Friday, December 17, 2021

Kai Arne Hansen's "Pop Masculinities"

Kai Arne Hansen is Associate Professor of Music in the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences. He is co-editor of On Popular Music and Its Unruly Entanglements (2019, with Nick Braae) and Popular Musicology and Identity: Essays in Honour of Stan Hawkins (2020, with Eirik Askerøi and Freya Jarman), and he currently serves as editor-in-chief of the Norwegian Journal of Musicology. His research spans the topics of popular music and identity, gender and sexuality, contemporary media, audiovisual aesthetics, and children's musical cultures.

Hansen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Pop Masculinities: The Politics of Gender in Twenty-First Century Popular Music, and reported the following:
Pop Masculinities investigates the many ways in which gender identity is inflected through pop performances. Page 99 takes us to the final two paragraphs of the conclusion of Chapter 3, which addresses Lil Nas X’s musical eclecticism and queer iconography in relation to racialized genre boundaries:
His example demonstrates the potential of pop culture for fostering and promoting what [Roderick] Ferguson has described as “historical evidence of queer and trans capacities to think and live beyond the gender, sexual, racial, and class prescriptions of the world that we have inherited” (2019, 7). Ferguson is concerned with the historical importance of activist groups for the advancement of intersectional and multidimensional queer struggles, but the argument is readily extended to encompass the significance of pop personae as cultural validations of marginalized subject positions. If, as Ferguson suggests, dominant interpretations of the struggle for gay rights as single-mindedly focused on sexual freedom have “helped to conceal the historical and political complexity of queer liberation” (8), Lil Nas X has brought renewed attention to the intersectional politics of queer pop expressions.

I want to conclude by restating the point that the black cowboy masculinity and country trap aesthetics that Lil Nas X presents in Old Town Road reinstate the black cowboy figure within American history and raise public consciousness about the role of African American performers in the development of country music. As an avenue of cultural resistance this process is closely entwined with his queering of cowboy imagery across a range of contexts, which reframes the movie by encouraging queer readings. In this way, the masculine configurations that are highlighted in Lil Nas X’s creative output make visible the gendered, racial, and sexual diversities that are suppressed in dominant accounts of the past, not to mention the present and the future.
This excerpt does indeed shed some light on how pop artists’ representations of identity are implicated in broader cultural circumstances and developments, in the sense that pop performances are simultaneously influenced by and have influence on the societies of which they form part. Inquiring into this state of affairs through the lens of masculinity engenders critique of pop music’s role in constricting and expanding possible ways of expressing and experiencing gender. The performative force of the creative employment of musical sound is at the core of these processes, even if the meanings attributed to songs and music videos must be understood as intimately connected with the artist’s articulation of identity through other channels (artwork, interviews, social media +++) and shaped by audiences’ subjective interpretations of the wealth of material that is available to them. While the content on page 99 does hint at the complexity of studying the performance and reception of masculinity in pop music contexts, however, it does not fully reveal my two principal ambitions for the book: 1) that it further denaturalizes gender by explicating various relationships between the aesthetic, discursive, and narrative processes from which representations of gender identity emerge; and 2) that it highlights the ways in which enactments of gender in pop tend to ambiguously uphold and subvert social norms and divisions. The critical study of gender is as important as ever during a period of time that is considered by many as characterized by significant upheaval or positive social change, given that conservative gender ideology and its attendant power relations have the capacity to persist even within seemingly new cultural paradigms. My hope is that Pop Masculinities provides readers with new insights into the chaotic state of gender politics in our time and encourages them to consider how music is implicated in their own understandings and experiences of gender.
Learn more about Pop Masculinities at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue