In the last few decades, authenticity has become an increasingly popular area of social research. While much of the published work within this area has focused on authenticity in regards to notions of self, a growing body of literature has emerged that has sought to examine the relation between authenticity and popular culture. Within this burgeoning field, David Grazian’s Blue Chicago is perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed works. In Blue Chicago, Grazian uncovers what precisely an “authentic blues” experience means for different social groups, including blues musicians, blues patrons, and even blues club owners. Among his findings, Grazian illustrates how for many patrons, an “authentic blues” experience involves more than just the proper set list and style of play. Performers must also conform to certain racial and class characteristics. To be considered “authentic” for this particular social group, blues must usually be performed by seemingly poor, out of luck African-Americans.
This concern with “authentic” styles of music also appears in a recent NY Times article on China’s underground hip-hop scene. For the Chinese M.C.s interviewed in the article, authentic hip-hop is about more than just the speedy delivery of lyrics. According to these artists, hip-hop must also serve as a form of social commentary and self-expression. Using this criterion, these artists and their supporters criticize mainstream performers who claim to be rappers because they incorporate rap techniques into their pop songs. These pop stars are contrasted with “real” Chinese hip-hop artists, such as Wong Li, who in the article claims to have started rapping to deal with his realization that “he is one of the millions left out of China’s economic boom.”
By focusing on Chinese notions of “authentic” hip-hop, a style of music originally popularized in America (with connections to other cultures as well), this NY Times article serves to remind interested scholars that authenticity is not primarily a local phenomenon but may also have global roots.