“You don’t have to be an activist to want to make a change” | Students on authenticity
I should preface this list by stating that authenticity in popular music is mutable (if it exists), that it is utterly dependent upon genre, time and place (if it exists), that it is defined in relation to its ‘inauthentic’ counterpart (if it exists), that it is a construct with dubious links all the way back to fascism (if it exists) and that it is almost impossible to prove, once you get down to it (if it exists). It is more a philosophy than a description. Many of the times that students refer to it underneath, they’re referring to another idea altogether. Sincerity, perhaps. Emotional attachment. Honesty (whatever the fuck that means). Songwriting ability. Layers of beauty. Their own interpretation.
Rock is defined in relation to its inauthentic counterpart pop… which leaves us with a problem. What happens if pop starts being viewed as ‘authentic’?
Whatever. Here’s the music, and the justifications – plus some academic stuff thrown in, willy-nilly. Oh, and there’s a conversation about Taylor Swift because don’t all conversations about authenticity in pop music in 2015 come back to Taylor Swift?
Sia – Eye Of The Needle
There’s something really simple about this song that is so authentic and emotionally driving. There’s a moment in the last chorus where Sia’s voice cracks and it’s just bone chilling, it shows such vulnerability. You get a real sense of feeling in her voice and in the lyrical content, I don’t think you can really fake that.
M.I.A. – Bring The Noize
I feel like all MIA’s music is really authentic but i just chose one of her more recent songs. When she first started she was one of the few female artists who combined rap with techno with dancehall and like so many other genres. This song i feel is authentic is because of its sound. MIA is a game changer.
Rebecca Black – Friday
Inauthenticity at its finest. Not only are the vocals manipulated so much to sound “natural” (which failed miserably), the song so basic it could be written by an 8 year old. The producer of the song has done this with many other rich white girls, his business is basically making these young teens internet famous. Not for music. Not for talent. For money from self obsessed teen godzillas whose parents enjoy throwing away perfectly good money.
(In case you were wondering who the producer, he is the old black guy rapping while driving around at night in a school bus which is totally unnecessary and honestly fuck weird.)
The National – Sea Of Love
Authenticity ~ I agonised over which song by The National to choose as they all fit so perfectly into this category but I settled on my favourite live performance of my favourite song by them. The National are an authentic group because they’re just a bunch of regular dudes, and not in the Foo Fighters “hey look we’re normal guys! love us!” way. They have no delusions of grandeur and don’t claim to be pioneers or the best band of the genre (*cough* looking at you, Billy Corgan *cough*) which is odd, considering they are in fact considered one of the pioneers of modern indie rock. I think how humble they are is proof of their authenticity. They’re just normal guys making songs about sad shit that has happened to them. Their songs are simply powerful dark rock songs about real-life experiences instead of fabricated fantasy tales or a collection of overused cliches. Each song is packed with anxiety and a sort of strange melancholy – like a less claustrophobic cousin of Joy Division.
However, the primary reason I enjoy The National is the band’s vocalist and lyricist, Matt Berninger. Clad in a black three piece suit, he croons in his everyman baritone, nervously pacing the stage. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to be in front of such a large crowd… as if he feels self conscious about exposing his heart to all these people. But that’s the thing about the music of The National. It’s therapy. Having listened to many in depth interviews with Berninger, I have learnt that his music is a way to prove to himself that he’s not alone – that there are other people out there that feel the same way he does. And most of his songs are about feeling really, really shitty (depression and relationship troubles are a dominant theme throughout the entire canon) This is what I love most about The National, and is ultimately why I chose them for this topic… They’re all about unity and connecting with people. Often during long instrumental breaks in concerts, Berninger will go down into the audience – hugging and holding hands with the audience. I feel like this proves that Berninger and The National are authentic… they’re not fake, they’re not manufactured, they’re just a bunch of humans. And they make other humans feel like they’re not alone.
Anyway, this song is about breaking somebody’s heart because you can’t commit. It’s about caring for somebody but ultimately having to look out for yourself, which is a tough thing to go through. Berninger sings about an ex-girlfriend, Jo, and you can see in his delivery, that he’s opening up a painful wound. Perhaps a wound that never really healed. As he doubles over and screams the lyrics, I feel like I really connect with him. And that’s what music is about, right?
The Beatles – Because (LOVE Version)
Authenticity can mean so many different things for different people. For me, there’s nothing more authentic than The Beatles. This is not really due to any particular musical factor so much so as the fact that it’s the first music I remember. It’s real music to me because it’s what I was raised on. When growing up, The Beatles many sounds were always the backdrop. It was hard to pick a song to represent them for me mostly because I love equally their beginnings in ‘Love Me Do’ and their gloriously drug fuelled white album. I chose this song in particular because I think it most sums up my point that authenticity doesn’t necessarily come a particular sound or ‘vibe’ from a band, but it can be heavily influenced by associations with the music. ‘Because’ was my lullaby. I chose the version of the song produced for their cirque du soleil show album “Love” as it made me fall back in love with the song. For full affect, listen with headphones or really loud. Gives me goosebumps every time.
Secondhand Serenade – Goodbye
Originally I wasn’t sure how to define authentic and unauthentic music until I looked up the meaning of the two key words in the dictionary. This is what I’ve produced as an outcome of my understanding of authenticity. While I may be completely off par with my understanding… I think that this guy’s music contains some of the most authentic lyrics I’ve heard ever. His lyrics are just so real. It’s an intense feeling for the listener when you can match his words to some fragment of your own life.
While this is not my favourite song from his 2009 collection… It is probably closet to hitting true authentic lyrics created by raw emotions and a story in my opinion. His lyrics just seem like he is authentic to himself and authentic in the sense of feeling a particular emotion… Although the same emotion is repeated frequently throughout the album.
He just gets me, you know.
Regurgitator – All Fake Everything
Being authentic while taking the piss out of authenticity…
Jack’s Mannequin – Diane, The Skyscraper
After a very taxing battle with cancer, Jack’s Mannequin lead singer Andrew McMahon wrote an EP called ‘Dear Jack’ that addressed his illness in a very candid way. While the record deals with some very dark themes surrounding mortality, uncertainty and the physical toll treatment was taking on his body the overarching motif speaks of unwavering strength, positivity and hope; which is why Andrew has become a champion for young people suffering from Leukaemia the world over.
He has nurtured an open line of communication with his fans throughout his illness and into remission, offering support to those in similar circumstances and even starting a charity to raise awareness and financial support for research. His songwriting is absolute testament to his authenticity and he was a super sweetheart when I met him, and didn’t even laugh at me when I cried.
Hozier – Jackie And Wilson
I am honestly OBSESSED with hozier right now. he’s got the kind of voice i want to narrate my whole life. this song and it’s beat is what gets me out of bed in the morning. and the line ‘Cause with my mid-youth crisis all said and done
I need to be youthfully felt’ sticks out so much. he’s definitely someone i’d call authentic, when he comes on the radio, you don’t have to think twice about who it is.
Brand New – Seventy Times 7
Some of the most honest lyrics ever.
Taylor Swift – 22
I first heard Taylor Swift when I was living in a tiny country town in Montana. Taylor was writing her own country songs back then, complete with banjo, slide guitar and twangy vocals. That was 8 years ago; since then she has transformed from country girl next door to pop super star. Taylor is my guilty pleasure and I love her music, but I can’t help but question how much of her recent album is her and how much is her marketing team/record label pulling the strings. Her personal life aside (because I do believe that her relationship with her fans is genuine) I can’t honestly express that I think her music is authentic; but when it comes to Taylor her nostalgic value kinda makes me not care?
IMO Most authentic artist ever. I truly believe that she is feeling 22. If you don’t believe her you have trust issues, praise tay tay
In what I believe is a bid to regain her authenticity, her most recent album was offered in a deluxe form which featured clips from her writing/recording sessions to “prove” her involvement. If most people would say she was authentic at the beginning of her career, is her transition to more of a brand than an artist to blame?
YES. and about her new album, it was all taylor’s idea! almost everyone who works for her record label was against her turning to pop completely, but she wanted this for her. going completely pop was all taylor, even when she had people telling her not to, she still didy
Taylor writes all her own music so I think it obviously comes from an authentic place, I’m sure she was feeling 22, and she knew he was trouble etc. it’s been her brand, writing her own stuff and I think the reason it’s resonated so much with her fan base is because you can tell it’s from an honest place
I can’t see Taylor Swift as ever being authentic. All of her songs strike me as contrived, conceited and fake.
Worth remembering that honesty doesn’t necessarily equate with authenticity – yes, you can ARGUE that, but it is an assumption and one that is possible to argue AGAINST as well.
Frith (1981) argues that the central issue of authenticity within music is less about the music itself and more about the communication of the musician’s identity through the music as part of the rock aesthetic. The preoccupation with authenticity is what helps rock culture draw the lines of division between itself, and popular music.
I feel as tho some people are looking at authenticity from a strickly rock/alternative, drug taking, and just like a full on personality. All pop music is contrived and created for mass consumption but that doesn’t make it less authentic because its the person behind the persona that’s important. If that person is doing it for the right reasons and isn’t being just used as a tool then its authentic. Taylor Swift does an incredible job of being a pop star and I feel she is just as authentic as the likes of Lady Gaga.
Frith also argues:
The experience of pop music is an experience of identity: in responding to a song, we are drawn, haphazardly, into emotional alliances with the performers and with the performers’ other fans. Because of its qualities of abstractness, music is, by nature, an individualizing form.
Authenticity is a construct. There again, so is sexuality.
Maybe it might be simpler to view authenticity as a philosophy?
Queens of the Stone Age – Keep Your Eyes Peeled
I’ve personally never heard anything quite like the guitar tones on this song. To me, this song sounds unique. It sounds authentic. I’ve personally never heard anything quite like the guitar tones on this song. To me, this song sounds unique. It sounds authentic.
Are ‘authenticity’ and ‘originality’ seemingly incompatible characteristics?
It could be argued that, for example, an original piece is in fact authentic as it comes from the individual. However, it could then also be argued that the original piece is inauthentic due to a range of different criteria, such as an inauthentic approach to a certain genre or style of music. Perhaps not entirely incompatible, but not entirely compatible either. I’m kind of on the fence with this one.
Billie Holiday – Gloomy Sunday
For me, the haunting jazz songs of artists such as Billie Holiday are the ones that stay with me. I’m drawn to the somber but moving song, Gloomy Sunday. It captures the sorrow of losing someone and resonates with me. Billy had an extremely tragic life and her voice reflected this with her unique and deeply personal way of interpreting songs. She was a genuine and authentic singer who interpreted songs emotionally and this comes through with every note she sings.
Georgia Maq – With a Q 7″
On the topic of authenticity, I’d like to add my two cents this week. I believe that authenticity is not only consistent with artist or genre, but can also be a very individual concept. Feeling the “realness” of a certain artist/album/song/etc depends entirely on the listener, whether they have an personal attachment to said artist/album/song, or whether they/it just makes them feel a very strong sense of connection to that.
For example, if I were to listen to an artist that is widely seen as authentic within their genre, but that wasn’t a genre i actively listen to, I would be able to understand their authenticity within their genre, but they may not have that same authenticity to me on on a personal level that someone else may feel they have, because I may not connect with that artist or their music for whatever reason.
To try and not drag this on any further, I put forward an artist that, for me, shows the concept of individual authenticity. Georgia Maq’s songs are fairly musically straightforward and simple, but the honesty of her lyrics really makes me resonate with her, and supports the belief that she is authentic. The way she sings about her life makes you feel as though you share the same memories in your life, even if you may not.
She makes me feel empowered, and like it’s okay to be angry, stand up for what i believe in, and do things that I probably shouldn’t do, and that it’s okay to be living my life the way I am, because its real, and I don’t need to worry about fucking up.
The Veronicas – If You Love Someone
I mean they’re unmistakably inauthentic, but have taken that “authentic rock” stuff and made it part of their image. So while you’re hearing this over-produced pop you’re seeing them dressed in torn fishnets with bleached blonde hair thrashing about with their band in some smelly dirty party house. Look at them, lying on the floor. What hot messes. I mean, they still look really cool and attractive, though.
Here they are, advocating for change (just in general). Encouraging youth not to stand for all those bad things like bullying, hunger, war, inequality. Quoting Kurt Cobain. Young people love that stuff, right? I mean, they’re wearing flannos and combat boots so they must be pretty real. Remember kids, “You don’t have to be an activist to want to make a change.” Just wear a bandana and everyone will know you stand for something. Also, if you love someone you should make a stand or something.
“…the ‘authenticity’ which its fans found in this music was defined not by its anchorage in the past, nor by the integrity of its performers, but by its ability to articulate for its listeners a place of belonging, an ability which distinguished it from other cultural forms, particularly those which promised ‘mere entertainment’ (in which they invested nothing more than cash), or those belonging to hegemonic groupings (in which they could not invest).”
Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger
I thought Deafheaven were an interesting example of perceived inauthenticity in metal. Sunbather was hyped by various indie music blogs, including Pitchfork. Somewhere along the line someone has described them as black metal. Sonically, it shares a lot in common with black metal (“blast-beat drumming, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, unconventional song structures and an emphasis on atmosphere, etc.)”, but has elements of shoegaze or post-screamo, or some other dumb genre name I mean whatever, idk. Point is, some members of the metal community don’t seem to consider it trve. Fair enough, but there’s been a bit of backlash aimed at them and their fans, labelling them and other artists “hipster black metal”.
“The problem isn’t that these albums are popular; it’s that they’re not metal. Metal like most outsider genres has a strict sense of identity and purpose, and it fears adulteration for good reason. If metal starts admitting regular music into its inner sanctum, then metal will become assimilated by mainstream music… Musically, Deafheaven has more in common with emo and indie rock than it ever will in metal, and we want the traitors out.”
I think the same thing goes for bands like Liturgy, Wolves in the Throneroom, Woods of Desolation, etc. So, to some metal fans, artists like this are not perceived as authentic or sincere and are labelled as poseurs or hipsters. Same thing happened with nu-metal and rap metal bands, I think. Like their existence threatens the future integrity of metal music, ’cause the mainstream kills everything pure and authentic.
Some black metal.
Taylor Swift – All Too Well
Admittedly, Taylor Swift is not the first person who comes to mind in a discussion about authenticity. However, (excluding some choice anthems from her country days) this song is perhaps her most authentic release to date. After being impulsively written during a soundcheck one afternoon, this song lays her completely bare – the use of acoustic instrumentation coupled with her divine lyricism ensuring that you feel her shattering emotions every time. If not in the verse and chorus, you’d have to be heartless not to feel a slight twinge of emotion when she heartbreakingly screams “you can me up just again to break me like a promise” in the bridge. This song shows heartbreak at its most devastating.
Tom Odell – I Know
New kid on the block, Tom Odell is a perfect example of an authentically authentic artist. Before recently being signed to Lily Allen’s record label, Tom used to drag his electric keyboard around to different pubs in his hometown of Chichester in the UK. It only takes a few bars to grasp the clumsy sound of his band – the clashing chords give you authenticity unlike any other. Tom puts everything he has into his performance, and it shows. I believe the true mark of authenticity is being able to show quite clearly what you mean using just your voice and a piano, and that is exactly what he manages to do.
David Theron – David Theron
This might be another example of “outsider art” which raises questions of authenticity. Is he taking the piss or is he a few sandwiches short of a picnic? Does it matter? Is this music more of less authentic than all the other “proper” music I listen to?
Here’s a tasty quote from some French guy about outsider art:
“Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals. ” — Jean Dubuffet
Favourite track: NIC/NICOLE
Montaigne – Fantastic Wreck
Connected with this the first time I heard it. I feel the hurt and the longing in her performance. Seems authentic to me.
Cameron Mitchell – Your Song
I’ve always felt Elton John is a musical genius – all the Disney classics he’s written justify that. I grew up listening to some of his better known works and have kept discovering others over the years. My parents borrowed one of his song titles as my name so that may have something to do with it. Anyway, I literally just stumbled over this cover and it just speaks to me on another level. The raw expression in his vocals conveys the exact meaning I associate with the lyrics just as well as the original, if not clearer. However, I feel, that the fact that it’s acoustic makes it more authentic somehow. I think it’s a bit beautiful.
Father John Misty – When You Are Smiling And Astride Me
In terms of authenticity, I put forward ‘When You Are Smiling And Astride Me’ by Father John Misty. The track is soulful and groovy, and the lyrics paint the picture of a couple so in love that they can share anything with each other. The song is both romantic and sensual, and is filled with the narrator’s deep confessions to his lover. It’s a little ironic that such an honest, genuine song is performed under a moniker, but, as the saying goes – “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Nicki Minaj – Stupid Hoe
Just wanted to provide everyone with some Tuesday night comedy and point out what some class as “music”. As inauthentic as they come. I find it annoying there is so much unknown real musical talent out there and then there is this rubbish, which is more famous and makes more money. Making strange noises over a crappy beat and saying “stupid hoe” 60 times does not constitute rapping. I’m pretty sure my drunken rapping last Saturday night was of more musical quality than this – probably more authentic too.