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Beyond Kitsch: A. R. Rahman and The Global Routes of Indian Popular Music

2010, Master of Music (MM), Bowling Green State University, Music Ethnomusicology.
At the 2009 Academy Awards, A. R. Rahman became the first Indian composer to win Best Score and Best Song (“Jai Ho”) for his music in the film, Slumdog Millionaire (2008). This event not only granted Rahman another prestigious accolade for his accomplishments as a popular film music composer (i.e., he has been awarded many times over in India for his music), but it gave Rahman new star-status recognition among a Western audience. Although enormously famous in India and well-known among the South Asian diaspora located throughout many parts of the world, Rahman remained, up until that time, virtually unknown among mainstream U.S. audiences. U.S. audiences today are perhaps more likely than a decade ago to recognize the sounds and images of Indian cinema known as Bollywood, a cultural artifact that increasingly traverses international popular cultures. Consequently, the appeal of Rahman’s Bollywood music among a wider global audience (as presented in Slumdog Millionaire) coincides with the global circulation and consumption of Bollywood films and music in recent years. More so, however, I suggest that the appeal for Rahman’s music pertains little with Western fascination of the exotic Other, but mainly involves a cultural affinity for a type of style and sound set forth in Rahman’s music. I argue that Rahman’s music exhibits high production quality and a synthesis of Indian film music and global pop sounds created through his use of digital technology. In this thesis, I explore the cultural implications of Rahman’s use of digital technology within the context of the Bollywood film music industry and the historical presence and adoption of new music technologies. I also examine Rahman’s musical career and background which reveals the effect and ramification of multidirectional processes of globalization in the consumption and production of global pop. While some might argue that mass-mediated efforts due to globalization risk homogenizing music, I believe we must confront the creative potential of local artists who choose to ride the wave of transnational trends in music making. I analyze Rahman’s compositions in Slumdog Millionaire and explore globalist discourses surrounding the production and consumption of his music. The commercial success and public praise for Rahman’s music in the U.S. present a convergence of topics related to musical authenticity, ownership, cultural representation, as well as the transformative properties and qualities of sound (on its listeners) as mediated through popular music recordings.
David Harnish, PhD (Committee Chair)
Jeremy Wallach, PhD (Committee Member)
Esther Clinton, PhD (Committee Member)
107 p.

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Jackson, S. (2010). Beyond Kitsch: A. R. Rahman and The Global Routes of Indian Popular Music. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Jackson, Stephanie. "Beyond Kitsch: A. R. Rahman and The Global Routes of Indian Popular Music." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, 2010. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 20 Jan 2018.

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Jackson, Stephanie "Beyond Kitsch: A. R. Rahman and The Global Routes of Indian Popular Music." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, 2010. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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