The final issue of a year that it’s hard, as this is written in August, to see ever ending, has nonetheless been a strong one for Journal of Popular Music Studies. We’ve been excited to see the readership grow, article submissions increase, and our new associate editors start to make their impact. Our guest-edited issue on “Uncharted Country” was met with widespread excitement. A book talk series to show how much new work is being published or prepared, Popular Music Books in Process, inaugurated on Zoom with the conversation on Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, and artist biographies between Gustavus Stadler and Shana Redmond that’s in this issue’s Field Notes. Our editorial board member, Jason King, in his role as keynote producer for the Pop Conference, worked with Tavia N’yongo to put together an on-line scholars and musicians session remembering Little Richard from a contemporary black perspective; you can read excerpts from the event in Amplifier. Clearly, within our academic bubble, popular music remains a terrific thing to study: great subject, great company of people.
In that spirit, let’s talk about issue 32:4. The Little Richard roundtable is notable, too, for highlighting less his impact on white rockers and much more the ways in which his “flaming”—to use the keyword participant Alisha Lola Jones’s new book has now forever attached to gospel performers—presence worked within black performance and listening practices; it’s also worth simply appreciating the firepower of analysis from the likes of Zandria Robinson within academia and pathbreaking musician Nona Hendryx. We can read it as quite complementary to the conversation between DJ Lynnée Denise talking to Chandra Frank about DJ scholarship as a black queer intervention. And then in Field Notes, Redmond and Stadler seek to “detune” conventional biography, once again drawing in particular on Black and queer reframings of artistry, subject matter, and style.
Our features this issue are more varied:
JPMS Book Reviews associate editor Alyxandra Vesey writes about St. Vincent, the guitarist and queer icon, and in particular about how she participated in a marketing campaign targeting girls to buy and play guitars. Vesey has been exploring a range of intersections between popular musical figures and product placement; interpellation you can touch.
Nicholas Laudadio and Meghan Sweeney focus on a different, too unrecognized, kind of youthful musicking, the 1960s child-oriented recordings of electronic music pioneer Bruce Haack and American dancer-educator Esther Nelson. The Way Out Record for Children: go to YouTube and press play immediately: “This is where the magic starts.”
JPMS co-editor Robin James takes up expressions of #MeToo disgust as neoliberal wallpapering of structural issues: “it assumes that feelings of pleasure and disgust are exclusive of one another and that righteous disgust at flawed individuals is sufficient to fix systemic sexism that persists in norms about aesthetic pleasure themselves.” James returns to a favorite figure, Rihanna, to show how a performance like “Love on the Brain” reworks the gender politics of pop conventions.
Christine Capetola’s article on Janet Jackson comes, in a way, from an interpretive framework developed in part by James: “neoliberal resilience narratives and Black feminist responses to them.” Using theories of vibration and affect to propose what she calls “hyperaurality,” Capetola investigates the 1980s album Control as politics on more levels than commentators have previously realized.
Finally, Bernhard Steinbrecher and Bernhard Achhorner write about brass music in Austria, using musicological methods, media analysis, participant accounts, and reporting on the “Woodstock of Brass Music” to look into the surging popularity of festivals devoted to the genre and think about issues of local culture and national identity.
Over in the book reviews, Kevin Fellezs reviews two books on music and “contemporary” Japan, Lorraine Plourde and Marié Abe’s ideas of public-private relationships within the urban soundscape, from the background music in department stores to street performers. He finds a line that resonates post-Covid 19: “Streets, often assumed to be an abstract space of social anonymity, become a site of social warmth when home is considered a place of isolation.” I. Augustus Durham rises to the occasion of Redmond’s Robeson study, which Durham chooses to compare to an opera, rather than a conventional biography; Redmond “vocalizes as a lyric soprano who flirts in coloratura.” Patrick Burke writes about Gerald Horne’s work on jazz, racism, and political economy, enjoying the author’s style (Hugh Hefner as “the myrmidon of smut”) and evidentiary richness, if hoping for more solid analysis. Rebecca Bechtold considers a book by Laura Lohman on music in the early American nation, political uses from the Revolution through the War of 1812, extending the grand tradition of Oscar Sonneck and many since his time into our moment by capturing hyperaurality in an originary form: the “hyperbolic discourse of the time.” And, working ahead to the actual (rather than Austrian) Woodstock, Chris Anderton assesses Gina Arnold’s study of rock festivals, citing her finding: “each and every rock festival promises salvation, but that’s all it is, a promise made to be broken, again and again”
And on that bittersweet note, we must leave our popular music studies bubble and look out again. To a better 2021!