THE STRUCTURE AND TRANSFER OF CULTURAL MEANING: A STUDY OF YOUNG CONSUMERS AND POP MUSIC Adapted from an article by Hogg & Emma, Advances in Consumer Research Vol 27

Introduction The term 'pop' tends to imply a different set of values from other music labels and is predominantly associated with the mainstream or 'chart' music as opposed to that which is consumed at the margins by those with more minority tastes. With its mass production for a predominantly youth market, is an important sphere for the consumption of popular culture. This paper discusses the transfer of meanings and images from the culturally constituted world of young consumers (and examines how these meanings and images are subsequently consumed by individual consumers. Because pop stars share many of the characteristics associated with consumer goods the study used McCracken’s framework to conceptualise the process of meaning transfer of pop star imagery. The study concentrates on exploring the set of instruments and rituals for meaning transfer from pop stars to adolescents. Adolescents and pop music Adolescence is the period of growth between childhood and adulthood, with music functioning as an important part of adolescent. This culture is the sum of the body of norms, values, attitudes and practices recognised and shared by and represented by an area of common symbols and meanings. Pop music is a cultural space which belongs predominantly to young people and where they have historically been the major consumers. Pop music is viewed as an avenue for creative expression and excitement, which is not available within the confines of home and school. Earlier research has shown that music is important for two main reasons: It is a means by which youth groups define themselves, and a source for determining and achieving group status. Adolescents are thus active in the production and consumption of meaning from pop star imagery, which supports McCracken’s observation that the consumer is the final author and essential participant in the process of meaning transfer. Pop music consumption The consumption of pop music embraces the purchase of recorded music, attendance at live performances, watching music videos, listening to the radio and the making of tape compilations. There are also secondary levels of involvement which include the reading of the music press, dancing (clubs and discos) and concert going. Structure and movement of meaning McCracken argued that culture is transferred from the culturally constituted world, that of every day experience, via the fashion and advertising system (which represent the first stage of the trajectory) to consumer goods, and then through various instruments and rituals (which represent the second stage of the trajectory) to individual consumers. We use an industry review to identify and describe the main components of the first stage of the trajectory. We concentrate on the second trajectory: the ways in which the symbolic cultural meaning of images resident in the product (the pop star) are transferred to young consumers. We examine the different channels used for the communication of pop star imagery; and the different rituals involved in the consumption of pop star images

Channels for the movement of meaning and pop star imagery The first stage in McCracken’s model revolves around 'the institutions which are instruments of meaning transfer: advertising, and product design as practised in the fashion system. In our framework advertising, youth fashion and music production institutions are the three main instruments in the transfer of meaning from the culturally constituted world of young consumers to goods, in this case pop stars. The music industry together with advertising and media (e.g. press, magazines, radio, videos and MTV) play a key role in both parts of the trajectory: in the construction and investment of meaning from the culturally constituted world of the young consumers to the product (i.e. the pop stars); and in the communication and transfer of pop star images to individual adolescents. The actors (e.g. performers; agents and managers; publicists; marketing executives and disc jockeys) and instruments (e.g. music magazines, records and music videos) involved in the flow and circulation of meaning often appear in both parts of the trajectory. The Components of the Music Production System A number of roles can be identified within the music production sub-systems (e.g. songwriting; performing; managing and promoting; recording and producing; music reviewing; presenting and playing music on radio shows). Two of the most visible influences on the creative process within the music industry (apart from the artists themselves) are the pop star’s management and the record label or company on which their material appears. The cultural gatekeepers for the music industry and young consumers include DJs, music critics, journalists, TV programme makers, and all those who have some influence on the types of music or specific artists that consumers are able to gain access to. Media channels: newspapers, magazines, videos and MTV Media represents the other important system in the construction and transfer of meaning and images. Since the 1980’s populist tabloid newspapers in England have dedicated an increasing amount of space to recording artists in news stories and front cover articles, with an interest in sex, drugs and corruption rather than in music. Music magazines devote articles to the personality and style of artists, with details of pop stars’ opinions, lifestyles and clothing. Videos and music television are the other crucial channels for the communication of pop music and pop star imagery. Music videos represent an unparalleled marketing tool in attaching visual imagery to the 'sound’. Music videos were initially an advertisement for an artist and their products, and MTV provided the forum for their display. Now videos have become products in their own right, and can be seen as documentaries, advertisements or televised dramas which develop images in association with the sound and thereby build on the visual codes already in play. Role of music in young consumers’ lives The participants unanimously agreed on how important music was to them. They listened to music all the time: I listen to it every morning and when I get home …(Daniel, 11). Listening to music often took place alongside other activities, with homework and computer games frequently mentioned: I can’t do my studies without having music on in the background (Ricardo, 14). Listening to music was favoured over and above television, which confirmed earlier research by Rice (1981) and Willis (1990).

Role of Imagery Image represented a major influence on consumption decisions, both in the choice of pop stars and music. Image encompassed a pop star’s appearance, personality and lifestyle, and also included the sound or style of the music: It’s looks and personality, reputation as well. (Rosie, 15). Perceptions of what constituted image was not restricted to visual elements but extended to the behaviour, attitude and personality of pop stars: Sometimes it’s their attitude that puts you off, say with Oasis (Beccy, 15). Certain messages about pop stars are communicated through looks; which attracted both positive and negative comments: They [Oasis] do good music, but he’s got all druggy eyes, he’s got them horrible glasses, he never shaves. (Vallis, 14). Of the visual aspects, physical attractiveness and dress sense were particularly important: I think that most bands get where they are today because of their looks and dress sense, more than their singing or dancing really. (Beccy, 15). Whilst good looks were generally important for the artists’ success they were often not sufficient by themselves. Musical talent was also necessary to ensure success: .if you are just good looking and you are not very good as a singer, you are not going to make it. (Ricardo, 14). The Transfer of Meaning to the Young Consumer A variety of channels, both directly and indirectly involved with the artist and the record company, are used to communicate meaning and images to young consumers. Relationship Between Music and Fashion Systems Clothes played an important part in pop stars’ appeal for fans, and clearly communicated certain messages about that pop star’s identity and also their music. When participants criticised the fashion sense of pop stars they were often voicing their disapproval of the kind of music produced by that artist. Pop stars have the power to make certain looks popular and fashionable: when Blur wore the jumpers with the stripes, they were all in fashion (Beccy, 15). Imitation of fashion trends was an important instrument for meaning transfer from the pop stars to the adolescents; and can be linked to the grooming ritual identified by McCracken for the transfer of meaning from products to consumers. Fan Behaviour One of the most important instruments for the transferral of meaning and imagery from the pop stars to adolescents is fan behaviour being a fan involves liking, fancying or being influenced by the pop group, but does not require liking all the songs on a CD album. Exchange, grooming, possession and divestment can be seen in the consumption rituals associated with fan behaviour. Spending money, collecting and swapping things were important aspects of the exchange, possession and divestment rituals: You want everything to do with them don’t you? (Chantal, 15) [possession]; There’s magazines with posters of them. I buy them. I swap my old posters for their ones (Laura, 13)[exchange]; Listening to their music and buying their albums and records. (Ricardo, 14);[possession] I buy lots of magazines, watch things, tape them, put them on my wall (Charlene, 13); [grooming]. Buy their records, get their albums, posters of them on the wall (David, 12) [grooming]. Fan behaviour also extended into other areas of activity such as imitation, e.g. supporting the same football team as the pop stars. In other cases, participants joined fan clubs to bring them into closer contact with their heroes, i.e. 'touching greatness’. Concerts were another important aspect of fan behaviour: Going to see them in concerts or wherever they are appearing (Rosie, 15). Concerts had a great atmosphere where

everyone feels the same, and seeing an artist play live was evidence of the strength of a person’s liking for an act: you just feel like seeing them so you just think you’ll spend any amount of money on them, and all sorts of things (Santina, 12)[possession]. Some girls described other behaviour which brought them into closer contact with pop stars: Brian Harvey used to live at the bottom of my road. I used to go there every week (Louise, 13); My friend sent Mark Owen a birthday card before (Cheri, 13) [exchange]. The transient nature of fashions in pop music and fan behaviour was recognized. Participants acknowledged that CD’s had a relatively short life span; and when artists had ceased to be fashionable then loss of interest in the artist was denoted by divestment rituals. What happened to CDs once the artist had ceased to be fashionable?: I’d just put it in my Mum’s CD pile, pretend it was like my Mum’s stuff (Ryan, 13). Peer influence Peer influence was important. Respondents described listening to and talking about music with friends and swapping posters with them. Opinions of peers was important; and attitudes to artists were often split down gender lines: Normally the girls like the boy bands (Leigh, 11);Some girls like romantic.... boys are into funky music and stuff (Daniel, 11). Both sexes cited the possibility of boys being ridiculed if they admitted to liking 'boy bands’: I think some people think they are going to get teased if they like a certain group. (Ricardo, 14); If boys put up men posters, they think they are gay. (Daniel, 11). The fear of disapproval and questions regarding sexuality appeared to be limited to boys: Girls can like the Spice Girls and not get called lesbian or anything but if boys like boy bands they get called gay. (Tasha, 14). The pressure on boys to like certain types of music and resist liking others seemed mainly to include name calling, but could extend to physical abuse: Do you remember in the juniors when that boy got beaten up for liking Take That ..... they were laughing at him saying you like Take That, that means you must be gay. (Tasha, 14). Media channels for the transfer of meaning Magazines with a high degree of pop music content featured significantly in the respondents’ reading habits:I like ‘live and Kickin’g and ‘Top of the Pops’. I buy those ones every month and if there’s like another magazine that I see that looks good, I buy it or wait for someone else to buy it, and then look at it (Charlene, 13). The main incentive to buy magazines was to find out information about pop stars and obtain posters to put on the wall: I think quite a lot of people ..want posters ..to put up on the wall (Chantal, 15). The purchase of posters and sticking them to the wall were part of the 'possession and grooming rituals’ in the second trajectory. Videos Videos shown on music programmes and music television were also important for communicating the visual images of pop stars as icons. However, videos were generally viewed as of secondary importance to the song: The basic thing that I like is the music, and then the video comes after (Santina, 13). This linked to the emphasis placed on the lyrics of the songs: You need to know what they are saying because you want to be familiar with it. You are going to be listening over and over again, trying to translate whatever they are saying, that’s important as well (Sebastian, 13) [possession]. The primary impression was that videos were for communicating and promoting a pop star’s image. Respondents identified the following functions for videos: as products in their own right, sold through retailers; to promote an artist on television; to entertain: to keep

you amused while you are listening to the song (Laura, 14). And yet clearly videos promoted the stars as 'icons’ which were comparable to the ritual of 'integrating individuals into a social whole’. This represents integration via the rituals of fan behaviour for 'possession’ of the star’s image. Performances Imagery is also communicated through performances. Many respondents had never been to a concert, so discussion centred around the performances of pop stars on television shows such as Top of the Pops. In some cases, pop stars mime to a backing tape rather than singing live vocals. This lack of authenticity led some participants to voice disappointment at this practice: I think if bands can’t sing live, they shouldn’t be singing at all. (Beccy, 15). They felt cheated with the nature of the exchange here. However disappointment was also felt where some pop stars or groups sang live and did not sound as good as on their recordings: when I saw Delores [of the Cranberries] on Top of the Pops live, she sounded really rough (Danny, 14). Variations in performance technique provided one means by which pop stars could communicate varying messages about themselves. However, a number of times respondents expressed distaste at performers being too energetic on stage, indicating they preferred it when performers were more reserved: I just don’t like it when they are dancing around as well, it looks a bit sad (Danny, 14). CONCLUSION A variety of means or agents are used to transfer the meaning and images from the pop stars to the individual consumers. The tools of the music industry included videos, marketing departments and performance; and were complemented by various media that operate on the periphery of the music industry (e.g. radio, television, teenage magazines and the tabloid press. Meanings were consumed by individual adolescents via different aspects of fan behaviour. The possession ritual emerged as one of the main instruments in the second trajectory for the transfer of meaning. However although the agents in the music and media industry can seek to influence the 'message making’ of consumption, they can not determine it, as young adolescent consumers clearly emerged as the final authors of the meaning of pop star imagery.

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