Dialectic of Pop, 297–310


IV. Cosmetics


In a letter to his parents dated 2 July 1943, Adorno notes that, through his studies, he hopes to be able to demonstrate that the principle of reproduction that governs the industrial production of hits is also the principle of its decline, since ‘the imitation of a major hit without exception leads to each subsequent hit song being ever more mediocre’. By planning its system of reproduction around what works, and therefore around the mediocre, the hit industry, he thinks, is heading toward its own exhaustion, like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy irremediably degrading the original image. Nonetheless Adorno is aware that this logic of reproduction is not univocal. Indeed, one must take especial care to note the differences between hits. Because it is never standardised products as such that are acclaimed as hits. Every manufacturer of hits is aware of this requirement: unlike other industrial products, nobody wants generic hits. They must gesture toward spontaneity, originality, genius. Even if theoretically hits are reducible to identical formulas, they can only become hits by promoting their differences.…