It’s been a year since the pandemic shut the globe down and moved everything from school to DJ nights exclusively online. It’s been a year of incalculable loss, most importantly of lives, but also of opportunities and institutions in the academy and the music industry. And this loss has been disproportionately felt by communities of color.
This issue’s Field Notes focuses on how people and institutions adapt to such loss. It begins, appropriately, with a piece on mourning. Steacy Easton’s “Joey + Rory: Some notes on the public and private nature of protestant mourning” reviews their 2016 album Hymns that are Important to Us— which was recorded while Joey was dying of cancer—as a way to reflect more broadly on the cultural politics of mourning in the U.S. Moving from mourning to what we might call melancholia (i.e., responding to ongoing or unresolved loss), the rest of the section examines and exemplifies some of the ways the popular music studies community has adapted to pandemic-imposed constraints. In “Remote Intimacy: Popular Music Conversations in the Covid Era,” Associate Editor Sara Marcus talks with organizers of various digital popular music studies events (including Paula Harper, JPMS’s own Eric Weisbard, Kimberly Mack, Simon Zagorski-Thomas, and Karen Tongson) to take stock of the challenges and innovations popular music studies has made as we figure out how “to think, speak, listen, and write our collective way into an unknowable, if everywhere audible, future.” Field Notes concludes with the debut of a new kind of content. Over the past year, asynchronous video lectures have become a common substitute for live conference presentations and public talks. The editorial team has always been looking for ways to incorporate multimedia items into the journal. As Eric explains in his introductory essay, much in the same way we shepherd outstanding oral conference presentations into written items in the journal, we seized the all-digital 2021 PopCon as an opportunity to create a pipeline for the publication of videos. In this issue we have three video presentations; each is published as a video with an accompanying written transcript. We step off with S. Alexander Reed’s “Order, Joy, Youth: Parade Aesthetics in Popular Music,” which takes a deep dive into The Funky Four + One’s “That’s The Joint” to argue that hip hop’s admixture of rehearsed and spontaneous performance is the quintessential example of a “parade aesthetic” found all over pop, from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones to Laibach. Next, Maya Angela Smith’s “The Importance of Writing Reclaiming Venus: The Many Afterlives of Alvenia Bridges” recounts how Smith came to write the memoirs of Bridges and why her story matters. Both a tour through Bridges’ photo archive and a reflection on the ways Bridges navigated rock’s misogynoir while working as the Rolling Stones’ tour manager, Smith’s video highlights how twentieth century race and gender politics shaped black women’s contributions to the music industry. Our first parade of videos concludes with Emily Margot Gale’s “Stolen Youth: Orphan Songs and Abolition.” Studying nineteenth-century white folk singer Abby Hutchinson’s repertoire of songs about orphaned children in the context of her abolitionist activism, Gale explores the “possibilities and limits of empathetic engagement” across racial difference. Be on the lookout for a call for video presentations to feature in future issues of JPMS!
Our first two peer-reviewed articles are about looking back in time. John Stratton’s “Disco Before Disco: dancing and popular music in the 1960s and 1970s in England” studies the music played in English dance clubs as recorded music came to replace live bands and argues that the transformations this music underwent set the stage for the rise of Eurodisco. Jumping ahead to contemporary nostalgia-driven genres of electronic music, Paul Ballam Cross’s “Reconstructed Nostalgia: Aesthetic Commonalities and Self-Soothing in Chillwave, Synthwave, and Vaporwave” argues that these genres prioritize an explicitly artificial form of nostalgia that allows listeners to collectively (mis)reminisce about a past that looks and sounds more soothing and peaceful than it actually was. Shifting analytics from time to place, Jelena Gligorijević’s “Nation Branding in Two Major Serbian Music Festivals, Exit and Guča” argues that the marketing of these two music festivals exemplifies how the leveraging of “Serbia” as a brand often fails at its attempt to remake the nation’s image as fully European rather than Balkanized. In “Is stage-gay queerbaiting? The politics of performative homoeroticism in emo bands,” Judith Fathallah digs into the epistemic assumptions about queerness, reality, and authenticity that inform common criticisms of “stage gay”—a type of “queer performativity onstage by straight performers.” And finally, Ruth E. Rosenberg’s “Perfect Pitch: 432 Hz Music and the Promise of Frequency” is an ethnographic study of contemporary advocates of the idea that concert pitch should be re-tuned from 440 Hz to 432 Hz because the latter is more healing and therapeutic, which frames the practice in terms of contemporary self-care and wellness discourse.
The book reviews section takes up work by both rising stars and established popular music studies scholars. In a review essay, John Morgan O’Connell brings together three books on music, extremism, and violence: Lisa Gilman’s My Music, My War: The Listening Habits of U.S. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jonathan Pieslak’s Radicalism and Music: An Introduction to the Music Cultures of al-Qa’ida, Racist Skinheads, Christian-Affiliated Radicals, and Eco-Animal Rights Militants, and Benjamin R. Teitelbaum’s Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism. O’Connell uses the figure of the free radical—a volatile and highly reactive unpaired electron—to thematize the ways these books describe music’s functions in violent and extremist contexts. According to Paul Rekret, Kyle Devine’s Decomposed: A Political Ecology of Music is a valuable tool for thinking about music as an “extractive industry,” but its framing of materiality risks “obscuring the relations of power that condition the very processes he seeks to understand.” Shana L. Redmond finds that Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest exhibits the “hoped-for genius of a cultural memoir” in its use of the hip crew’s evolution to frame a broader reflection on the past 40 years of American history. Morgan James Luker’s review of K. T. Goldschmitt’s Bosso Mundo: Brazilian Music In Transnational Media Industries praises the book’s methodological focus on what music does over what it means or represents, and its attention to detail in analyzing the musical and audiovisual dimensions of “Brazil” as a brand. For Nomi Dave, Mark Katz’s Build: The Power of Hip Hop Diplomacy in a Divided World is most persuasive in its depiction and discussion of the “subversive complicity” hip hop artists across the globe use in their engagement with the U.S. Government’s hip hop diplomacy program. And finally, Marlen Rios-Hernandez argues that the central contribution of Vivien Goldman’s Revenge of the She-Punks: A Feminist Music History from Poly Styrene to Pussy Riot is its call to consider how “genealogies of feminist music history can be produced that responsibly account for women of color and still incorporate white women.”
It is our sincere hope that by the time this issue is published in spring 2021, the past year’s losses will have abated and we can begin to build anew. In the meantime, there’s the first all-virtual IASPM-US meeting to look forward to in May, where we can spend some long-overdue time together.