Tag Archives: Sexuality and gender

Queer musicology: An annotated bibliography

Drummers of Fogo Azul perform at the New York Pride Parade on June 30, 2019. Photo credit: Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York daily news

The word queer originally meant strange, or odd, and was used as a derogatory term for non-heterosexuals. Beginning in the 1980s, scholars and activists began using the term to refer to sexual or gender identity minorities, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc., as a way to combat social stigma.

Since the emergence of queer theory in the 1980s, a growing number of music scholars have begun to focus on the connections among gender identity, sexual orientation, and music/sound. Critical of biologically-based orientations, and emphasizing social gender roles and sexual orientations, queer theory has inspired music scholars to re-examine musicians, music, sound, narrative, and aesthetics through the lens of sex and gender. Below, we share some literature of queer musicology collected by RILM.

– Qian Mu, Editor, RILM

__________________________

  • Moon, Steven. “Queer theory, ethno/musicology, and the disorientation of the field”, Current musicology 106 (2020) 9–33. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-13066]

Abstract: Examines the development of ethno/musicologies’ (queer) theoretical borrowings from anthropology, sociology, and literary/cultural studies in order to historicize the contemporary queer moment both fields are experiencing, and demonstrates the ways in which it might disorient the field. It traces the histories of this queering trend by beginning with early conceptualizations of the ethno/musicological projects, scientism, and quantitative methods. This is in relation to the anthropological method of ethnocartography in order to understand the historical difficulties in creating a queer qualitative field, as opposed to those based in hermeneutics. The first section places the problematics of this enumeration in dialogue with the ethno/musicologies’ tendencies towards nationalizing and globalizing narratives that often run contrary to a queer project. The second section steps back in time to understand how music studies, broadly, entered the queer conversation through early feminist literature in ethnomusicology and historical musicology, as well as literary/cultural studies and anthropology.

  • Maus, Fred Everett. “Classical concert music and queer listening”, Transposition: Musique et sciences sociales 3 (mai 2013) 11p. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2013-31866]

Abstract: The norms of the classical music concert, familiar from the 20th century onward in European and United States contexts, favor an apparently uniform practice of attentive, silent listening, the audience seated in rows with a uniform visual focus. However, within this appearance of quiet conformity, listeners have diverse, intense experiences. The discontinuity between experience and demeanor reflects powerful cultural oppositions between inner and outer, public and private. The discontinuity is particularly stark in light of the erotic qualities of music, as described in brilliant work by Susan McClary (Feminine endings, 1991; RILM 1991-2755) and Suzanne Cusick (On a lesbian relationship with music, 1994; RILM 1994-2517). My essay returns to their work, expanding their accounts to consider a broader range of sexual subjectivities, including bottom subjectivity as described by Trevor Hoppe and femme subjectivity as described by Ann Cvetkovich.

  • Hankins, Sarah. “Ethnographic positionality and psychoanalysis: A queer look at sex and race in fieldwork”, Queering the field: Sounding out ethnomusicology, ed. by Gregory F. Barz and William Cheng (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) 353–363. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-170]

Abstract: Explores the queer dynamics of heterosexual interactions, thinking through issues of race by way of gender. The author further complicates matters by weaving ethnographic discourses of positionally together with psychoanalytic theories of sexuality and the subject. She seeks to bring psychoanalysis—a process she has relied on in her private life to address painful experiences—into some kind of consonance with the academic discourses that have long been touchstones of her professional life. By investigating the multivalent, confusing, and sometimes contradictory dimensions of her own fieldwork, she hopes to encourage further conversations about how sexuality and race intersect in known and unknown ways for other queer ethnographers, in other cross-cultural contexts. Her case study of the Rasta Club in south Tel Aviv is a vivid reflection on queer identity within the context of heterosexual interactions, especially violent ones.

  • Künzig, Bernd. “New queer music: Homosexualität und Neue Musik—Eine Ästhetische Spurensuche”, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 178/1 (2017) 12–16. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2017-40456]

Abstract: The degree to which sexual orientation affects artistic production has been discussed in various contexts—especially in the anglophone world. However, with respect to composition it remains an open question. This is true of homosexuality, too, which could be openly discussed after the sexual revolution of the 1968 movement. Even today, if one pursues the inquiry, one comes across many not so obvious connections between music and sexuality.

  • Sullivan, James. “The queer context and composition of Samuel Barber’s Despite and still“, Twentieth- and twenty-first-century song cycles: Analytical pathways toward performance, ed. by Gordon Sly and Michael Callahan (New York: Routledge, 2021) 79–96. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-264]

Abstract: The author’s approach to Barber’s Despite and still (1968) foregrounds Barber’s autobiographical connection to the cycle, particularly his sexuality and his relationship with Gian Carlo Menotti. With regard to the texts that Barber chose, which include poems by Robert Graves and Theodore Roethke and an excerpt from James Joyce’s Ulysses, the author shows how each text touches upon a particular point of tension in Barber’s relationship with Menotti. Musically, he then demonstrates how Barber’s settings dramatize that tension through the manipulation of perceived meter, especially via close imitation. The essay thus integrates musical analysis with poetic structure and biography.

  • Jones, Matthew J. “‘Something inside so strong’: The Flirtations and the queer politics of a cappella”, Journal of popular music studies 28/2 (June 2016) 142–185. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-19760]

Abstract: Initially formed in 1987, The Flirtations billed themselves as “the world’s most famous, openly-gay, all-male, politically active, multicultural, a cappella singing doo-wop group”. Over the course of the next decade, The Flirts—as they were affectionately known—recorded three albums, crisscrossed the globe to perform at gay pride events and AIDS rallies, sang in small theaters and concert venues, and even appeared in a Hollywood film (Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia released in 1993). Committed advocates of LGBT rights, feminism, multiculturalism, and AIDS activism, The Flirtations used the nostalgic sounds of close-harmony a cappella singing to deliver political messages, enlighten listeners, and entertain audiences. Through fluctuations in membership, personality conflicts, and the AIDS-related deaths of two founding members, The Flirtations kept singing and left behind a unique repository of queer music at the end of the 20th century. Drawing on previously unavailable archival materials, new interviews with surviving members of the group, and close readings of select musical examples, I situate The Flirtations within the history of U.S. close-harmony singing and examine the queer politics of a cappella in their music.

  • Doyle, JD. “Queer music radio: Entertainment, education, and activism”, Journal of popular music studies 18/2 (2006) 215–219. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-5846]

Abstract: Queer music heritage, hosted by the author on KPFT-FM, Houston, Texas, seeks to educate and entertain audiences in the name of LGBT activism. The radio program is designed as a way to share music from a variety of genres—including blues, country, and disco—with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning lyrical themes. Music and interviews are organized into themed shows that address issues such as the concept of “gay music”, expressing sexual identity, and the shifting cultural place of sexual identity in history.

Comments Off on Queer musicology: An annotated bibliography

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Ethnomusicology, Musicology, Popular music

Beyoncé and the politics of looking

A close reading of Beyoncé’s Video phone illuminates the strategic interplay of subjectivities in a video that essentially disrupts and complicates heteronormative notions of viewing.

In this analysis, the workings of female power versus the male gaze lead to a theoretical conception of gender that contextualizes masculinity and hegemonic femininity. Ultimately, it is in the aestheticized landscape of Video phone that a counter-argument to mainstream heterosexual male imaginary emerges, one where the posthuman figure, in all its hyperreality, is musicalized in a way that defies all conventions.

This according to “Gender, sexuality and the politics of looking in Beyoncé’s Video phone (featuring Lady Gaga)” by Lori Burns and Marc Lafrance, an essay included in The Routledge research companion to popular music and gender (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017, pp. 102–16).

Today is Beyoncé’s 40th birthday! Above and below, the video in question.

Comments Off on Beyoncé and the politics of looking

Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Jack Cole’s double bind

Jack Cole is often called “the father of theatrical jazz dance”, and “Cole technique” has strongly influenced both film dance and American theatrical dance generally. In his heyday he was one of the most powerful choreographers working in Hollywood, with contractual control over the movement design, camerawork, costuming, lighting, and editing of his dance numbers.

Cole’s status as an “invisible” gay man is crucial to more than an understanding of the satiric, parodic, or camp elements of his film work; it is also a necessary precondition for his particular mode of deployment of so-called Oriental dance practices.

Cole engaged the double bind that both women and men are prisoners of gender roles. His use of the body’s physical beauty to stand for more than spiritual power combined the theatricality and spirituality of Denishawn, the voluptuousness and intensity of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and Oriental and other ethnic dance styles. His approach to dance and gender had profound effects on mid-20th-century hegemonic dance culture.

This according to “The thousand ways there are to move: Camp and Oriental dance in the Hollywood musicals of Jack Cole” by Adrienne L. McLean (Journal for the anthropological study of human movement XII/3 [spring 2003] 59–77; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2003-42184).

Today would have been Cole’s 110th birthday! Above, a portrait by Carl Van Vechten from 1937 (public domain); below, the Denishawn parody “Greek ballet” from Down to earth (1947).

Comments Off on Jack Cole’s double bind

Filed under Dance, Performers

Queering Bruce Springsteen

 

The narratives of Bruce Springsteen’s songs resonate with many queer people, who are well aware of the possibility of a life-altering freedom that presents itself as the reward for stepping into your true self (even when that freedom comes, as is often the case, at great cost).

Springsteen is far from gay; some might argue he is one of the straightest men alive. Nonetheless, some fans regard his work as, in Rosalie Zdzienicka Fanshel’s words, “homoerotic or queerly suggestive”.

There’s also Carmen Rios’s “We’re here and we’re queering Bruce Springsteen” at one of the longest-running sites for queer women, Autostraddle; the queer writer Tennessee Jones’s short story collection Deliver me from nowhere, based on the album Nebraska; and the many queer Bruce Springsteen zines, from Because the Boss belongs to us to Butt Springsteen.

What exactly is so queer about Springsteen? Is it his extreme butchness, so practiced and so precise that he might as well have learned it from the oldest lesbian at a gay bar? Is it because his hard-earned, roughly hewn version of love is recognizable to those for whom desire has often meant sacrifice? Or is it something simpler? Do many queers love Springsteen because nearly every song he has produced in his 50-year career reflects a crushing, unabiding sense of alienation and longing—and what could be more queer than that?

This according to “Things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town: The queerness of Bruce Springsteen” by Naomi Gordon-Loebl (The nation 6 November 2019).

Below, Springsteen’s Tougher than the rest, a song (and video) discussed in the article.

Comments Off on Queering Bruce Springsteen

Filed under Curiosities, Performers, Popular music

Meshell Ndegeocello, pushing boundaries

 

The complexity and range of Meshell Ndegeocello’s hip-hop works extend largely from her willingness to push boundaries—but in pushing sexual and gender boundaries, Ndegeocello declines to traffic in singular dimensions. Danyel Smith has described her as “an African American, woman, lesbian, musician, and mother” who thrives on “pondering the riddles that accompany all her selves.”

In Berry farms Ndegeocello addresses a female lover: “Can you love me without shame?” Giving way to the bass groove, she aggressively concludes: “Yeah, you like to mess around!” She goes on to suggest that her girlfriend prohibits them from sharing honest, enduring love for fear of public scorn because they are lesbians and because she desires the material things her “boy” can give her.

“You know how we like material things,” she observes, reminding us of the dominant perception that most black women effortlessly and willingly sacrifice substantive self-fulfillment for social approval and material gratification. The discursive modes of many of the tracks on Cookie: The anthropological mixtape strike an unambiguously combative chord with this perception by elaborating the tensions of same-sex female desire, fulfillment, and repression.

This according to “‘You sell your soul like you sell a piece of ass’: Rhythms of black female sexuality and subjectvity in Meshell Ndegeocello’s Cookie: The anthropological mixtape” by Nghana Lewis (Black music research journal XXVI/1 [spring 2006] pp. 111–30).

Today is Ndegeocello’s 50th birthday! Below, the song in question.

Comments Off on Meshell Ndegeocello, pushing boundaries

Filed under Performers, Popular music

Queercore and all-girl bands

Queercore is a loose community of like-minded individuals who have developed a culture of fanzines, films, art, and music. Initiated in Canada and the U.S. during the mid-1980s, queercore spread throughout North America and Europe during the 1990s and 2000s.

The movement was inspired by feminist, postmodern, and queer theories that rejected binary understandings of sexual identity as homosexual/heterosexual and gender identity as man/woman. These theories were put into punk practice to confront heterosexist society.

Central to queercore are all-girl bands whose music confronts lesbian invisibility, misogyny, homophobia, and sexual violence, and who create vital spaces and communities for different ways of doing and being queer. These bands and artists draw on discourses of girlhood, femininity, womanhood, lesbianism, and queerness within radical music-making, lyrics, and performances affiliated with DIY queer culture.

This according to “Queercore: Fearless women” by Val Rauzier, an essay included in Women make noise: Girl bands from Motown to the modern (Twickenham: Supernova books, 2010, pp. 238–58). Above, Team Dresch, one of the bands discussed in the article, in the 1990s; below, one of the band’s more recent performances.

Comments Off on Queercore and all-girl bands

Filed under Popular music

Ancient metaphors of love

Toward the middle of the 13th century B.C.E., shortly after a granddaughter of the great Hittite king married the Ugaritic ruler, a matrimonial scandal shook the kingdom. The first lady of the city-state of Ugarit was accused of disporting herself with the nobles, of “ceaseless enjoyment” with them: the Akkadian word ṣiāḫum (to laugh joyfully, to flirt) was the discreet description of conjugal infidelity.

“To laugh” had been the euphemism for sexual intercourse and physical love for at least 700 years, as is attested in Paleo-Babylonian love songs. Already in Sumerian songs of the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E., the verbs “to delight” and “to utter joyful cries” were used to describe amorous play.

The language of love in Aššurian songs is one of metaphors and discreet allusions; carnal love is mentioned only indirectly, through stock literary devices stemming from a long tradition. Amorous metaphors include “the scent of cedar is your love”, “she seeks the garden of your opulent love”, and “today my heart is full of play and music”.

This according to “La musique des amoureux” by Brigitte Groneberg (Dossiers d’archéologie 310 [février 2006] pp. 50–54).

Above, a Paleo-Babylonian plaque; below, Peter Pringle performs his recreation of an ancient Egyptian song that uses similar metaphors.

Comments Off on Ancient metaphors of love

Filed under Antiquity, Asia

The Dancing Queens of Mumbai

For many Indian hijras—a casteless and classless queer minority—badhais (ritualistic music and dance) are the only available means of revenue aside from sex work and bar dance; this has been the practical reality for hijras for nearly two centuries of legal persecution.

While the current reality does not bode well for the continuation of hijra badhais as we once knew them, newly emerging transgender ensembles like Mumbai’s Dancing Queens are introducing new possibilities for hijra performativity and empowerment.

Established within a reconstituted urban Indian context, new adaptive strategies are predicated on the exchange of devalued ways of encoding hijra difference for updated, modern ones based upon the distinctly LGBTIQ discourse of pehchān (acknowledgement of the self, or identity). The Dancing Queens’s staging of pehchān empowers hijras through a global transgender lexicon while simultaneously renewing particular preexisting performance repertoires of homo-sociality.

This according to “The Dancing Queens: Negotiating hijra pehchān from India’s streets onto the global stage” by Jeff Roy (Ethnomusicology review XX [2015] pp. 69–91). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Dancing Queens in action.

BONUS: Ready for more? Here’s a full performance.

Comments Off on The Dancing Queens of Mumbai

Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Dance

Why ladies love country boys

The emergence of a strikingly cohesive set of gender narratives on country radio in the late 2000s and early 2010s can be linked to the impact of globalization and economic crisis during those years.

In redneck-blueblood anthems, the country boy wins over the wealthy, cosmopolitan woman despite her material success and his limited economic and social prospects. This popular narrative extends the long-standing tradition in which down-home country masculinity is defined partly through its relationship to the character of the upwardly mobile woman who has moved from working-class to middle- or upper-class status.

Whereas some critics view country culture as articulating a form of working-class male abjection or degradation, the redneck-blueblood songs provide a narrative of success that directly reclaims the value of working-class masculinity. This narrative resonates with audiences confronting intensely threatening economic and social dislocation in the global economy.

This according to “Why ladies love country boys: Gender, class, and economics in contemporary country music” by Jocelyn R. Neal, an essay included in Country boys and redneck women: New essays in gender and country music (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016, pp. 3–25).

Above, a screen shot from Trace Adkins’s Ladies love country boys; below, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood’s Remind me. Both songs serve as case studies in the article.

Comments Off on Why ladies love country boys

Filed under Popular music

Mosquito love songs

The familiar buzz of flying mosquitoes is an important mating signal, with the fundamental frequency of the female’s flight tone signaling her presence. In the yellow fever and dengue vector Aedes aegypti, both sexes interact acoustically by shifting their flight tones to match, resulting in a courtship duet.

Surprisingly, matching is made not at the fundamental frequency of 400 Hz (female) or 600 Hz (male), but at a shared harmonic of 1200 Hz, which exceeds the previously known upper limit of hearing in mosquitoes. Physiological recordings from Johnston’s organ (the mosquito’s “ear”) reveal sensitivity up to 2000 Hz, consistent with observed courtship behavior. These findings revise widely accepted limits of acoustic behavior in mosquitoes.

This according to “Harmonic convergence in the love songs of the dengue vector mosquito” by Lauren J. Cator, et al. (Science 8 January 2009).

Above, the female Aedes aegypti; below, Mosquitos demonstrates another form of harmonic convergence.

Comments Off on Mosquito love songs

Filed under Animals, Curiosities