Pop is not a direct descendant of the Muses. It was born of the meeting of distant traditions: the human habit of singing, and an industry—the record industry—which for almost a century now has endowed it with a technical capacity for reproduction and mass distribution. The tunes in their original forms may have come from way back, but in the early twentieth century their fate became entwined with recording and with the industrialized distribution of recordings. Pop became tethered to technical, historical, and indeed earthly dependencies which even the most heavenly song by the Shangri-Las or Brian Wilson cannot entirely shake off. Without radio or tape, and without the commercialisation of these technologies, ‘Remember’ or ‘’Til I Die’ would not exist; the eternal songs of Roy Orbison and the crystalline melodies of the Carpenters would have never seen the light of day.

Recorded popular music therefore exhibits certain traits characteristic of those other great mechanized arts with which it developed in parallel, cinema and photography. To think these forms of mechanical reproduction as art, it was necessary to redefine the idea of the artwork, to displace the classical opposition between original and copy, and to take note of the tensions between the aesthetic ideals that their works conveyed and the consequences of their mass circulation within industry and culture. This was successfully achieved for cinema, which distinguished itself from theatre or, today, from TV series; and for photography, which distinguished itself from painting and drawing. But has there been any attempt to think the specificity of popular music, to consider it as much a unique form of art as cinema or photography?…