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Bitter Content - YouTube, the ukulele and the rise of participatory commodification


Paper presented at Crosstown Traffic: Popular Music Theory and Practice conference, University of Huddersfield, 3rd September 2018

The ukulele has, in various guises, and amongst various overlapping and distinct social worlds, experienced a spectacular growth in popularity over the course of the last ten years. This is well-documented in journalistic and popular cultural sources, but remains virtually unexplored academically, which I aim to begin correcting in my ongoing doctoral research. This paper briefly examines the ukulele’s popularity specifically on the online video-based social network YouTube, and the structures of participatory culture which surround it, which makes up the bulk of one of my chapters. I also aim to explore how the instrument - as well as YouTube and YouTubers more generally – are commodified as signifiers of participatory culture, allowing large corporations to use them as a kind of aesthetic smokescreen to convey independence and trustworthiness, and creating tension between the two.