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Authenticity and Artifice in Rock and Roll: 'And I Guess that I Just Don't Care'

Musicians, journalists and academics often hold up the Velvet Underground as the paragon of authenticity in rock music, and the band indeed portrayed itself this way from the outset. While much ink has been spilled explaining the original and authentic genius that is the Velvet Underground, an equally compelling case can be made that the band’s first album marked a turn towards insincerity and inauthenticity in popular music. This project emerges from the tension between these identities. A close textual analysis of The Velvet Underground & Nico functions as an entry into theoretical arguments about truth and meaning in popular music. I contend that much of the discourse about authenticity in popular music is hampered by the assumption that artifice and authenticity are incompatible. I propose that we instead examine these discourses as themselves signifiers that can be manipulated by artists. The Velvets’ first album produces meaning precisely through this dialectical tension in a manner made possible only through its mediation in the commodity form.

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