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Présentation

Musical Flops

Sarah Benhaïm, Lambert Dousson et Camille Noûs
Traduction de Maggie Jones
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les flops musicaux [fr]

Texte intégral

  • 1 For example, the sequence in Amadeus (Miloš Forman, 1984) that portrays the failure of Don Giovann (...)
  • 2 To cite but a few: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962), All That Jazz (Bob Foss (...)
  • 3 See Szendy Peter, Hits. Philosophy in the Jukebox, Fordham University Press, 2011 [2008].

1An empty concert hall, with a handful of event organizers, friends and family as the only audience; awkward silence broken by the screech of feedback at the end of a song; a half-hearted smattering of applause; or, in the extreme, outright booing and rotten fruits and vegetables pelted at the musicians… A new album that barely makes a ripple; the let-down and commercial failure of a much-anticipated release that disappoints; record jackets that are aesthetically off, looking low-budget, kitsch, outmoded, passé… The desertion of fans; the sad come-back attempt of a fallen star unable to bounce back from oblivion; a faltering career sputtering out in a supermarket concert… With the phenomenon of the musical flop comes a whole iconography of failure – of being a loser, a dud, washed up; of ridicule and derision, perhaps even self-mockery. This imagery around a “flop”, a term commonly used in the film industry1 – which also regularly produces and suffers commercial flops of its own, and frames them melodramatically as the “death and resurrection” or “death and transfiguration” of a given actor or director2 – sometimes goes so far as to taint the life of a song, i.e., when the song is a metaphor for its own failure, its own inability to hit the mark (to reconquer its beloved, and/or/i.e. the public).3

2In the world of music production, a flop, it seems, is a potential threat to every link in the chain, with the power to upend the aims and operations of both the record industry and the concert business that delivers the “show” element – live musical performance. A flop affects an artist’s journey – the evolution of their style and the economic growth or regression of their career – pulling up or down with it all of the other players and intermediaries involved. The shadow of flops hangs over the broad category of popular (“pop”) music, whether mainstream or underground, just as it does over classical music (also governed by highly competitive record and concert markets) and contemporary and experimental music, where three-quarters-empty concert halls are not uncommon. Neither a hit nor a scandal, a flop is simply that to which there is little response – lack of response being the lowest threshold on the scale of possible response.

  • 4 In a chapter of the posthumous Compléments in the 1853 edition of De l’amour (see Jouannais Jean-Y (...)

3The word “flop” originated in the nineteenth century, first as a variant of “flap”, describing the dull sound of a nonrigid object dropping heavily against the ground. It acquired its figurative sense of a “failure” at the tail-end of the century, particularly in performing arts and more specifically in theatre – the onomatopoeia here operating alongside the metaphor for a performance that “falls flat”. Synonymous expressions in other languages include the French “faire un four (literally, “to make an oven”) derived from the seventeenth-century saying “faire four”, explained thus in the dictionary Le Littré: “Said of actors who refused to perform and sent away the spectators if proceeds did not cover expenses”; the theatre was left dark (“as black as an oven”), thus saving candles and signalling a last-minute cancellation. The similar expression “faire un bide” (literally, “to do a belly”) originated in the nineteenth century when it was said that stage actors who had performed badly would worm their way back to their dressing rooms on their belly. The widely adopted word fiasco was imported from Italy by Stendhal, who used it humorously not to mean a debacle or collapse, nor even “erectile dysfunction”, but rather in reference to “premature ejaculation”4 – the inability to control desire or to master anticipation signifying a failure in performance and, thus, inability to deliver on the promise of pleasure.

4The etymology of “flop” in a musical sense thus shows the notion of a mismatch between the collective expectation (build-up) that precedes a performance, and the disappointment (let-down) it elicits after the fact – not just artistically speaking, i.e., how it is received by the public, the specialised press and critics, but also economically, i.e., the verdict in terms of the number of tickets sold and (physical/digital) albums purchased. Thus, the greater the anticipation, the higher the expectations, the more severe a flop will be – whether the excitement owes to the notoriety of the artists (in which case the severity of the flop will be measured by how their career goes from that point on) or is driven by all of the systems in place to generate, maintain and build up this anticipation and to structure and promote it in the media (publicity campaigns, press, interviews, previews, etc.). As a possibility that spans artists’ whole careers, a flop can be considered in regard to the future, because of the stakes around career predictability for all parties involved. A flop can also be considered retrospectively, and a past flop sometimes prompts the reassessment of an artist’s work, perhaps even new appreciation of the flop itself. The record and concert industries may even latch on to this new zeal, e.g., surfing the wave of nostalgia with timely album releases in the wake of an artist’s death. In other words, a flop is something to be managed, something with stakes riding on it and, thus, itself a stake.

  • 5 Among the few examples that do exist: Altenmüller Eckart, Schürmann Kristian, Klim Vanessa and Die (...)
  • 6 The annals of pop music seem inhabited – even haunted – by the memory, tainted with irony and deri (...)
  • 7 A French example of this sort of delayed success is Serge Gainsbourg’s concept-album L’homme à têt (...)

5However, it appears that despite the rich fictional imagery around the notion of “flops”, the popularity of this word and its widespread use in the media (and not just the specialised press: beyond examples in literary and cinema, occurrences called flops are just as often political or economic, e.g., a lacklustre campaign rally or a company’s botched stock launch), there has been little serious study of musical flops – a subject, to today, largely absent among scientific publications in the field of music studies.5 This relative invisibility is likely related to the very nature of the flop phenomenon, and in this sense raises questions involving the history of music and historiography. Artists whose flops ended their career, whether for biographical, artistic or economic reasons, have either fallen into oblivion or, in the irony of history, owe their fame to their fall from a brief taste of stardom. There are, for example, the artists remembered for their “one-hit wonder”, a surprise hit that they failed to follow-up on, their next release proving a career-ending flop.6 Those who do manage to bounce back from calamity attempt to smooth it over, either letting it fade from memory or, on the contrary, weaving it into their personal narrative, casting it as a “bump in the road”, a “creative block”, a “glitch”, the “low after a high” (or other such expressions employed in the journalistic rhetoric); or else to paint it as the victim of temporary historical injustice, a wrong that can be righted by recognising it as a misunderstood masterpiece that was initially seen as a critical and commercial failure.7 Then there are those who cultivate flops ironically in an aesthetic or ethos of self-mockery, and who remain, whether intentionally or not and with varying degrees of humour, relatively under the radar.

  • 8 Becker Howard Saul, Art Worlds, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982.
  • 9 For example, Richard Peterson has shown the importance of this perspective, centred on the mechani (...)

6In this relationship to fame and obscurity – whether temporary or lasting – lies an opportunity to examine the representations of flops, through the plurality of individual stories revealing a certain disillusionment in terms of the chances of “making it”, that is, being able to live from one’s art and survive as an artist (Johann Mazé’s account in this issue being one interesting example). Indeed, it is precisely by considering the situations and environments that lend themselves to a negative or lack of response to creative works, and the whole range of players making up an art world,8 that we can achieve a better understanding of the flop phenomenon, beyond the construct that the music world structures itself solely according to the relationship between artists and their audience. Just as it is important to think about the conditions that allow success to emerge and talent to be recognised, so it is crucial to examine the multiple factors that contribute to a flop, starting with the structural arrangements that shape and condition it.9

The sociology of a musical failure

  • 10 The notion of “cultural intermediary” (intermédiaire culturel) appears for the first time in Bou (...)
  • 11 Menger Pierre-Michel, The Economics of Creativity. Art and Achievement under Uncertainty, Cambridg (...)
  • 12 As Keith Negus writes, discussing the anxiety of record label representatives under pressure to co (...)
  • 13 On this subject, see Picaud Myrtille, Mettre la ville en musique (Paris-Berlin), Saint-Denis, Pres (...)

7In this regard, understanding the “social conditions of possibility of ‘flop’” – to borrow the title of the interview with Keivan Djavadzadeh, Tomas Legon and Myrtille Picaud included in this issue – first involves clarifying the complex and central roles played by “cultural intermediaries”10 in the conditions that allow an artist to exist and to perform. A flop, most often understood as such by virtue of its commercial failure, concerns every stage of production, event programming, and assessment. It reflects the high stakes involved in this exercise of assessment at each stage of music production: for producers, concert and tour organizers, managers, labels, critics, press/media, and other “prescribers” (programmers, influencers, etc.). Djavadzadeh, Legon and Picaud discuss the extent to which art worlds are based in large part on these intermediaries, who are continually reconfiguring the trends and stylistic boundaries. If “creative labour” is, as described by Pierre-Michel Menger, a matter of “achievement under uncertainty”,11 the labour of cultural intermediaries involves attempting to assess risks in order to limit uncertainty, that is, to assess artists whose worth is always uncertain.12 To make this assessment, taking into account the local and global parameters, the intermediaries operate together as a network, i.e., a system of cross-assessment aimed at ensuring some artists the conditions for success.13 In this sense, a flop can sometimes be explained by this “inside” process (within this professional circle of intermediaries), if the worth they have collectively constructed for an artist is not echoed by the public response. In this case, the flop could be considered the result of a “top-down” tactical error (see our interview in this issue), that is, a strategy chosen by the industry which proves not to match the actual reception by the public.

  • 14 These strategies to reduce risks in a fluctuating market appear not only in major record labels bu (...)
  • 15 For example, Negus reports the use of categories to label different genres, artists and sections, (...)

8Consequently, certain strategies are used to reduce the number of flops and their impact, such as overproduction policies by record labels, by which they invest massively in as many musical genres and artists as possible in order to capitalize on the few successes that break through,14 or, as discussed by Keith Negus, diversification strategies that distribute risks by musical genre and revenue source.15 However, miscalculation, clouded judgement, and faulty predictions are not the only possible explanations for a flop; it may be the result of a commercial strategy by which creating the conditions for the possible success of some artists simultaneously promotes the conditions for the possible failure of others, condemning the latter to invisibility and non-success – to being a flop.

  • 16 Seabrook John, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

9The articles compiled in this issue of Transposition seek to shed light on all of the factors that contribute to a musical flop. They analyse the role that intermediaries and “prescribers” (concert venue programmers, record producers, the press, critics, etc.) play in either the exposure or the invisibilization of artists, and these agents’ influence on the categories of public aesthetic judgement in a given situation. The writings herein also show the incorporation of a certain kind of artistic production and reception into the history of musical genres – a history that is not just aesthetic or economic but also social and political, inasmuch as flops and their repercussions are traversed by various dynamics of domination (gender, race, class, age, etc.). Far from the lightness with which they often are treated in fiction, flops can thus be seen as the aesthetic or economic form of setting aside (“sidelining”) or even segregating minority artists within music distribution circuits. In this regard, it appears that a flop is not just the contrary of what is “on top” but also its negative (in a photographic sense), revealing the underbelly of the global “hit factory” (to borrow the subtitle of John Seabrook’s 2016 book16) and, by extension, the power relations that the parties involved in music production want to keep invisible. The articles making up this issue represent a plurality of case studies, reflecting – beyond the diversity of methodologies deployed – often non-academic materials and sources, previously little-known or unknown to the public and expressing situated or minorized standpoints on flops. In this sense, gaining a better understanding of the conditions that contributed to a flop is closely linked to the reassessment or rehabilitation of the flop.

Artist, audience, critics

  • 17 See for example Buch Esteban, Le Cas Schönberg. Naissance de l’avant-garde musicale, Paris, Gallim (...)
  • 18 To borrow the terms used in Martin Kaltenecker’s analysis of the discursive “listening devices” ((...)
  • 19 In the “process of indignation” involved in scandal, Julien Mathieu identifies a rhetoric based on (...)

10On the fringe of the commercial circuits fuelling the music industry, a link between “avant-garde” music and flops is often easily established, the former evoking the imagery and stereotypes of a three-quarters-empty concert hall echoing with incongruous, inevitably animalesque sounds – animal noises belonging to the repertoire that prompts a violent reaction to modern music.17 Drawing on a vast body of archival press documents, David Miller, in “Shadows, Wraiths, and Amoebas: The Distinctive Flops of Anton Webern in the United States”, examines the ambiguous role of the critical response in the reception of Webern’s music in the United States in the years 1924 to 1929. Encouraged by the American success of Arnold Schoenberg, whose disciple he was presented as, and buoyed by a sort of “rubbing off” on him of the sulphurous aura of his master’s Skandalkonzert, Webern acquired the reputation of being a provocative and ultra-modern composer. However, the critical reception of his music contrasted starkly with the “discursive space”18 of this scandal that preceded it. That is to say, his work made little impression; the critical response was limp, bordering on indifference – echoing the “aphoristic” style of his music with its sparse textures, pervasive calm, and brevity, drawing parallels with “nothing”. In this instance, the flop is measured in the lack of scandal when scandal was in fact the expectation. Miller, however, underscores the widespread use of biological metaphors in the press (e.g., “insects” activities, “tonal glorification of the amoeba”) and recontextualises them in a “moral dichotomy” characteristic of the Victorian era and which remained in the European and American cultural arena well after this period: distinguishing on one side, the “human” (i.e., “religion, education, and the arts”), and on the other, the “animal” (symbolizing the “forces that threatened propriety”).19 It is as if the political metaphorization of Schoenberg’s scandalous music in Europe was, in the case of Webern in the U.S., transferred to the moral or cultural sphere; and whereas the master’s music seemed to be able to imperil the fragile equilibrium of civilisation, the disciple’s music was simply excluded from civilisation.

  • 20 Noting contemporary musicians’ accounts of Varèse as an “innovative genius”, in opposition to the (...)

11It remains, however, that the tenaciousness of this metaphor is also a sign of the staying power of this music which, indeed, remained in circulation for years. Thus, far from being a monolithic phenomenon, a critical flop does not necessarily mean a commercial flop or an empty concert hall. Paradoxically, it can allow the music to settle within the cultural landscape, i.e., the repertoire, as Miller suggests. Moreover, a critical flop can play into a “myth of the misunderstood genius” which can be instrumentalized by composers to help legitimize their works that are considered transgressive.20

  • 21 Babbitt Milton, “Who Cares if You Listen?”, High Fidelity, Feb. 1958.

12In “Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Last Savage: Opera, Science, and Relevance in Cold War American Culture”, Cynthia Dretel explains the flop of Menotti’s opera The Last Savage as a dissonance or misunderstanding between its creator’s aesthetic and sociopolitical intentions (his expectations), and the work’s critical reception – the outcome being, here too, a sort of scandal that fell flat. The misunderstanding here is in fact two-fold. There is first the aesthetic component: Menotti, a well-established composer of successful operas written in an accessible and melodious style, created The Last Savage as a musical critique of the growing intellectualism and random, serialist modernist approaches of composers in the late 1950s, whose disconnect from the public is crystalized in the figure of Milton Babbitt and his famous article “Who Cares if You Listen?”.21 Menotti’s musical satire takes the form of a mixture of popular tonal music styles, interspersed with disguised musical quotations for the benefit of opera lovers, and with serial music, in order to present the predominance of serial music at the time as a passing fad, and to respond to the elitism of the critics who labelled his musical language as “backward-looking” and the plots of his operas as “sentimental”. But far from sparking a polemic, the intended provocation was not understood as such by the critics, who decried the “vulgar”, “failed” mixture of grand opera and opera buffa, and the lack of musical coherence caused by the presence of the serial music.

  • 22 Adorno Theodor W. and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford, Stanford University Pr (...)

13Then there was the sociopolitical misunderstanding: in Menotti’s opera, the elitism and intellectualism of serial music and criticism were meant to metaphorically denounce the conception of science that had blinded the American economic, scientific and political elite. At the time, against the backdrop of the Cold War and McCarthyism, explains Dretel, this elite saw itself as a bulwark of democracy against the threat of communism, using scientific progress for the benefit of truth and the happiness of humanity through space exploration, and against the destructive use of progress embodied by the atomic bomb on the other side of the wall. But here, too, the provocation fell flat: The Last Savage appeared at a moment when concerns about radioactivity had grown, and when film and literature were deconstructing the belief that scientific progress would make Americans the “masters of the universe”. If the opera was a flop, it was because its critical charge was overly simplistic and didactic. Marking the start of Menotti’s decline in the U.S., the flop of The Last Savage is explained by the mismatch between the creator’s intentions and the sociopolitical context in which his work was produced. Menotti had banked on his opera being a “successful flop”, a political polarization based on the aesthetic dissonance between the negative critical reception he was aiming for in his operatic satire, and the public’s appreciation; but he had not correctly gauged the opera audience’s receptiveness to political content delivered via what Adorno calls the “cultural industries”.22

Definition and historicity of musical genres

  • 23 For a summary of this theory developed in the 1980s, the leading thinkers of which were Madeleine (...)
  • 24 Goffman Erving, Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order, New York, Basic Books, 1971
  • 25 Law John & Michel Callon, “On the Construction of Sociotechnical Networks: Content and Context Rev (...)

14Drawing on rare archives such as audio documents, oral testimonies, and personal logbooks of former members of one of Europe’s first free improvisation collectives, Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza (GINC), Maurizio Farina examines two flops in his article Improvisational Flops: A Problematic Concert (1969) and Controversial LP (1970) of the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza”: a Berlin concert at the 6 Tage Musik festival in December 1969, and the album The Feed-Back produced by RCA Italiana in 1970. Farina shows that these two flops were the result of stylistic risk-taking that was out of sync with the expectations projected by the artists and, paradoxically, that they occurred at a time (1968-1972) considered the height of the group’s success in terms of recognition, visibility and productivity. Using the actor-network theory (ANT),23 the author makes a meticulous analysis of the course of the 1969 concert, and shows that the flop is explained by dissonance in the interpretation and translation of the tacit rules, implicitly decreed by the bandleader Franco Evangelisti and supposed to govern both the interaction amongst GINC members and their interaction with the audience, particularly in the unique framework they sought to establish in which the public was invited to take part in the improvisation. In the same way as analyses by interactionist sociologists like Erving Goffman24 highlight the rites and strategies that actors use in their interactions and stagings to better emphasize the rules and frames, Farina’s observation here examines a flop that seems to involve a double misunderstanding: first, between the expectations of an audience prepared to participate actively in the performance by playing along, and musicians who expect audience involvement not in the playing but rather in listening and vocal response – this “out-of-bounds” audience behaviour ultimately disorganizing a performance “negotiation space”25 that proved fragile precisely because the framework was not clearly defined; and second, between the aesthetic judgments and expectations of the audience (tensions, dynamics, individualization) and those of the musicians (plus the discord within GINC about how to orient the improvisation) – the most symptomatic effects of the flop being boredom and a sense of unease shared by musicians and audience alike.

15This misunderstanding was then amplified in the 1970 flop, the artistic and commercial failure of The Feed-Back LP. This was due, first, to the aesthetic conflict in which the members of GINC were caught up in their quest for “upperground” singularity, combining the group’s avant-garde, experimental style with beat, rock, bruitist and minimalist elements in the aim of achieving a distinctly unique sound by hybridizing two veins: classical (for a form of listening that draws on aesthetic competence), and popular (for a form of listening requiring no training). Second, the album’s commercial flop demonstrates experimental music’s heavy reliance on the record market, with the album’s poor reception owing to the lack of a media promotion policy. Lastly, as a value judgment, the flop is the product of historical relativity and variability: after initially sinking into oblivion, the album was later re-evaluated in the light of cultural changes involving the history of genre hybridization, as the evolution of music technologies and infrastructures provided open digital access to musical archives. With the online availability of digital resources, The Feed-Back album achieved greater popularity and broader distribution, and in the era of experimental German rock (krautrock), what critics and some musicians in its day had viewed as an artistic faux pas (classical/popular hybridization) now garnered new appreciation, promoting a rehabilitation.

16This relativity of criteria, categories, canons and bases for judgement – what makes a flop or not a flop – in relation to music production, and the equally unstable history of musical genres and their definition, is at the crux of Mattia Merlini’s article, “A Melloton Shaped Grave: Deconstructing the Death of Progressive Rock”. In line with the work of the international research group “The Progect”, led by Allan F. Moore, notably aimed at re-evaluating progressive rock and bringing some of its obscured figures into the light, Merlini seeks to understand why the narrative of the “death” of “prog” – marked by Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Love Beach (1978) – became so dominant in the media discourse, why prog hits were reinterpreted as flops, and how these flops need to be reconsidered in relation to “classic” prog.

  • 26 Beyond the idiomatic aspects that codify styles, examining the discourses in the media provides in (...)

17Indeed, for decades, progressive rock has been viewed as a grandiloquent and self-referential version of psychedelia, and as an essentially British phenomenon that Merlini calls the “Anglo-symphonic stereotype”. The fluctuating use in the press of emerging categories at the time (progressive rock and symphonic rock) and identification of the associated emblematic or pioneering figures, points to the relativity and instability of the canons and definitions, reminding us of the importance of situating and contextualizing discourses in order to understand the (normative) process of defining a music genre.26

  • 27 See Pirenne Christophe, All things must pass. Vies et morts du rock, Bruxelles, Académie royale de (...)
  • 28 Merlini’s analysis is not the first to reconsider the treatment of progressive rock in the media. (...)

18Apart from the fact that alternative narratives were obscured by the press and, to a lesser extent, scholars, it seems that the invisibilization of “prog” in the late 1970s, which Merlini attributes to various economic and cultural factors – economic crisis in Great Britain, declining purchasing power, crisis in the record industry and in rock distribution, the public’s perception of the rock establishment as becoming gentrified, etc. – was accompanied by scathing media discussion of the “death of prog”. However, this “death of prog” – echoing the standard, cyclical debates in the history of pop music about the supposed (already here or imminent) “death of rock”27 – is closely linked to the emergence of punk, whose claim of returning to the roots of rock, with its outrageousness, effectiveness, immediacy and authenticity, was seen as salvation from the unorthodox sophistication and elitism of progressive rock.28 In this regard, re-evaluating the “death of prog” involves deconstructing the “Anglo-symphonic stereotype”, which invisibilized not only non-British prog produced during the “golden age” of symphonic prog, but also music considered “progressive” after the supposed “death of prog”, as well as much of the prog produced in the UK in the same period and just after the classic prog era. This deconstruction in turn has historiographical consequences: in place of the narrative of a genre’s death and resurrection, Merlini proposes a concept of the genre as a continuous process, distinguishing “neo-progressive” music, which follows the codes of British symphonic prog, from “post-progressive” music (contemporary progressive music in its various forms) which, as an “eclectic simulacrum” of prog, “radically trying to shift away from the symphonic style, although not really changing the rules of the progressive game”. The underlying stakes in the labelling of music genres appear as a form of struggle, distinction and rehabilitation with regard to this counter-narrative to the “prog flop” narrative – this rejection of a certain stereotyped conception of the genre.

Commercial strategies and minority politics

  • 29 Kramarz Volkmar, Warum Hits Hits werden: Erfolgsfaktoren der Popmusik: eine Untersuchung erfolgrei (...)

19In the article Over the Flop: Queen’s Album Hot Space (1982) and the Sways of Disappointment”, Jan Giffhorn offers a critical approach to the notion of music genre, discussing the paradox of Queen’s album Hot Space (1982). Indeed, despite doing well in the charts on its release, the album straightaway was deemed a flop by the press, an appraisal that still endures today. How does one explain this tension between economic value and critical value, and the endurance of this dynamic over time? The author advances two hypotheses that question the mechanisms at play: first, the rigidity of the definition of a musical style, composed as much of stylistic elements as norms and social expectations; and second, the binarity of “flop” and “hit”, and the predominance of the commercial approach to flops, in the sense of a “sink-or-swim” idea of success, in which “inner artistic factors and their appreciation need not play any role”,29 to quote Kramarz Volkmar, whose stance the article contests.

  • 30 Becker, Art Worlds.
  • 31 On this topic, Philip Auslander shows that the theatricality of glam rock performances defied conv (...)

20More than a commercial and strategic failure on the part of the label (the Hot Space flop shows that record companies, too, are vulnerable to the effects of criticism, Elektra having been named “loser of the year” by Rolling Stone magazine), to understand what causes the flop requires examining the controversies around the album’s aesthetic and social dimensions. Giffhorn also observes that the attempted fusion of funk, disco and rock broke with the stylistic coherence of Queen’s previous successful albums (rock, glam rock and progressive rock), a break that blurred the expectations of the band’s fans and consequently drew harsh criticism. If, as argued by Howard S. Becker,30 artists’ freedom of expression is always limited by the expectations of the critics and audience, it is important to conceptualize this reception politically and socially. The funk genre, associated with the civil rights movement, and disco, associated with the gay liberation movement, were rooted at the time in marginalized social cultures. It is difficult to read the flop of Hot Space without considering the social context in terms of homophobic reception, with the media perception of AIDS in the 1980s and at the same time the gradual assertion of Freddie Mercury’s personality: in addition to embracing disco, the sexual undertones in his physical transformation, the ambiguity of the song lyrics and agogics, his “anti-rock, anti-White, anti-heteronormative” rhetoric, his play with gender norms and stereotypes in stage performances, etc. retroactively seemed to make everything that had come before in Queen’s career look like a lie, as if the band had betrayed its fans.31 Symptomatic of this genre politics was the almost interchangeable use of the terms “disco” and “funk” (assimilated as a single genre in the Hot Space sequence via their supposed incompatibility with the band’s prevalent rock tradition), showing a conflict between distinct cultural spheres and the social composition of the audiences. Giffhorn also observes the contemporary conditions for a flop’s endurance, via popular websites that replay and maintain these controversial tensions (rock versus funk/disco, and style/sexuality), thus acting as “prescribers” for fans in addition to influencing sales.

21The relationship between flops and minority politics – social race relations – is at the heart of two articles in this issue: Cornelia and Holger Lund’s “A History of flops and a New Turn: The Turkish-German Music Interplay” and Anthony Kwame Harrison’s “A Five Star Flop: The Collision of Music Industry Machinations, Genre Maintenance, and Black Britishness in 1980s Pop”.

  • 32 The article cites Martin Greve’s important work (Die Musik der imaginären Türkei: Musik und Musikl (...)
  • 33 Recent research worth mentioning includes: Güngör Murat and Hannes Loh, Fear of a Kanak Planet: (...)
  • 34 On this topic, the cited works by Cornelia and Holger Lund, and by Serhat Güney, Cem Pekman and Bü (...)

22Starting from a minimum definition of a flop (cost/benefit ratio), Cornelia and Holger Lund provide a critical reading of the history of Turkish pop music’s reception in Germany, through the example of artists singing Turkish pop music in German and artists singing German pop music in Turkish, along with failed efforts to establish a musical dialog between Turkish-speakers and German-speakers in the period from the 1960s to the 1980s. Their article seeks to show how the frame for the reception and distribution of music took shape in Germany, fragmenting these two audiences, through the prism of certain social, cultural and musical conflicts. With an approach informed by popular music studies and decolonial studies, as well as non-academic sources (the specialized music press, publications from political action groups, album notes, oral testimony, sources from the Turkish pop community in Germany, and commentary by activists), the authors point out how their subject is a blind spot in (ethno)musicological research, as much on Turkish music produced in Germany32 and the history of transnational German-Turkish music production (with the exception of German-Turkish hip-hop33), as on transnational Turkish pop music. As we noted at the beginning of this introduction, flops reveal a relationship between commercial invisibility – as discussed in the interview on “the social conditions of possibility of ‘flop’” – and epistemic invisibility.34 The lack of academic research on Turkish pop music in Germany appears to be linked to the invisibilization of Turks themselves, their culture, and their music: the absence of Ottoman-Turkish culture and history from school curricula, radio and Television shows, record company catalogues, and concert hall and festival programming, and the representation of Turks as a labour force and not a potential clientele, are all factors in the strict segmentation of the music market.

23This fragmented market, which the authors attribute to latent racism, condemns emerging Turkish music labels to a form of small-scale, closed circle distribution, limited to the Turkish community, and thus to commercial flops. Eurovision does regularly provide Turkish pop with a major media platform and an opportunity for non-Turkish spectators in Germany to come into contact with this music, however the history of this event is one of successive flops that only reinforces the separateness of the two audiences. What, then, explains the re-evaluation of Turkish pop in German in the 2000s? As Myrtille Picaud suggests in the interview herein, this is explained by “winning recipes”, i.e., the strategies that record labels use to limit the risk of flop, given the uncertain artistic value of an artist far removed from the dominant norms and practices in the central spheres of the music industry. In the case at hand, the emergence of a “Turkish new wave” and its “cool Istanbul” image, the revival of Anatolian pop stars of the 1970s and the sampling of their songs in club music, has combined with a rewriting of the history of world pop and migration cultures in Germany and the role of Turkish pop music in the political struggle for migrant rights in Germany.

24In “A Five Star Flop: The Collision of Music Industry Machinations, Genre Maintenance, and Black Britishness in 1980s Pop”, through archival research, i.e., examining press clippings, album/liner notes, and videos and dialog between fans, Anthony Kwame Harrison seeks to explain the circumstances behind the flop of the British band Five Star’s 1988 album Rock the World. In this aim, he combines three approaches from popular music studies: first, a structural approach to the production of culture, e.g., looking at how the music industry positions its products – artists, albums and chansons – to get the best results; second, a musicological reflection on music genres and how they are used to categorize a group or song; and third, a critical approach on the reception of Black British identity.

  • 35 Negus Keith, Producing Pop: Culture and Conflict in the Popular Music Industry, London; New York: (...)
  • 36 On the “black music” category, see Parent Emmanuel (dir.), “Peut-on parler de musique noire ?” [th (...)

25Harrison, a sociologist, exposes the machinations of the music industry by pointing out the consequences of the artistic direction/marketing strategies that accompanied the band’s career, examining the ambiguous role of a father manager/producer and the link between certain strategic decisions and the restructuring of the label (RCA, which became RCA/BMG), thus revealing the central importance of intermediation in an artistic trajectory. Above all, he shows how commercial strategies are based on racial categories, which are themselves somewhat vague and plastic according to market fluctuations. This strategy can be seen in the existence of Billboard’s “black music” category from 1982 to 1990, which constrained certain groups to this heading while remaining indeterminate as to what the term “black music” referred to: the artists, an audience or a musical style. Extending Negus’s work35 that describes how the assumptions and judgments of record industry staff are based in part on beliefs imbued with various gender, class and racial divisions, Harrison shows how genres operate as social categories, examining the underlying issues around reception (and success) in the orienting/aligning of Five Star’s style towards/with the “black music” category.36 Black Britishness was indeed manifested primarily through diasporic frames evoking a Caribbean aesthetic, from which the band had intentionally distanced itself despite its Jamaican heritage. Conversely, the group no longer fit the codes of the American market, having departed from the “soul” logic that had been the key to its favourable reception there, instead offering a British pop aesthetic that was ultimately perceived as dissonant with cultural representations in the United States.

26While generic labels here reflect the industry’s negotiation of race issues, bringing to the fore tensions between pop(ularity) and racialized segmentation, this also heightened issues around authenticity and gender. Indeed, Five Star was designated and identified as a “boy band” – a cliché and critically disparaged commercial category – even though, as un ungendered group, it did not fit the definition. Moreover, as at the time the African diaspora was most readily associated with reggae and rap, the group was also accused of violating a code of authenticity. Finally, Harrison shows that a flop may not be due to lesser or questionable aesthetic quality, but rather the result of strategic manipulations on the part of the music industry, and the product of invisibilization due to a clash between a work and/or band image and dominant codes relating to race, gender, genre and authenticity.

Performing the flop

  • 37 Perec Georges, Cantatrix sopranica L. et autres écrits scientifiques, Paris, Seuil, coll. “Librair (...)

27In counterpoint, the authors known as Contre-culture psychique tackle the theme of this issue from the “north face”, that is, the extreme case of a high-voltage flop, the iconic tomato bashing”. Their point of departure is a text that Georges Perec had given to a researcher at the Neuropsychology Laboratory at Hôpital Saint-Antoine, entitled “Experimental demonstration of the tomato-topic organization in the Soprano (Cantatrix sopranica L.)”, better-known by the abbreviated title “Cantatrix sopranica L.37 This study of the impact of a pelter of tomatoes at an opera singer – written as a parody of a scientific article that plays with the codes and clichés of academic language, i.e. “an experimental form methodically debunking the formalism of scientific papers, the common template underlying any publication in any field, their symbolism and even their perversity” – is here the subject of a critical reading by Contre-culture psychique, who at the same time continue in the parodic poetic-scientific vein set out by Perec. This reading first consists in pointing out how Perec, in a sense, remains captive to certain academic tics even as he is attempting to deconstruct them by making fun of them: after all, focusing solely on the attack on the singer’s integrity is to deny the tomato any right to singular existence, under cover of a scientific code of objectification and a manner of generalization that poorly masks its anthropocentrism, thus resulting in two-fold violence – both physical and epistemic – in response to the aesthetic attack that prompted the bashing.

  • 38 Adorno Theodor W., Introduction to the Sociology of Music, New York, Seabury, 1976 [1962].

28Yet it is certainly no accident that this text (which seems very much like a written conference-performance) opens with a typology that strangely echoes the ideal-type categorisation of “types of musical attitudes” with which Adorno, in his Introduction to a Sociology of Music, takes the reader from the heaven of the “expert listener” to the hell of one “musically indifferent”, passing through the intermediary circles of “culture consumer”, “emotional listener”, and “resentment listener”.38 In response to this typology in which Adorno’s musicological aesthetic makes social value judgement spill into sociological judgement, Contre-culture psychique offer another typology, seemingly parodic (in its form), which distinguishes types of listening insofar as it involves bodily attitudes that they call “excitations”, and on which social judgement comes to be imprinted in its modes of narcissistic encouragement, incitement, inhibition or repression. With their scientific-poetic piece, Contre-culture psychique remind us how fine the line is between theoretical analysis and social judgement. Like listening, theory – especially musicological theory – is a social practice. In this respect, it is, by definition, normative, and the way it uses concepts to analyse practices cannot claim to be socially neutral, innocent or harmless, nor even less to exhaust the musical phenomenon in its lived singularity.

29Ultimately, the articles in this issue of Transposition are testaments to the importance of contextualizing a flop in order to understand the facets and contours of what appears, in the most tragic cases, to be a factory of failure. While all of the intermediaries who play a part in the creation, production and distribution of symbolic goods are certainly affected by a flop in different ways, it is artists who bear the brunt, often being held responsible for not living up to their role or not being as talented as they were supposed to be. Each flop is its own history playing out, its own disillusion. But how do artists regard flops? How do they perceive and engage with the expectations and codes of performance? Do they know what constitutes a “losing recipe” and even sometimes have fun with this?

30To supplement this thematic dossier, and for this first time in the history of this journal, we have chosen to include artistic perspectives in our reflection – in a sense, making visible what artists are doing through what is essentially a history of invisibilization. The aim is also to provide the subjectivity of an in-depth, intimately informed look at the conditions in which artists and musicians exercise their profession, that can show the recurrence of frameworks, gestures, codes and expectations, in order to see how they may be thwarted. The six artists included in this issue offer a zoom onto a range of situations: the tense temporality of floating, unfulfilled expectations, the fail of an empty concert hall, accidental and dramatic gestures, and misunderstood irony.

31Comic book artist Anouk Ricard presents a humorous vignette of a flop experienced by Les Bobies, a band with anthropomorphic figures that finds itself playing in front of a festival audience composed entirely of volunteers. Anouk Ricard’s bright and colourful style, often ambiguously considered “naïve”, humorously conveys a fail situation experienced by the many groups who suffer the vagaries of dysfunctional event organization, ending up with only insiders in attendance. In reality, though, what appears to be happening at “Festirocki” curiously resonates with other underground concert configurations: a garage in Bordeaux, a decrepit historic building in Porto, a squat in a Ljubljana warehouse, and at the Turkish border, as drummer and percussionist Johann Mazé reports in Le Défaut passager. Chronique musicale (“Temporary failure. A music chronicle”), his extraordinary yet ordinary experiences in the life of a musician – a sort of compilation of flops, hardships and misery. In an ironic yet factual tone, his stories depict the background against which the concert-event is organised, from the makeshift backstage artist quarters and tour conditions to the pay for performances and interactions with organisers. His astonishing anecdotes are strikingly recurrent and paint a stark contrast between the (in)dignity of the conditions in the profession and how commonplace they appear to be.

32The exposure of performing in front of an audience during concerts also means subjecting oneself to their judgement, sometimes under intense pressure. In her video Can’t Stand the Flop, a project documenting the stage performances of K-pop stars, visual artist and musician Dolores examines the incidents and mishaps that disrupt performance: unexpected cuts in the music or microphones, clumsy movements and accidental blows, falls, fainting spells and tears. The pacing of the video and the rapid montage of sequences lends a cumulative quality to these flops, accentuating the frantic work schedule imposed on the faltering stars. The gags behind these performance flops here call into question the underlying systemic conditions behind the enormous pressure and relentless work pace to which these pop stars are subjected. The flop is considered through its physical and emotional manifestations in its agents, reflecting the fragility of this model, which, moreover, can be reappropriated for different purposes by its participants. With their cover of the song by the Belgian band Telex, Euro-vision, artists Gauthier Tassart & Lydie Jean-Dit-Pannel revive the surprising story of an intentional flop by a band that set out to finish last in the reputationally high-stakes context of the Eurovision competition, with a piece whose offbeat tone and irony were unusual for the time. While this music contest can seem like a flop factory with considerable national and international stakes, as Cornelia and Holger Lund discuss, it can also be part of the happy outcome of a story that prolongs a short-lived artistic career: the comments on the original video circulating on YouTube indicate a sort of revival of the band based on the song’s vanguard quality and actual effectiveness, to explain why it did not in fact finish last. In sum, Tassart and Jean-Dit-Pannel here pay tribute to a song that sought to discredit the Eurovision competition, while also exploring the (un)intentional nature of a flop.

  • 39 “Le chant du yaourt” (“Yoghourt Song”) is a play on words around the French expression chanter en (...)

33As shown by the analyses in this issue’s articles, we tend to assess music according to certain genre codes – conventions that artists can take hold of, playing on the scope of their listeners’ and audiences’ expectations, and for which timing can be a meaningful criterion. From the three-minute pop song carefully calibrated for radio play, to a 25-minute prog rock song made up of multiple movements, the format of an album and its songs is framed within specific aesthetic and commercial strategies. Which duration conveys the desired message? While in some contexts a short playing time suggests a lack of generosity on the part of the artist, calling into question their authenticity with their audience, in the extreme case of Le Chevalier de Rinchy’s songs, the tiny format (Mes plus belles chansons d’amour – “My most beautiful love songs” last no more than 5 second each) bucks the norm. Can the essence of a song be summed up in a few seconds? Has the artist said it all in one song? Le Chevalier de Rinchy has created a radical work that tests the formatting of musical listening. While the songs sound like aborted endeavours, reduced to the bare minimum, making up a compilation-record of 77 flops in a single album, they expand the frontiers of listening with a minimalism that highlights our internalization of temporal codes and their role in our assessment of a good or bad hit. The formats and frames of medium are also questioned in the work of sound artist Aurélie Pertusot. Her video piece Le Champ du yaourt39 is an illusionist improvisation featuring a yoghurt as the subject of experimentation and artistic reappropriation. What type of listening can we construct from the song of a phantom-like yoghurt? The play between visible and invisible disorients the spectator, who adopts strange and slanted angles of view in order to listen to the yoghurt. The video medium which fails to give an account of an initial performance situation here is a form of flop that the artist wanted to explore with this work. She sketches out a form of porosity between flop and noise: in the video, is the yoghurt song itself the flop, or is the flop determined by the field of vision? Does the indeterminateness of the noise offer the conditions of possibility of a flop? Is a flop always a form of “noise”, in the sense of disturbance of a clear and limpid signal? This exploration, in addition to questioning the mediation of a work, thus inspires an ontological reflection on the nature of a “flop” (including its onomatopoeia), a reflection which is also phenomenological, in the multiple manners in which this sound phenomenon appears to our consciousness, which attributes to it meanings and significances and establishes it as object.

Varia

34Ultimately and in parallel to this issue, in the Varia section of Transposition journal, Giordano Marmone accounts a long-term ethnographic research among a community of transhumant pastoralits in Northern Kenya, in his article entitled “Bad singer… bad person? Musical failure and male marginality among the pastoral Samburu of Kenya”40. The ethnomusicologist shows how the mastery of musical/choregraphic performances, based on rigorous aesthetic categories, constitutes the condition of the passage to adulthood, where both the construction of authority and the definition of masculinity are dealing with. If the flop, as it is problematized in the thematic issue, distinguishes itself from the musical failure through its inclusion in the network of cultural intermediaries (from programming and production to dissemination and evaluation), in the context of this Samburu community, musical failure can be likened to a moral fault and condemned to social marginality. “This ‘moral world’ in which the performers live”, writes Marmone, “is the product of a normative framing that links the field of musical expression to political, ritual and economical categories. It’s because of this moralisation of performance that, among the Samburu community, the musical error can not only be caused by a rational failure, but, in the opposite direction, can also contribute to its reproduction”. Because “the musical practice is often a space of hierarchies production”, he writes again, the musical failure shows that “music, and judgments that relate to the quality of its execution, not only act as social dynamic signs”, but can also activate them. It is, therefore, both the causes and the effects of musical failure which, to quote one of Giordano Marmone’s conclusions, can bring to light “contradictions intrinsic to the social order” beyond the purely musical domain. This dynamic at work in the Samburu ritual resonates with the present issue, which, on the phenomenon of the flop, contributes precisely to highlighting the complexity of these social logics both in contexts relating to “experimental”, “avant-garde” and “art” music, and in the production and reception circuits of popular music.

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Notes

1 For example, the sequence in Amadeus (Miloš Forman, 1984) that portrays the failure of Don Giovanni through the decor’s collapse in the final scene. Among other films recounting the journeys of singers trying to survive oblivion, we note When I Was a Singer (Xavier Giannoli, 2006).

2 To cite but a few: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962), All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979), Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994), Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011) and Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014).

3 See Szendy Peter, Hits. Philosophy in the Jukebox, Fordham University Press, 2011 [2008].

4 In a chapter of the posthumous Compléments in the 1853 edition of De l’amour (see Jouannais Jean-Yves, L’Idiotie, Paris, Flammarion, 2017 [2003], p. 6-7, and Chevrier Jean-François, Jouannais Jean-Yves and Vincent Labaume, Fiasco : exposition, Nice, galerie Art: Concept, 1992, with Michel Blazy, Erik Dietman, Mike Kelley, Philippe Mayaux, Jean-Luc Moulène, Guillaume Paris, Gilles Touyard). The CNRTL (Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales) also recalls the theatre origins of the word fiasco: in Italian, “fare fiasco” means “to suffer a failure”, and the meaning of fiasco (flask) is likely copied from the French bouteille (bottle), which is what the French called language errors made by Italian actors performing in France in the 18th century. (https://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/fiasco – visited on June 28, 2022).

5 Among the few examples that do exist: Altenmüller Eckart, Schürmann Kristian, Klim Vanessa and Dietrich Parlitz, “Hits to the Left, Flops to the Right: Different Emotions during Listening to Music are Reflected in Cortical Lateralisation Patterns”, Neuropsychologia, vol. 40, no. 13, 2002, p. 2242-2256, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0028-3932(02)00107-0 – visited on June 28, 2022; Priest Eldritch, Boring Formless Nonsense: Experimental Music and the Aesthetics of Failure, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013; Wright Adrian, Must Close Saturday: The Decline and Fall of the British Musical Flop, Woodbridge UK, Boydell Press, 2017; Purdy Stephen, Flop Musicals of the Twenty-First Century. How They Happened, When They Happened (And What We’ve Learned), Routledge, 2020; Brittan Francesca, “Cultures of Musical Failures”, Crangle Sara and Peter Nicholls, On Bathos: Literature, Art, Music, London, Continuum, 2010; Mandelbaum Ken, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops, New York, St Martin’s Press, 1998; Salem Joseph, “The Integrity of Boulez’s Integral Serialism: Polyphonie X and Musical Failure as Compositional Success”, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 36, no. 5, 2017, p. 337-361, DOI: 10.1080/07494467.2017.1401366 – visited on June 28, 2022.

6 The annals of pop music seem inhabited – even haunted – by the memory, tainted with irony and derision, of artist figures whose flops proved lethal to their careers (in France: Sabine Paturel, Patrice Hernandez, etc.), and who then re-emerge from oblivion thanks to a nostalgic revival driving a portion of the music industry.

7 A French example of this sort of delayed success is Serge Gainsbourg’s concept-album L’homme à tête de chou, which on its release in 1976 was a commercial failure (particularly relative to his fame at the time), but seven years later became a disque d’or (France’s distinction for over 100,000 copies sold) and was hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine France as one of the best French rock albums of all time.

8 Becker Howard Saul, Art Worlds, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982.

9 For example, Richard Peterson has shown the importance of this perspective, centred on the mechanisms of cultural marketing, in his discussion of “fabricated authenticity” in the country music industry. In his sociological reflection on the production of culture by country music as an “institutional structure”, he examines how the way the music industry is organized and seizes upon a musical identity and its portrayal(s) factors into the evaluation of artists’ chances of success or failure, and how well they fit into a legacy, according to their supposed authenticity. See Peterson Richard A., Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1997.

10 The notion of “cultural intermediary” (intermédiaire culturel) appears for the first time in Bourdieu Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1984 [1979]. For a more empirical study of the central role of these intermediaries in the relations between the spaces of production and consumption, see Bourdieu Pierre, “La production de la croyance. Contribution à une économie des biens symboliques”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, vol. 13, no. 1, 1977, p. 3-43. See also Jeanpierre Laurent and Olivier Roueff (dir.), “Introduction. Les territoires de l’intermédiation. Division sociale du travail et luttes de frontières”, La Culture et ses intermédiaires dans les arts, les industries créatives et le numérique, Paris, Éditions des Archives Contemporaines, 2014, p. I-XXXI; Roueff Olivier and Séverine Sofio, “Intermédiaires culturels et mobilisations dans les mondes de l’art”, Le Mouvement Social, vol. 243, no. 2, 2013, p. 3-7. DOI: 10.3917/lms.243.0003. URL: https://www.cairn.info/revue-le-mouvement-social1-2013-2-page-3.htm – visited on June 28, 2022; Lizé Wenceslas, Naudier Delphine and Olivier Roueff, Intermédiaires du travail artistique. À la frontière de l’art et du commerce. Ministère de la Culture – DEPS, “Questions de culture”, 2011; Lizé Wenceslas, Lizé Delphine and Séverine Sofio (dir.), Les Stratèges de la notoriété. Intermédiaires et consécration dans les univers artistiques, Paris, Archives contemporaines, 2014; Roueff Olivier, “10. Les homologies structurales : une magie sociale sans magiciens ? La place des intermédiaires dans la fabrique des valeurs”, in Coulangeon Philippe (ed.), Trente ans après La Distinction, de Pierre Bourdieu. Paris, Éditions La Découverte, “Recherches”, 2013, p. 153-164. DOI: 10.3917/dec.coula.2013.01.0153.

11 Menger Pierre-Michel, The Economics of Creativity. Art and Achievement under Uncertainty, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2014 [2009].

12 As Keith Negus writes, discussing the anxiety of record label representatives under pressure to correctly assess not only artists’ ability to continue producing what is expected, but also consumers’ inclination to buy these records, “Corporate strategy aims to control and order the unpredictable social processes and diversity of human behaviours which are condensed into notions of production and consumption and which riddle the music business with uncertainties”, Negus Keith, Music Genres and Corporate Cultures, London; New York, Routledge, 1999, p. 31.

13 On this subject, see Picaud Myrtille, Mettre la ville en musique (Paris-Berlin), Saint-Denis, Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, coll. “Culture et Société”, 2021.

14 These strategies to reduce risks in a fluctuating market appear not only in major record labels but can also be discussed by independent labels, despite their more competitive position (compared to large labels) for the release of certain artists. See Hesmondhalgh David, “Post-Punk’s Attempt to Democratise the Music Industry: The Success and Failure of Rough Trade”, Popular Music, vol. 16, no. 3, 1997, p. 255-274.

15 For example, Negus reports the use of categories to label different genres, artists and sections, ranking them in terms of good and bad investments: “stars”, “cash cows”, “wild cats”, “question marks” and “dogs”. Negus, Music Genres and Corporate Cultures, p. 48-49.

16 Seabrook John, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

17 See for example Buch Esteban, Le Cas Schönberg. Naissance de l’avant-garde musicale, Paris, Gallimard, coll. “Bibliothèque des idées”, 2006, chap. vii. Skandalkonzert, 31 March 1913; Mathieu Julien, “Un mythe fondateur de la musique contemporaine : le ‘scandale’ provoqué en 1954 par la création de Déserts d’Edgar Varèse”, Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, vol. 51, no. 1, 2004, p. 129-152.

18 To borrow the terms used in Martin Kaltenecker’s analysis of the discursive “listening devices” (dispositifs d’écoute) that Richard Wagner developed to prepare the reception of his music. See L’Oreille divisée. Les discours sur l’écoute musicale aux xviiie et xixe siècles, Paris, MF, coll. “Répercussions”, 2010, p. 305-306.

19 In the “process of indignation” involved in scandal, Julien Mathieu identifies a rhetoric based on the degrading insult that disparages a composer by associating them with the worlds of the “street”, delinquency and animality (Mathieu, “Un mythe fondateur de la musique contemporaine”, p. 149.).

20 Noting contemporary musicians’ accounts of Varèse as an “innovative genius”, in opposition to the “stupid and retrograde masses”, Julien Mathieu writes that it had “become useful to invoke him ritually so that, by a sort of purely magical phenomenon, his provocative power would ‘rub off’ on the one who evoked him”. Ibid., p. 152.

21 Babbitt Milton, “Who Cares if You Listen?”, High Fidelity, Feb. 1958.

22 Adorno Theodor W. and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2002 [1944].

23 For a summary of this theory developed in the 1980s, the leading thinkers of which were Madeleine Akrich, Michel Callon, Bruno Latour and John Law, see for example Latour Bruno, Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Oxford, OUP, 2005.

24 Goffman Erving, Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order, New York, Basic Books, 1971.

25 Law John & Michel Callon, “On the Construction of Sociotechnical Networks: Content and Context Revisited”, Knowledge and Society, vol. 9, 1989, p. 57-83.

26 Beyond the idiomatic aspects that codify styles, examining the discourses in the media provides insight into the sociological element of genre classification, notably the ways in which the various agents – the artists, industry and fans, as well as critics – form a community by negotiating a form of consensus in terms of the expectations and conventions. See Lena Jennifer C., Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 2014.

27 See Pirenne Christophe, All things must pass. Vies et morts du rock, Bruxelles, Académie royale de Belgique, 2021; Fornäs Johan, “The Future of Rock: Discourses that Struggle to Define a Genre”, Popular Music, vol. 14, no. 1, 1995, p. 111-125.

28 Merlini’s analysis is not the first to reconsider the treatment of progressive rock in the media. As shown by Jay Kaister and Jeremy Smith, punk critics have played a part in establishing the perception of prog as individualistic and apolitical, even though the prog genre conveyed a certain critique of social conformism and militarism. The famous journalist Lester Bangs – who referred to Emerson, Lake and Palmer as “war criminals” in a 1974 essay, with regard to their appropriations of the classical repertoire – has clearly influenced historians of progressive rock. See Keister Jay and Jeremy L. Smith, “Musical Ambition, Cultural Accreditation and the Nasty Side of Progressive Rock”, Popular Music, vol. 27, no. 3, 2008, p. 433-455.

29 Kramarz Volkmar, Warum Hits Hits werden: Erfolgsfaktoren der Popmusik: eine Untersuchung erfolgreicher Songs und exemplarischer Eigenproduktionen, Bielefeld, Transcript, 2014.

30 Becker, Art Worlds.

31 On this topic, Philip Auslander shows that the theatricality of glam rock performances defied conventions based on the authenticity associated with rock ‘n’ roll and the counterculture of the 1960s, i.e., placing the accent on spontaneity and the culture of interiority. Conversely, performance itself seemed suspicious, something serving the “establishment”. See Auslander Philip, Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music,‎ The University of Michigan Press, 2006.

32 The article cites Martin Greve’s important work (Die Musik der imaginären Türkei: Musik und Musikleben im Kontext der Migration aus der Türkei in Deutschland, Stuttgart, J.B. Metzler, 2003), and we would also mention the following publications: Aksoy Ozan, The Music and Multiple Identities of Kurdish Alevis from Turkey in Germany, Ph.D., City University of New York, New York, 2014; Greve Martin and Nevzat Çiftçi, Die Bağlama in der Türkei und Europa. Erstes Bağlama-Symposium in Deutschland. Berlin, Ries & Erler, 2017; Serhat Güney, Cem Pekman and Kabaş Bülent, “Diasporic Music in Transition: Turkish Immigrant Performers on the Stage of ‘Multikulti’ Berlin”, Popular Music and Society, vol. 37, no. 2, 2014, p. 132-151. On Turkish music produced in France, see Bachir-Loopuyt Talia and Jérôme Cler, “Musiques de Turquie en France : quelles musiques pour quels publics ?”, Ethnologie Française (issue: “Mondes de l’art translocaux”), 2022.

33 Recent research worth mentioning includes: Güngör Murat and Hannes Loh, Fear of a Kanak Planet: HipHop zwischen Weltmusik und Nazi-Rap. Höfen: Hannibal, 2002; Güngör Murat and Hannes Loh, “Vom Gastarbeiter zum Gangsta-Rapper. HipHop, Migration und Empowerment”, in Seeliger Martin and Marc Dietrich (dir.), Deutscher Gansta-Rap II, Bielefeld, Transcript, 2017, p. 193-220; Solomon Thomas, “Made in Almanya. The Birth of Turkish Rap”, in Seibt Oliver, Ringsmut Martin and David-Emil Martin, Made in Germany. Studies in Popular Music, New York, Routledge, 2020.

34 On this topic, the cited works by Cornelia and Holger Lund, and by Serhat Güney, Cem Pekman and Bülent Kabas specifically deal with the invisibility and inaudibility of Turks in Germany, and their identity as Turkish migrants.

35 Negus Keith, Producing Pop: Culture and Conflict in the Popular Music Industry, London; New York: New York, E. Arnold, 1992.

36 On the “black music” category, see Parent Emmanuel (dir.), “Peut-on parler de musique noire ?” [thematic issue], Volume ! La revue des musiques populaires, Bordeaux, Éditions Mélanie Seteun, 2011, vol. 8, no. 1. https://journals.openedition.org/volume/70 – visited on June 28, 2022.

37 Perec Georges, Cantatrix sopranica L. et autres écrits scientifiques, Paris, Seuil, coll. “Librairie du xxe siècle”, 1991.

38 Adorno Theodor W., Introduction to the Sociology of Music, New York, Seabury, 1976 [1962].

39 “Le chant du yaourt” (“Yoghourt Song”) is a play on words around the French expression chanter en yaourt (literally, “yoghurt singing”), which means to sing in gibberish.

40 For access to this article in open access, see : https://doi.org/10.4000/transposition.7143.

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Sarah Benhaïm, Lambert Dousson et Camille Noûs, « Musical Flops »Transposition [En ligne], 10 | 2022, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2022, consulté le 19 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/transposition/7902 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/transposition.7902

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Sarah Benhaïm

Sarah Benhaïm is a lecturer in Musicology at the University of Tours (ICD) in France, specializing in Popular Music Studies. She has a Ph.D. in Music and Social sciences (CRAL/EHESS, Paris) and her research focuses on Noise music, DIY, experimentation and underground practices. She is a member of the editorial board of the journal Transposition and member of the IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music). She is also a member of the Music expert commission of the DRAC (Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs) Île-de-France.

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Lambert Dousson

Lambert Dousson is a professor in Humanities at the École nationale supérieure d’art de Dijon, where he coordinates the “Art et Société” research unit. He has a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and his research focuses on the relationship between music and violence, and on the status of subjectivity in 20th and 21st century conceptions of musical writing and listening. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Transposition, and the author of two books: Une manière de penser et de sentir: essai sur Pierre Boulez (Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2017); “La plus grande œuvre d'art pour le cosmos tout entier”. Stockhausen et le 11 septembre: essai sur la musique et la violence (MF, 2020). With Élise Marrou, he translated into French Lydia Goehr’s A Quest for Voice: On Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy (Politique de l’autonomie musicale: essais philosophiques, Cité de la musique-Philharmonie de Paris, 2016) and edited Lydia Goehr, de l’autonomie musicale à l’expression (Delatour France, 2020).

Camille Noûs

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Maggie Jones

Maggie Jones holds a BA in English and French from the University of Michigan, where she also had the honor of completing the Creative Writing concentration under Jamaican poet and professor Lorna Goodison. She lives and works in France as a translator, writer and research assistant, primarily in the fields of music and culture, and labor issues in climate action. She translates research papers in the humanities and social sciences, is a regulator collaborator of the Philharmonie de Paris/Cité de la musique, and in 2021–22, with Inclusive Economics, co-authored several reports on workforce issues in statewide or regional transition to a low-carbon economy.

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