Cultural studies academic Phil Auslander contends that “the rock myth” (whatever that is) has lost its currency: “changes in rock culture over the last ten or more years suggest that the values championed by rock ideology may have lost their hold”.
According to Auslander, the watershed was the 1990 Milli Vanilli scandal, in which the Grammy award for Best New Artist was rescinded when it was revealed that the band not only lip-synched during performances, but that they had not even provided the vocals for the original recording. Auslander points out that most of the complaints about this did not come from the fans:
Milli Vanilli’s young audience was not upset at their lip-synching. This is perfectly understandable in terms of the ideological distinction between rock and pop. Milli Vanilli was not a rock group; it was a pop dance group whose audience would not be expected to be concerned about authenticity. Rather, it was the fan’s parents and parental surrogates (such as the representatives who called for legislation and the attorneys who filed consumer fraud suits) who were disturbed.
He continues that it was this indifference to the concerns of authenticity that marked the scandal as a crisis that threatened the basis of rock ideology: “the arrival of a new era of music performance in which the visual evidence of performance would have no relation to the production of the sound”. Liveness has been seen to have an authenticating function in popular (particularly rock) music, demonstrating that the band can reproduce the sound of the recording, and thereby reassure fans that the sound is due to their musicianship, not to studio trickery.
For Auslander, the rise of the video clip has seen the end of this authenticating function.
Or not. From today’s ABC online news:
China plans to punish singers who lip-synch for “cheating the public,” the Ministry of Culture says.
A draft set of rules for commercial performances published on its website stipulates that artistes must not “use pre-recorded songs or music to replace live singing or instrument playing” to “cheat the public.”
Those who are caught in the act will be punished, the rules say, without specifying what the penalties will be.