The Truth about Pop Culture
The best way to learn anything about people and history is to look at popular culture. Because ultimately, pop culture is history. It’s culture. It’s what people leave behind when the present moment passes and it’s what the future will remember about it. People remember a culture for what they wear, how they speak, what they think and what they produce—things like books, films, art and—arguably the most important—music. Not everyone is an avid reader, a film buff or an artist, but everyone likes music.
Music travels across temporal boundaries. Our parents and grandparents may not remember the art and literary movements that marked their teenage years, but they undoubtedly remember the music. They remember the concerts they attended, the CDs and cassette tapes they bought, the posters they hung on their bedroom walls and the artists they modeled their styles after.
Trends come and go and then they are reformed and remodeled into something else. But sometimes we get a new piece of something that our culture hasn’t seen before. Or rather, we get something that mainstream culture hasn’t seen before or simply hasn’t noticed.
Today, we find ourselves introduced to Latin genres with influences from reggaeton, bachata, merengue, cumbia or salsa. However, because mainstream culture does not often differentiate between trends, it typically combines the influences under an umbrella genre—Latin pop or just Latin music. There is very little recognition for the cultures or histories behind them, if any. In fact, Rolling Stone claims that this umbrella genre is “heavily concentrated in ‘urban’ music” specifically, mostly reggaeton and trap.
Admittedly, I am guilty of this too. I don’t know the history behind the rhythms or where the beats come from. I am a product of popular culture. I like the genres for what they are—different and fun. The beats drop in a way that other forms of pop music don’t. They hit different. They make you feel different. They make you move different.
Americanization & Cultural Assimilation at Its Finest
However, history proves time and time again that in order for something to achieve “popularity,” it must reach a very specific audience. It must reach toward an audience that constantly rejects it. Ultimately, different cultures must reach for whatever culture is in power. In the case of music, the Rolling Stone article claims that “American music has long been one of this country’s most popular global exports,” so once genres reach American platforms they “receive individual recognition worldwide.”
The article claims that these genres may manage to seize the recognition they deserve when their music reaches American audiences. But because audiences lump it under an umbrella, artists fear a monopoly, a “music monoculturalism.” Artists point out that today, all genres borrow influences from hip-hop. Not just Latin music, but pop and country as well, so that “different genres can be nearly indistinguishable.” In other words, they assimilate. The purpose of assimilation is to achieve sameness. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary to “assimilate” is to taking something in, absorb it into a different population’s culture, make something similar to something else and liken it to something else.
Value vs. Entertainment
Music is a perfect example. Artists claim that as they become more “popular,” Latin genres specifically start to morph and mold into that umbrella genre, especially in the mainstream’s eyes. However, according to its definition, there is another component to the concept of assimilation. When it molds into a population, that population is supposed to absorb it into its mind, understand it, take it in and use it as “nourishment.”
This part of the process is the problem, whether these receiving populations genuinely value these cultures or simply value them because they serve a new purpose. Cultures that suddenly find themselves in the middle of pop culture—such as hip-hop or Latin genres—were once on the outskirts of it. The only way they get to join the majority from the outskirts is when the majority decides to use it for “nourishment.” Or in this case, entertainment.
The Rolling Stone article says that “pop artists used to look down on reggaeton artists” until they started using the genre to their advantage by joining it. These cultural factors trying to gain “popularity” do not get to decide when or if they get to join the majority culture. Instead, mainstream audiences keep these cultural factors at arm’s length until they decide to let them in.