Music Exports and Soft Power

It is not surprising that governments see cultural exports as important components of a wider cultural diplomacy, “said to take place when formal diplomats, serving national governments, try to shape and channel this natural flow [of organic cultural relations] to advance national interests” (Arndt, 2006, p. xviii). Thus distinctions need to be made between governmental and cultural spaces where a simpler sharing or exchange of cultural products/performances is in evidence (often captured by vague appeals to cultural relations', see Ang et al., 2015), and where other national interests and ambitions (economic and discursive) come into view. Joseph Nye’s much-cited “soft power” (1990, pp. 166-168) is clearer in delineating the use of culture to promote a set of national values on foreign shores, where not only international standing is to be achieved, but hopefully the adoption of national values by other nations and regions. Historically, US cinema provided an exceptional vehicle for economic dominance of a cultural market that also acted out the "US way of life” on the screen for international audiences (Miller, 2005). US culture was state-funded to achieve a range of political aims during the Cold War across various international spaces and cultural forms (e.g. Shaw, 2016). Jazz was used in the 1950s to connote popular culture with US discourses of freedom via international tours of well-known musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie that ignored the myriad ways that “freedom” was curtailed for black musicians at home (Schneider, 2010, pp. 104-105). Debate continues about just how successful the deployment of popular culture for culturally diplomatic ends can be, given the wide availability of counternarratives across social media and the growth of alternative media/cultural production that can actively negate various nationalist aims and narratives. This points to the need for further examination of how soft power operates in practice, especially how audiences are “reading” particular meanings (Ang et al., 2015, pp. 374-375).

Yet music exports are regarded as a means of cultural diplomacy in aid of economic objectives, seeking competitive advantages that will boost cultural trade ledgers. Departmental reports across different case study nations in our project revealed how national governments retain a belief in music as a vital source of soft power, even if it simply collapses into national branding exercises. For example, Japan’s “pop-culture diplomacy” of the early 2000s, driven by “Cool Japan” branding, was a “one-way encouragement of foreigners to deepen their appreciation of Japan” (Iwabuchi, 2015, p. 429). While J-pop might be more about the localisation of global pop genres (Lancashire, 2015), it has also proved to be part of wider cultural industries strategies and successes (Allison, 2008; Tsutomu, 2008).

We have noted earlier in this chapter the UK music industries’ representations to government in arguing for the greater involvement of the state to reap greater economic returns. This has been accompanied by recognition that the government can similarly harness the creative industries for soft power ambitions. A 2013 report, Influence and Attraction: Culture and the Race for Soft Power in the 21st Century, is interesting in these respects. Commissioned by the British Council, the Demos think tank authors provide some advice which runs against some of the usual economic concerns and “short-term transactional and instrumental thinking” (British Council, 2013, p. 34). It states the importance of culture in potentially erasing the usual transnational power relations, “where the economically and politically weak can have an equal status - where Bob Dylan and Bob Marley could meet in a way that the US and Jamaica could not” (ibid., p. 32). Traditional media structures (such as the BBC) and new digital networks remain important forums for two-way understanding through the dissemination of popular culture. In noting the rise of formal cultural exchange infrastructure (national institutes, cultural centres, foundations and offices) in other countries, the report also sees the reduction of cultural budgets (post-Global Financial Crisis) as an opportunity for governments to effect a more “hands-ofF’ approach, where the facilitation of more autonomous cultural bodies can perversely produce greater results (ibid., pp. 31-35).

The Influence and Attraction report also reaffirmed a sense of the UK as “a modern day cultural superpower” (ibid., p. 2). This is in part attributed to the powerful ways in which British popular culture circulates to denote national attributes (Wallace and Gromit television; Bond films), evidenced in the Britpop example discussed earlier. We also need to acknowledge that “... just as the unique music of particular localities ... has proved impossible to distinguish, so distinctive national styles are similarly marked by strategic essentialism, marketing and local boosterism” (Connell and Gibson, 2003, p. 124). This implicates the music export in wider ambitions to provide an international stage for the local music product, that in Uirn invokes a sense of national identity. While not the primary focus, we will examine the extent to which artists believe they are representative of their nations (and industries).

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