What is Authenticity in Popular Music?

I have had an interesting debate this week about the nature of authenticity in popular music – prompted by the recent revelations that Seasick Steve, the bastion of authenticity for many, turned out to be a session musician who lied about his age. It prompted the question – ‘what is authenticity’ in popular music?  Is it a universal truth or more individual? Or is it the tension between these two extremes? As mentioned in the Facebook posts below, for me, authenticity in popular music is a problematic term, as all popular music is fake to some degree. The question for me is not ‘is the music authentic’, but to what degree is it ‘inauthentic‘? Artists such as Elvis, Bowie and Lady Gaga have all overtly appropriated influences into their public personas and outputs – yet are still generally regarded as ‘authentic’. However, in the case of Seasick Steve, his persona was more disingenuously constructed – his background and age were tweaked in order to make him appear more ‘authentic’ in the lineage of the blues tradition. So, the next time SSS performs at a music festival near you – still enjoy his music, but be more aware of the authenticity mask that pervades all popular music.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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