“High Hopes,” “Bad Guy,” and Chill Moods: On Resilience in Post-Probabilist Neoliberalisms

I’m giving a talk in the music department at Pitt on Tuesday Nov. 19 at 7pm. Here’s the full text of the talk; intro below. This connects my work in my last two books to my new work on post-probabilist neliberalism/biopower.

In my book Resilience & Melancholy, I argued that resilience discourse functioned as a new gender norm for women that demanded each individual woman personally and spectacularly overcome all the damage patriarchy did to her and in so doing both convince us that patriarchy is over and put things formerly outside capitalist production to work creating surplus value. I also argued that soars–the Zeno’s paradox-like rhythmic intensifications used to build climaxes in EDM-influenced pop–sonically represent resilience. This talk builds on that work, considering how resilience factors into evolving politics and today’s pop hits, shaping not only how these hits sound, but also what it takes to be a hit in the first place.

I’ll begin with an extended example, and then dive into the philosophical background to explain how evolving neoliberalisms have scaled resilience discourse from a gender norm targeted at women up to the basic model of the market itself. Because neoliberalism treats everything like a market, this model of the market is effectively a model for reality itself. I’ll finish with several examples of how this model of infinitely resilient reality impacts both pop aesthetics and industry practices. In particular, I’ll show how this market’s idea of capitalist value as “capacity” translates into aesthetic values in music, values which shape everything from what record chart performance measures, to the use of mood to classify music, to the gender politics of “chill.” I’ll talk about Panic! At The Disco, Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, as well as Spotify’s mood-based playlists.