I really appreciate everyone who interacted about my previous post on the resurgence of folk music in pop culture. It was fun to read some of those discussions, and get some messages from you about the topic. It’s fun to think and talk about the importance of folk with people who share a love for that tradition. So I wanted to continue the discussion a little bit. Again, I’m very aware this post won’t cover all that it could.
When Folk Music Becomes Pop Music
Once music that we’d say is written in the folk tradition becomes popular to more of the masses, and gets some more radio, YouTube, and Spotify play, it becomes more of what we’d call “pop” music. The catchy stuff, well, catches on quite frankly. But just because a song or songwriter from the “folk” realm makes it a little bigger with the popular culture, doesn’t mean that song or songwriter lose their value in creating art that reflects and aids the cultural experience of a people. Folk music will continue to exist quite apart from the mainstream popular culture, and when the current folk fad dwindles in the mainstream, the folk tradition will continue with just as much life as before. Don’t stop appreciating good folk art just because your favorite folk artists start selling more records.
We saw this in Bob Dylan’s rise to popularity in the 1960s. The guy hit it pretty big, and is a pop culture icon today as a result; but he also remains an American folk hero for his music and his poetry that spoke for the people in the midst of their questions and struggles. We’ve seen it happen with Nickel Creek in the early 2000s, The Decemberists more recently, and we’re seeing it again now with Mumford and Sons – all bands born out of underground, largely “folk” music scenes, who’ve gained/are gaining some pretty big popularity for their ability to speak to the human condition in their art.
Dylan’s big pop hits are widely known, but his true fans know and love his more “obscure” stuff as well, and appreciate more of the depth of his canon of work. I don’t think the successes of Dylan’s big hits ruin his art for the true folk art appreciators.
It’s probably still too early to tell with a band like Mumford, but here’s hoping they continue to write the earthy melodies and resonant poetry that’s endearing them to their fan base. Here’s hopin’ they stay the course of the true folk artists who’ve gone before.