Elvis is the King of Rock ’n Roll and he’s seen as the father of modern pop culture. Since Elvis, American pop music has spread around the world. Which leaves you wondering: are there still traces of local music styles? Or did all music turn into American pop?
Before Elvis’ breakthrough, Bill Crosby was the most popular American artist among all age categories. But Elvis caused the first musical generation gap: he was the most popular artist among the youth, while older people preferred listening to Frank Sinatra. The older generations were shocked by Elvis’ sexual innuendo and indecent movements. But the youth reacted insanely enthusiastically to the new sound of his music.
Elvis was the ice breaker in the creation of youth culture, in which pop music played a central role. This pop culture spread around the world and gained global popularity. The older generations in Europe depised their fellow young country-men for their love of the American pop music. Elvis’ music and everything that followed, was un-European, wild and primitive. And the youth danced like they’d never danced before.
But pop culture isn’t just a form of American cultural imperialism. In the Fifties, American pop culture was imitated all over the world, but gradually new, local variations of pop music developed. An early example are the Beatles: they made beat music that originated in the US, but they played it with a Britsh twist and became the producers of their own kind of pop music that was also popular in the US.
This trend expanded. Musicians from all over the world scored pop hits that were also hugely popular in the US. Like ABBA in the Seventies, the German group Snap who had a huge hit with ‘Rythm is a dancer’ in 1992, Youssou N’Dour from Senegal with ‘7 Seconds’ and of course the Dutch guys from Golden Earring with their massive hit single ‘Radar Love’.
The internationalization of pop music continued in the 21st century with hits from all over the world. Take the Russian duo Tatu and ‘All the things she said’ for example. And Shakira from Colombia and a song that wasn’t even sung in English: ‘Dragostea din tei’, a hit from Moldavia. Pop music is no longer just one-way traffic from the US. But most music does have it’s origins in pop music that already exists. Traditional instruments, for example, are often left unused. And eve more so, ABBA wasn’t typically Swedish and Golden Earring wasn’t typically Dutch. Has pop music replaced the traditional, local music that was played originally?
You could say so. Traditional music isn’t very common anymore in big parts of the world. Pop music has influenced music around the globe and local pop music is created by combining traditional instruments, rythms and singing with modern Western instruments, styles and technology. But this process of change and adaptation is characteristic for folk music. The arising of local variations of pop music such as Japanese J-pop, Eastern European balkanbeats, African afro pop or South American Latin pop, illustrates the vitality of folk music.
When we asked our correspondents what song topped the charts in their country at this moment, we got very varied responses: from tearjerkers from the Balkan to gospel from Zambia. A lot of popular music from around the globe still has a strong nationalistic or regional character, even though Western instruments and styles are used. And we are lucky to have that diversity: imagine what the world would be like if everyone woud dress up as Elvis every day to sing ‘Heartbreak Hotel’?