The affordances of repackaged popular music from the past
The affordances of repackaged popular music from the past
What is the value and meaning of mainstream popular music from the past in later life? Thus far, little academic attention has been paid to popular music fandom, especially that in later life. Yet nowadays people of all ages attend festivals, concerts or music cruises. It is expected that people grow over liking the music topping the charts in one’s youth, but what if that isn’t the case? Think about someone who grew up in the late 1990s, who still likes the music of the boy band Backstreet Boys when she is now a thirty-something, or a person who still parties to the soundtrack of her youth every weekend. Such questions have been overlooked in previous academic work combining popular music, fans and aging. This PhD project explores the affordances of mainstream popular music from the past. In particular, it examines how they feature in audiences’ reflection on different stages and transitions in their life course.
In the Netherlands, nearly every weekend there is a chance to travel back in time. There are parties celebrating the 1980s, 1990s, or the early years of this millennium. At such events, these decades are remembered through pop culture: videos, movies, and in particular via music that was popular at the time. Although those who grew up in those years might consider the mainstream hits from back then guilty pleasures, they are still recognized, remembered and celebrated.
On the one hand, this development of celebrating the past fits in the current trend of releasing re-makes or follow-ups to previously successful products of pop culture. Think about the remake of Mad Max, the follow-up series about the Girlmore Girls and Full(er) House, or the hype around the popular (originally nineties) game Pokémon Go.
On the other hand, the success of these returns, seems to indicate that there is an audience who longs for reliving a particular phase of their past. Because of this interest, formerly famous Top 40’s music acts try to reclaim their past fame. They hold comebacks or reunions, or try to continue performing and selling their music albeit for a smaller audience. The first, the reunion, can happen in different forms and shapes; bands might reunite for a one-off concert, or organize a comeback / reunion tour – often combined with releasing new material later on, or they perform at decade-parties. The second, the continuation of a band that had their heydays in the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s, but still releases new material, is what Shuker (2016) described as surviving performers.
This thesis considers both this reunion and continuation as a means to ‘repackage’ popular music from the past. Moreover, this research is interested in why people (still) attend a (reunion-) concert from a band that was popular when they were teens, and what it affords these audiences to (still or not) be a fan of a band they discovered in their childhood or adolescence. Particularly, because these audience members, who were children in the 1980s, 1990s or early years of this millennium, have, just like the band members they admire, now grown into adults – aged somewhere between twenty-five and fifty-something, They have experienced particular changes and developments in their lives, and gained experience with particular situations in life. Moreover, they have certain duties and responsibilities now; for example, they might have a family to maintain, or work a fulltime job. Thus far, there is a scarce body of academic studies discussing the role of popular culture, in particular music, and its role in later life (see Harrington and Bielby, 2010; Bennett, 2012; Duffett, 2013; Zwaan and Duffett, 2016).
Further, this research, by examining these highly commercially-driven reunions, examines a type of music that is often overlooked in academia, namely mainstream popular music – a genre that is typically assessed as ‘manufactured’, ‘fake’, ‘inauthentic’ or ‘low’ (see Negus, 1992; Peterson, 2005; Barker and Taylor, 2007). The aim of this study is thus to contribute to three current overlooked themes: the lack and knowledge about a) pop music’s role in later life, b) the role of manufactured pop music, and c) the affordances of the repackaging-phenomenon for the participants of such events. In order to gain a better understanding of these themes, this thesis is guided by the following research question:
What are the affordances of mainstream popular music from the past, and how do they feature in audiences’ reflection on different stages and transitions in their life course?
To unfold the affordances of repackaged popular music from the past in relation to one’s life course, three different forms of ‘repackaging’ pop music from the past are studied. The three cases are conducted with the help of qualitative research methods.
The first case highlights a ‘one-off’ reunion by examining the British television- and concert-series The Big Reunion. In this series acts that were highly popular in the late 1990s and early years of the millennium – like Atomic Kitten, 5ive, B*Witched, Blue, 3T and Eternal - are reunited. To gain an understanding of the affordances of this one-off reunion phenomenon for its audience, and how these relate to their current life-course position, forum messages about the series are analyzed. Additionally, two Big Reunion concerts are visited, and serve as interview-site for conducting on-the-spot interviews with these concert attendees.
The second case focuses on long-term Dutch fans of the ‘surviving’ boy band Backstreet Boys. This fandom consumes a wide-range of products and events distributed as part of the reunion, or rather stated continuation, of the band. An interview-study with twenty-four fans reveals what the affordances of this surviving act are, and how they feature in the life-course transitions of its fans.
The third case investigates the affordances of the recurring reunions of Dutch pop act Doe Maar for its audiences, and what role these events play in the developments of their life course. Doe Maar, often labeled the Dutch Beatles due to their immense popularity and the mania they evoked among their fans, was highly popular in the Netherlands in the 1980s. After a short-lived career the band split in 1984. However, since 2000 they have reunited multiple times (2008, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017). Drawing on an interview study with eighteen (former and current) fans of the band, this study provides an insight into the affordances of such recurring reunions for this audience, and how they feature in their lives.
Building on these three case studies, this research wishes to strengthen our understanding of the connection between pop music and fandom, the role of (highly commercial) mainstream popular music at a later age, and the value and meaning of repackaged mainstream popular music across the life course.
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