Authenticating Identity: The Quest for Personal Validation through Authenticity in Music

Emily Cannon Green


“Music City, U.S.A.” celebrates many cultures and music, but often Nashville is identified with singing cowboys with southern drawls. Some are quick to call this country-western image “inauthentic,” pointing out that middle Tennessee’s forested hills were never home to cattle ranches or Gene Autry. Indeed, the labels of “authentic” or “inauthentic” have become widely used in contemporary society to denote whether a thing is essentially true or untrue. In his evaluation of the 1960s music “myth” in which folk music was deemed authentic and pop music inauthentic, sociologist Simon Frith argues that the central issue was less about the music itself and more about the communication of a person’s identity through that music. An examination of the concept of authenticity as it has evolved through history and presented itself in recent scholarship and a survey of Nashville residents and college students reveal that the quest for authenticity in tourism and consumerism is closely linked to the construction of identity. While the concept of authenticity is demonstrably problematic, it retains its power because it provides a framework against which individuals can define themselves in an increasingly global world. The quest for authenticity in music, then, becomes a quest for truth about oneself for which there is no objective answer. Authenticity is fundamentally a question of perspective. Who can say whether Nashville is authentic or not? All that can be said is simply that Nashville is.

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