This chart is interesting only if you don’t try to read too much into its conclusions, as the sub at Foreign Policy did in titling the accompanying article “Soft Rock Power: Has American cultural dominance met its Waterloo?” Sweden, the UK, the US, and Japan all punch above their weight in terms of influence on worldwide pop music, but this doesn’t tell us much else. (Indeed, how many globally recognized Japanese or Finnish pop stars are there?)
Joshua E. Keating, who writes the accompanying article, gets closer to the truth, even if his lede proves no more than he’s heard of ABBA:
Not surprisingly, American hits dominated, accounting for 51 percent of music sold over the period. Adjusted for GDP, however, Sweden takes the top spot — followed closely by Britain. Despite fears of pernicious cultural Americanization, more people around the world are listening locally: Foreign artists now account for just 30 percent of each country’s pop hits, down from about 50 percent in the 1980s.
The emphasis I’ve added is the actual point of the study [PDF] and why the framing these figures as some kind of end to “American cultural domination” is false: as the study bears out, Americanization is a bogeyman, not an actual phenomenon.
It actually looks to be an interesting paper, though I’ve only read the introduction. The key takeaway seems to be the following:
Despite widespread fears about American dominance, we find that music trade is roughly proportional to countries’ GDPs and that several smaller countries, such as Sweden, have a larger proportional share of trade than the United States. Trade in music bears some similarities to the trade of physical goods: shorter distances and sharing a common language promote higher trade volumes between countries, and those relationships have been relatively stable over the last 50 years. We also find a large bias toward domestic consumption of music which has, perhaps surprisingly, increased in the past two decades: the share of consumption worldwide that originates from domestic artists increased from less than 50% during the 1980’s to almost 70% in 2007. This increased home bias is robust to a number of specifications, from descriptive analysis to gravity equations.
In the abstract, the authors say “National policies aimed at preventing the death of local culture, such as radio airplay quotas, may explain part of the increasing consumption of local music,” and though I haven’t reached the part of the paper discussing that, I’m highly skeptical. Firstly because it runs counter to the way I understand culture to work and also because it’s contrary to the way I hear non-American (and perhaps non-British?) people talk about their own country’s music.
In Australia, for instance, people tend to speak as if liking Australian music is a patriotic duty, which is something incredibly frustrating and tends to get in the way of having conversations about the music itself. One tends to be urged to “support” Australian music as often as one is urged to like it; this has a lot to do with what I was saying in this post. Hence, a bizarre situation is created in which Australian music (usually rock, but that’s a different complaint) is spoken of as something everyone agrees is uniquely valuable, but also unable to be sustained by market forces. There’s this imaginary sector of the population that would have no interest in Australian music unless they were forced to hear it, and so protectionist policies are necessary to keep the Americans at bay.
I wonder if the increasing demand for domestic music around the world is related to a phenomenon I read about in an Arjun Appadurai essay I read years ago (no citation sorry, I CBF hunting it out for a blog post) discussing the spread of, I think, satellite TV in India. When international television first became widely available in India, the generation that first encountered it watched large amounts of foreign programming; it was a novelty that seemed much more desirable than their own country’s shows. The next generation, however, who had grown up with both domestic and international programming, much preferred Indian television. Applying that to pop music (in its modern, post 1960 form), perhaps the farther we get from ground zero the more local audiences demand local content?
One last point, because this is long and I’m rambling:
A few caveats accompany these results. First, American music may indirectly affect the type or genre of music produced and consumed by other countries, i.e., French artists may produce rock & roll in France. We explore this issue with a limited analysis of genre data.
Second, smaller countries that have benefited the most from globalization, such as Sweden, may actually produce and export music in English – which is arguably not indigenously Swedish.
Both important points, but I’ll return to Appadurai, who talks about the way local cultures engage with imported products to produce local hybrids; French rock ‘n’ roll isn’t foreign because the French gallicize it when they import it. (This also happens with local versions of MTV, etc.)