Pop writer Dorian Lynskey has expanded on thoughts about pop and class, catalysed by a debate on Twitter amongst a coterie of music journalists, over at his blog - well worth reading.
I love this debate because it makes people awkward, angry and very often wrong. But for me, I don’t think this…
Both Christian’s and Dorian’s posts are worth reading! Here’s another, very unformed, thought: once a style of music has become settled - once a critical and public idea of what “good” sounds like in a particular area or genre has been reached - the effect of privilege becomes more pronounced. We know - A&R men know, DJs know, the public know - what a “guitar band” or a “soulful singer-songwriter” is meant to sound like, so achieving that level of competence is relatively easy, in that you have plenty of models and the extra step of developing a sound is less important. The upshot is that you have an awful lot of acts all roughly as good as one another, so different criteria take over when deciding who gets the promotional push.
This is the way privilege works in every other industry, after all - it takes a high level of intelligence and application to run a business, but not in any sense a superhuman one such that the 100 people who run the FTSE 100 companies are also clearly the 100 people best able to do so. People have worked out how to run a business, broadly speaking. It can be learned. So more likely - and excluding the ones who turn out to be rank incompetents - they’re among the, say, 10,000 people best able to do so. And the same goes for The Vaccines. There are no doubt 100 bands playing similar stuff to The Vaccines, and as good as the Vaccines but without their connections. But what the Vaccines do is so well-established that it seems to me very unlikely that any of them would be a huge step better.
This isn’t an argument in favour of privilege or the status quo. It’s wrong that well-off white men (like me) get opportunities others don’t. But in the case of areas where the skills and qualities required to succeed are well-established - like corporate leadership or music Q Magazine likes - it’s also unlikely that the removal of privilege would lead to a rise in quality, rather than simply a fairer distribution of winners.
(A caveat: if the demolition of privilege also involved a re-evaluation of those success conditions - which after all have been established by the people they favour! - you’d see a difference. But this is more of an issue with my corporate example than my pop one)
Tom, I haven’t clicked the links yet, but I think you’re confusing two somewhat different concepts: “privilege” on the one hand (something you might have by virtue of being a white male) and “cumulative advantage” (if you already have fame you’re likely to get still more fame than someone who doesn’t, if you have wealth you’re more likely to get still more wealth than someone who doesn’t, if you have power you’re more likely to get still more power than someone who doesn’t).
Now, you could say that the two concepts amount to the same thing, that the wealthy are privileged by having wealth, the powerful privileged by having power, and the famous privileged by having fame. The two intertwine. I’d say the difference is that the term “privilege” is used as something that people inherently have, whereas “cumulative advantage” is something that people can accumulate more of. Where your example goes wrong is that you’re assuming that if you get rid of “privilege” (white men and their old boys’ network) this will get rid of cumulative advantage, and you’ll have a thousand successful bands instead of one hundred. You won’t. You’ll still only get a hundred successful bands, even if you start with ten thousand equally talented, equally connected, equally motivated bands with the same work ethic among them all. Small, random differences in success and attention will become big ones.*
No no I absolutely agree with you! - this is what I tried to imply by “fairer distribution of winners” - though I agree that something else which isn’t “privilege” as I’m understanding it here, but which also isn’t “fair”, might determine the lucky 100.