Gramsci’s Hegemonic negotiations within U.S. Top 40 Pop Songs

By: Aaron

Antonio Gramsci introduced theories regarding Hegemony and the negotiations between a dominant bourgeois culture and a subordinate socialist culture.  This concept applies directly to a phenomenon that I have been witnessing over the past year concerning the musical style of U.S. Top 40 pop songs.  I have noticed a steady emergence of different musical themes and styles within Top 40 pop songs that originate from small subordinate styles of music.  This process is continuing today and I predict a drastic shift from the typical pop style music to a whole new genre.  What I am referring to is the presence of Dirty Dutch electronic themes heard in Top 40 pop songs today, and how that represents a hegemonic negotiation between dominant and subordinate cultures.

Before demonstrating this negotiation, a definition of both the subordinate and dominant cultures must be established. The emerging subordinate culture of music referred to in this phenomenon is what I refer to as “Dirty Dutch” style electronic dance music.  This is just one name that is becoming more utilized by proponents of the sub-genre, but I feel that it is the most descriptive and specific.  Most people in the United States would refer to this style with the all encompassing term “techno”; however, the term is too general in this case.  The use of “Dutch” in the name refers to the Netherlands where the style is most popular, and it is referring to popular Dutch DJ artists such as DJ Afrojack and DJ Chuckie, along with many others.  This group of DJ artists has utilized a style of music that has become popular and repeated to the point of it becoming its own sub-genre of dance music.  The style of this music is difficult to describe in words but it consists of squeaky high pitched synth sounds along with a pulsing dance beat.  An example is here, a DJ Chuckie Remix of a Cristian Marchi song:

As seen, particularly at around 1:00 into the video, the squeaky Dirty Dutch style music is at full force.

After seeing an example of what Dirty Dutch music is, it can also be seen that it represents a subordinate culture of music in the United States, with it mainly only being popular in the Netherlands and most Americans having never heard of the term.  In contrast, the Top 40 pop songs in United States represent a dominant culture because it consists of what Americans find the most popular, it is the most money generating, and it has the most influence upon Americans today.

With the two oppositional cultures presented, the emergence of the subordinate Dirty Dutch style music into the dominant Top 40 pop style can be illustrated.  Through the past few months while listening to Top 40 pop music and the cycling of various songs within the list, a steady emergence of electronic and most surprisingly Dirty Dutch themes has been observed.  One particularly striking example is in the popular title “Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)” by Enrique Iglesias feat. Ludacris.

Again, at about 1:00 in the video the conventional Dirty Dutch style electronic theme is heard.  Having been a supporter of electronic and Dirty Dutch style music for some time, hearing a familiar Dirty Dutch style theme within an Enrique Iglesias and Ludacris song is particularly striking and shows how far the sub-genre has progressed.

This phenomenon appeals to two observations Gramsci and proponents of his work have discussed.  The first being the “moveability” of popular culture texts within dominant and subordinate cultures.  As Tony Bennett states in his piece Popular Culture and the “turn to Gramsci”, “a practice which is articulated to bourgeois values today may be disconnected from those values and connected to socialist ones tomorrow” (222). This observation appeals to what is happening with Dirty Dutch’s emergence in Top 40 pop songs, having moved from a subordinate socialist culture to a dominant bourgeois one.  Secondly, this phenomenon appeals to Gramsci’s theory of hegemony as described by John Story: “Hegemony is never simply power imposed from above: it is always the result of ‘negotiations’ between dominant and subordinate groups” (81).  The negotiation in this sense would be the blending of dominant Top 40 pop artists such as Enrique Iglesias and Ludacris and subordinate Dirty Dutch themes to produce the combined sound one hears in “Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You).”

Antonio Gramsci’s theories can be observed in many aspects of popular culture; however, concerning the negotiations between dominant and subordinate cultures, and the “moveability” of popular texts between them, the observation of Dirty Dutch themes within Top 40 pop songs is particularly applicable.  Furthermore it represents a trend that I believe will continue on to change pop music in the future.

This entry was posted in Section 1, Student Posts, Winter 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Gramsci’s Hegemonic negotiations within U.S. Top 40 Pop Songs

  1. Pingback: Model Blog Entries (Winter 2011) | Popular Culture

  2. Pingback: Model Entries – Previous Terms | Popular Culture

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