My EMP 2016 Talk –> Started From the bottoms Now We Hear: queered voice in the era of post-feminist pop
I’m talking on Saturday morning at this year’s EMP PopCon. If you’d like to follow along IRL or remotely, here’s the full text of my talk. Here are the slides/images that accompany it. I’ve pasted the intro below so you can get a sense of what it’s about:
Both in theory (deliberative democracy, Habermas) and in practice (the First Amendment to the US Constitution), liberalism (not the American Democratic Party, but the social contract-style political philosophy that most so-called developed nations subscribe to) treats voice as a tool for political participation and an inalienable component of membership in society, indeed, in humanity. So it’s not surprising that both music criticism and common speech use “voice” as a metaphor for agency and subjectivity. Likewise, pop songs use apparently unrestrained, unrehearsed vocalizations to express rebellious, individualistic agency. Taylor Swift’s vocal flourish in “Shake It Off”’s drop and Poly Styrene’s screamed “O Bondage, Up Yours!” use vocal excess to show women busting out of misogynist stereotypes. In the era of post-feminist pop, when, as Noisey’s Emma Garland puts it, “we [have] created an environment in which female artists are being judged only on their feminism,” we expect our women pop stars to do just that. We like it when Demi Lovato proclaims her Confidence or when Meghan Trainor says a firm “No.” But what happens when women musicians don’t make a spectacle of their agency, in particular, the agency they have now that they’ve overcome the limitations of traditional femininity? What techniques do they use, and what does it sound like?
My talk considers two instances from 2015 where queer women use musical voice (singing voice, authorial voice) to perform something other than agency or subjectivity…in particular, something other than the type of post-feminist agency and subjectivity that post-feminist gender norms expect women to embody and express. As I argued in my most recent book, this agency and subjectivity takes the form of resilience; overcoming the limitations of traditional femininity, women show they have the kinds of agency demanded of all full participants in the State and the market. (Or, instead of changing society to be more inclusive and less harmful to women and femmes, post-feminism expects women to get over whatever held them back.) So, in performing something other than agency or subjectivity, these artists perform an abnormal, queer femininity. Brooklyn “gender-problematizing goth dance band” bottoms and Berlin techno collective Decon/Recon each develop musical voices that are alternatives to post-feminist narratives of voice-as-agency.