Our thirtieth year has already been one of considerable change: new publisher, new visual design, new multimedia opportunities, and new content sections. And there’s more on the horizon. Starting with 31.1, we’ll be turning JPMS over to a new editorial team led by Eric Weisbard and Robin James, but before we do, we’re taking a moment to settle into the groove, however fleetingly.
As promised, the Field Notes section continues as a robust forum for reflection on the state of popular music studies. We kick off with Allison McCracken’s outstanding keynote at the 2018 IASPM-US meeting in Nashville. Continuing her exploration, begun in Real Men Don’t Sing, of the significance of the musical voice in constructing and reflecting social hierarchy, McCracken analyzes the paradoxical way The Voice, NBC’s reality singing competition, disadvantages performers from marginalized groups even as it explicitly challenges essentializing notions about the relationship between vocal performance and social identity. We follow with a roundtable on the imbrications of music and social justice politics in the classroom. Originally presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, the discussion serves both as a useful reflection on the challenges of teaching music and politics simultaneously and a as reminder of the disciplinary reach of popular music studies. We conclude the section with another installment of what will become a regular feature: a reprint of a past JPMS article, accompanied by a contemporary commentary. This time, we return to the complex racial dynamics of crossover with Fredara Hadley’s response to B. Lee Cooper’s “Promoting Social Change Through Audio Repetition,” in which she draws attention to the continuing disadvantages black artists face in an industry where white audience preferences determine both commercial success and the internal distribution of promotional resources.
Our peer-reviewed articles demonstrate in a particularly compelling fashion the global and topical reach of popular music studies at present. William Cheng’s discussion of the leaked (and leaky) outtakes from Britney Spears “Alien” sessions presents a new take on the themes of shame and resiliency he first outlined in Just Vibrations. Emaeyak Peter Sylvanus shows how the use of Nigerian rap, highlife, juju, and other glocal and local popular music genres in the productions of Nigeria’s mainstream Nollywood film industry creates a cultural discourse in which musical and film genre are mutually constituted. Rebecca Densley and Eric Rasmussen examine the shifting portrayal of women in relation to sex and alcohol in U.S. country music over the past three decades, finding that such representations rose noticeably in the 2010s, potentially further normalizing an association between women, alcohol, and sex that has been linked to gender-based violence and sexual assault. Finally, Kieran James and Rex John Walsh contribute to the burgeoning literature on Indonesian metal culture with their exploration of the varied ways bands in West Java’s death metal scene navigate the tension between secularism and Islamic identity. Together, these essays reveal the geographic, methodological, and thematic heterogeneity that make popular music studies such a rich and challenging field of study.
Our book reviews, ably edited by David Suisman, evince the same eclecticism and iconoclasm. Ann Powers’s journey along the erotic flows of pop music history, Matthew Karush and Morgan Luker’s re-evaluations of traditional and contemporary Argentine tango, David Metzer’s deep dive into the enduring but remarkably malleable ballad song form, and Will Kaufman’s recuperation of the overlooked modernist impulses in Woody Guthrie’s career all provide evidence of the productive re-visitations, and revisions that mark popular music studies as a mature and vibrant scholarly community.
So maybe the moment of pause amid change we offer here is appropriately brief. If the work presented here is any indication, we scholars of popular music are most at home when we venture in search of the new, the unexpected, and even the unsettling. The groove always calls us to move.