Recent Publications

Quickly discover relevant content by filtering publications.

Getting Signed is a book that builds a powerful critique of one of the biggest and most influential music industries worldwide, …

Economic inequality is on the rise in Western societies and ‘meritocracy’ remains a widespread narrative used to justify it. An …

Conferences presentations

Luxurious goods, such as cars and jewels, are believed to be the main indicators of status in popular music (Primack et al., 2011). …

During adolescence, music becomes a central source of identity building. Developmental changes, such as increased abstract thinking, …

Meritocracy is a pervasive narrative in popular culture. Yet, its presence in music has received scarce attention. This study analyzes …


Articles and books about interdisciplinary approaches to music tastes.

How to match the words of a song with the chords in which these words are sung.

Articles and books about sociological approaches to culture and cognition.


Spotify Killed the Video Stars? Representations of Success in Popular Music and their Internalization among Belgian Adolescents

In my dissertation, I trace the internalization process of popular music narratives about success across individualistic countries, with a specific focus on young Western-European audiences. I use this as a specific case to talk more broadly about cultural (re)production and socio-aesthetic hierarchies through socio-psychological mechanisms of narrative persuasion.

In contemporary societies, we are constantly surrounded by the felt need to perform our best selves in order to increase the “latitude [at our disposal] to shape [our] own lives” (Rosa, 2016, p. 19). As proposed by the German sociologist Hartmut Rosa (2016, p. 19), in contemporary capitalist societies “Money and rights have become the basic media for securing modern autonomy.” Indeed, popular narratives, such as those found in our favorite songs or TV shows, abound with representations of conspicuous consumption, extreme wealth, and power imbalances that embody contemporary understandings of what it means to be successful. Increasing research has further documented the detrimental effects of these narratives in fostering feelings of performance pressure and promoting various forms of mental and physical health problems, especially among adolescents (Anniko et al., 2019; Souter et al., 2018). Some of these problems include anxiety, depression, sleeping and eating disorders (Bor et al., 2014; Jardim & da Silva, 2018). Paradoxically, a burgeoning literature is also documenting increasing levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout among cultural producers themselves, such as music artists (Gross & Musgrave, 2020). Similarly as their fans, cultural producers suffer from the detrimental consequences of widely available unrealistic standards about success, which they frequently contribute to set in motion. This dissertation indagates some of the mechanisms at work in this process to better understand the role of popular media in cultural (re)production.

The first part of the dissertation is interested in how contemporary systems of cultural production and distribution craft idealized narratives about success. In particular, I focus on the music ecosystem–a system composed by various actors including artists, record labels, streaming platforms, recommendation algorithms–as a key site where idealized narratives are not only set in place but promoted. I pay particular attention to the content of popular lyrics, to the gender and racial characteristics of their producers, and to the genres in which they are present. Key questions guiding this first part are “How is social status and meritocracy, the two key components of success, represented in popular music lyrics?” “Who are the main producers of these narratives and what is their politico-economic context of cultural production?”

The second part of the dissertation summarizes existing theoretical and empirical research to further theorize the internalization processes through which public forms of culture (e.g., frames, scripts) become embedded into personal ones (e.g., beliefs, cultural schemas; Lizardo, 2017). I do so by meta-analyzing and systematically reviewing existing empirical evidence about the effects of music on beliefs and by further developing an interdisciplinary theory of resonance that accounts for the media-psychological and cultural-sociological aspects of mediated experiences. In particular, I focus on those mediated experiences that touch upon deep-seated questions of human existence, such as those “narratives of worth” (Lamont, Forthcoming) related to success, social status, and meritocracy.

Lastly, I put resonance theory under empirical scrutiny by investigating this internalization process among Belgian adolescents. The analyzed sample of Belgian youths has its own specificities, in terms of socio-demographic characteristics but also considering that the sample only included Flemish schools. Belgium is also considered as an archetypal Western-European country, if not the most representative country of Western-Europe, due to the presence of the major political and economical institutions of the European Union on its territory. While most of the respondents surveyed are Western-European, the first part of the dissertation showed that most narratives about success are produced in mainstream Rap music by Black and Brown men artists, especially from the US. Considering resonance as a theory of correspondence between lived and mediated experiences, crucial questions guiding the last part of the dissertation are “Why do young Western-European audiences enjoy the cultural products of (mostly) African-Americans mainstream Rap?” “What are the processes through which certain narratives of worth become internalized by adolescents?” “What is the role of identification processes with the artist and of narrative transportation with the lyrical content of songs?”

This dissertation opens up multiple venues of future research across cultural sociology and media psychology. Some of these include, for example, the comparison between idealized and lived narratives about success (as in a comparison of the artistic content present in lyrics or videos and personal accounts present in documentaries and interviews); the use of network text analysis to extract media frames; a theoretical rich framework about resonance that considers media-psychological and cultural-sociological accounts of mediated experiences; empirical evidence about reciprocal effects between selection of media content and the internalization of media messages in individuals’ beliefs.