Richard Middleton’s assessment of Theodor Adorno is rather typical of the latter’s reception in the study of popular music: “[a]nyone wanting to argue the importance of studying popular music has to absorb Adorno in order to go beyond him.”1 Indeed, while grappling with the complexities of Adorno’s music theory is something of a rite of passage for students of the discipline, it’s not apparent what remains of Adorno’s theoretical schema once one arrives at the “beyond” to which Middleton gestures. Certainly there’s usually an affirmation of music’s capacity to express social antagonism, but this tends also to entail a rejection of Adorno’s formalism, and consequently,...

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