sound to create an infectious beat. With that beat that acted as the heart beat of the song the artist had thousands tapping their toes along to it. Throughout the song this beat was built upon but never lost.

The reliance on beat was how the song was obedient. The beat was exploited in such a way that it dug into the listener’s head and could not be forgotten or ignored rather embraced as if it were a long lost friend. Sleepyhead was indie in it did not try to conform what was popular at the time. This idea of non-conformity was followed by a generation of people known as hipsters. These people tried to do the exact opposite of what the general public was doing and when the track was first released it was not what the masses were listening too. What most hipsters didn’t realized was the song was far from unique or original.

Sleepyhead sampled music from “Oro Mo Bhaidin” by Mary O’Hara and “San Francisco Scene” by Jack Kerouac. Furthermore the tune and the artist lost any ability to call themselves indie when the song was used in commercials. On the surface the song was everything that hipsters wanted new, unique, different from the typical commercial hit, but when looking deeper the song was nothing more than the same framework with different details. While many felt a they were contradicting mainstream music by listening to Sleepyhead they were being just as obedient as those listening to top forty hits, and “thus do the obedient inherit the earth (pg. 40). ”

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