Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer use the phrase “culture industry” to refer to products and processes of mass culture. They claim that the products produced by this industry have two noticeable characteristics: homogeneity and predictability.
As quoted, “As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished, or forgotten. In light music (popular music), once the trained ear has heard the first notes of the hit song, it can guess what is coming and feel flattered when it does come…The result is a constant reproduction of the same thing.”
Well Adorno and Horkheimer, I agree with you. These days it seems that I have heard every new song or sat through every plot twist modern pop culture can throw at me. Giving more clout to the theories of The Frankfurt School and the culture industry. One of the best examples in pop culture history is the debate between Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) and Queen/David Bowie and the song Ice Ice Baby.
Odds are that you have heard the chart topping rap delight that is Ice Ice Baby, released in 1990 by Vanilla Ice that topped charts in not only the USA but various countries around the world. Once you listen to the first 30 seconds of the song however, you start to get a bad case of déjà vu back to the collaboration of Queen and David Bowie’s song Under Pressure.
In fact the opening guitar section is almost identical, and it seemed that Vanilla Ice was now the one “under pressure”. Vanilla had altered the rythym of the baseline hoping it would allow him to avoid any question of loyalties or license. Well, turns out that it definitely did not, Queen and Bowie sued the rising star for copyright infringement. The artists ended up settling out of court for an undisclosed (yet very likely very high) amount of retribution.
Eventually, Vanilla did end up giving credit to Bowie and Queen but couldn’t afford to lose all rights to the song since it was by far his most successful hit, spending a week at number one on the Billboard hot 100 during November of 1990.
Come on Vanilla, did you really think no one would notice? Classic case of Enlightenment as Mass Deception. So what do you think?
- Do you think cases of “sampling” happen in today’s music culture? Have you noticed any in particular you can mention?
- Did the popularity of Ice Ice Baby influence the other artists to pursue legal rights? Would this have been the case without its massive popularity?
- FUN FACT: Robert Van Winkle now hosts a home renovation series on DIY Network and just competed on this last season of Dancing with the Stars. Can you name one other Vanilla Ice song?