MUSIC AND GENDER: More info. and links

Chopin “Polonaise In A Major, Opus 40 No 1” — This piece, briefly discussed on p. 10 of the McClary article, contains so-called feminine candences. The piece is in 3/4 time. Note that in the opening section, repeated throughout, most of the cadences fall on the second beat, with the last cadence falling on the third beat. The increased use of feminine cadences as well as harmonic chromaticism, among other traits, led many commentators to portray Romantic music (19th-century Western art music) as “feminine”–or, at the very least, highly sentimental and emotional.

Nicki Minaj on her alter egos / Minaj verse of Kanye’s “Monster” / CBS football fanfare (piano version)

Antony & the Johnsons “Hope there’s someone”  (studio version) (interview)  (interview excerpt) (Apollo show review) (Antony covers Beyonce)

What is melisma?  Borrowing from the expressivity and ecstatic associations of gospel music, there is today a close relationship between melisma and the diva persona.

Motörhead “Ace of Spades” (Beavis and Butthead approve) (Lemmy on women and guitars)


POP MUSIC AND GENDER: Justin Bieber “Baby”

Much of the fear and loathing, and fanaticism and fawning, inspired by Justin Bieber is closely tied up with how he represents gender. While JB’s music and image are clearly aimed at a pubescent and pre-pubescent audience, and especially at girls, many of those outside his target audience seem to trade indifference or mild annoyance for what appears closer to virulent hatred and all-0ut fury. No doubt, this reaction stems in part from the fact that the Bieb is unavoidable even for those of us who aren’t adolescent girls. But  I would submit that there may be something else at work here too–that is, the unstable and contradictory nature of his gendered and sexualized representations, and the ways they undermine certain hegemonic, cultural norms.

For instance, while JB’s fans may be attracted to him for his soft masculinity and androgyny–expressed in musical terms through feminine cadences, melisma, girl-group chord progressions, and “bubble-gum” musical style–there is also an obvious effort to assert more traditional masculine musical signifiers in his music and image (primary among these is the hard masculinity of hip hop, e.g., collaborating with established hip hop stars and dabbling in rap himself). This pervasive gender-confusion* is likely to appeal to much of his core constituency, that is, among those still developing and trying out multiple gender identities–and especially among his female audience, an audience that is generally expected to flip between gender roles more readily and more often than boys and young men.

But what is appealing and identifiable to this demographic can be offensive and alienating to those outside of the demographic who are more settled, and perhaps more conservative, when it comes to gender roles. This gender-instability leads even those who are firmly in the anti-Bieber camp to sometimes contradict themselves, or each other, by both faulting him for reinforcing traditional gender roles, and at the same time freaking out over Bieber’s feminine side–check out the Facebook hate groups, anti-Bieber Youtube videos (response video here) and gay-baiting evangelists–who slander Bieber for being “girly” or, more to the point, “a f*g.”

*not to even get into the racially-based identity markers and/or stereotypes that are almost always a factor for rap music and hip hop in the mainstream culture.


GENDER AND MUSIC IN POLITICAL ADS: “Video birthday card” to Ann Romney courts female voters, utilizing what sounds much like “feminine” stock/library music (such as the example we listened to in class)

Gingrich attack ad uses light accordion-based music to link Romney to the French “wimp” stereotype (Romney can even speak the language…sacré bleu!)

Obama 2008 attack ad uses music very similar to Mike Oldfield’s soundtrack music from The Exorcist (aka “Tubular Bells”) which for many listeners immediately brings to mind a “creepy, possessed little girl” who is capable of blood-soaked destruction–perfectly paralleling the depiction of McCain as a war-mongering, unstable and dangerous man, who at the same time is weak and submissive to Bush

Reagan 1984 campaign commercial depicts the country’s shift from weakness to strength under his leadership, a point driven home in the transition from a meandering, lighting-drifting “feminine” piano-based musical texture in the opening seconds, building steadily to a more rigidly structured and temporally-contained brass-heavy closing

1964 Barry Goldwater political ad links dangerous and unrestrained sexuality (in the form of pornography) to jazz music. This is an old chestnut–early in the century, social panic over the spreading popularity of jazz often linked the music to fears over “feminine” sensual self-indulgence and seduction, and a racist depiction of black culture as “primitive,” violent, and sexually-aggressive.

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