Pip, Pep, Pap, Pop: Art, Trash, Tin, Trouble
ABSTRACT: One of Andy Warhol’s earliest Pop art paintings, “Campbell’s Elvis” (1962) is a visual mash-up that combines two kinds of commercial goods, two kinds of trash: the torn label of an old tin can that once contained Campbell’s Soup and a publicity image of Elvis Presley. Perhaps unwittingly, Warhol here invokes a long chain of signification trailing after the word “pop”: as music; as mass produced, promoted and packaged commodity; as popular art; as trash. A late 19th-century slang expression fora garbage-filled backstreet—a “tin can alley”—helps shape early-20th-century critiques of Tin Pan Alley as an industrial fount of musical rubbish. Likewise, Sousa’s (1906) indictment of “canned music” draws on the tin can’s close associations with tainted food and urban pollution. This paper will explore the materiality and ecology of tin cans and canned music as they relate to critical ideas of “pop”.
“Pop” has a longstanding presence in so-called mass culture, from the beginning of the 19th century, when it names one of the earliest individually-packaged consumer products, “ginger pop”, to late 19th century (e.g., the Boston Pops orchestra), to the early 20th century advent of “popular-priced” or “pop” vaudeville. By c. 1920, “pop” is being applied in its modern sense to “popular music.” However, as Stuart Hall (1981) reminds us, it is in this period the very meaning of “the popular” undergoes significant transformation and re-articulation, resulting in ambiguities and contradictions: does it mean “of” the people? liked by many? distributed widely? dumbed down for mass consumption? Whilst paying attention to the democratic potentials of “pop,” this paper will also recount a story brimming with trash, triviality, and trouble. Understanding the genealogy of this keyword can help situate its ongoing importance to popular music studies, from the notorious rock vs. pop binary to Lady Gaga’s most recent album.