Thursday, March 31, 2016

SCMS 2016 Day One

Argh! I accidentally pasted over my notes so I can only give a truncated account of the one panel I attended last night: Pop after MTV: Music, the Moving Image, and the Practice and Politics of Visual Listening.

Jack Hamilton's "'Baby I'm a Star': Prince, Purple Rain, and the Audiovisual Making of a Rock and Roll Icon" concerned how liveness, locality, and authenticity factored into the underlining of Prince as a rock (as opposed to R&B) artist. Ironically (or not), the fact that he played almost every instrument on his recordings rendered his music inauthentic for some listeners. So he started crediting The Revolution and in the film, he deigns to sing Wendy & Lisa's song "Purple Rain" when in reality he wrote the song himself. The film is also steeped in Minnesotiana the way Sprignsteen is steeped in Jersey - as a marker of an authentic artistic self. And finally, Prince proves himself in the crucible of live performance, yet another marker of an authentic relationship with music and a band. Note to Jack: Pete Townshend and The Who had separate entries on the Rolling Stone readers poll because Townshend was recording solo albums alongside Who releases at the time.

Erich Nunn's "The Musical and Cultural Logic of Monday Night Football" traced the fall of Hank Williams, Jr,. as the face/voice of Monday Night Football. In 1989, his theme song promo spot forged a vision of the sport as consumed almost entirely by white people. But by 2003, the NFL sought to redress this problem by awkwardly inserting artists such as Ashanti, Toni Braxton and Snoop Dogg (and a typically out-of-it Britney Spears) into the mix. After his 2011 equation of Obama with Hitler on Fox News, Williams was dropped from Monday Night Football in the NFL's attempt to create a new cultural logic around the game, a project furthered by their threat to ignore Atlanta's bid for the Super Bowl if the "religious liberty" bill passed.

Shirley Wong's "Girl Gangs and BFFs: Taylor Swift's 1989, Pop Music, and the Performance of Female Friendship" was a fascinating piece about the methods Swift uses to create notions of female friendship. In her live performances, Swift had celebrities walk a long runway with her and do an impromptu awkward dance. Actors, sports figures, models, and other musicians (e.g., Joan Baez) are thus recast as amateurs dancing along to the music "naturally." This commodifed sense of friendship travels over to her video for "Shake It Off" where Swift mocks her inability to match the standards of professional dancers, culminating in a freeform dance party with a gang of Swift superfans.

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