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Forever Young: Popular Music and Youth Across the Ages

2020 MoPOP Pop Conference

April 23-26, 2020

Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle WA


There is no pop music without youth, and no youth without pop music.

Across multiple generations and eras across the globe, "the youth" have been regarded as a troublesome, paradigm-shifting force in both music and politics. Music has been the medium of youthful dissent, from rock, punk, hip-hop, and metal, to the most “bubblegum” expressions of pop by artists whose value has been diminished because of their appeal to broad constituencies of girls, queer people, and people of color. This year’s pop conference invites an exploration and celebration of youth across the ages, from different locations and disparate contexts, listening with intensity to what is behind the urgent call we’ve heard from multiple artists to remain “forever young.” Who gets to have a youth? And whose music gets to represent youth, only to be wistfully remembered later, while other youthful sounds are deemed dangerous or stunted? We invite proposals related, but not limited to the topics below, and we encourage alternative and creative presentation formats beyond the typical conference paper.

Songs of Innocence & Experience — How are musical expressions of innocence and experience taken up or assigned depending on an artist’s race, gender, sexuality, class and nationality?; To what extent do artists instrumentalize or prey upon youth and youth cultures with the promise of “experience” and other advancements?; How is youth sexualized in pop music, and by whom and to what ends?; What sonic tensions, frissons, and fantasies come to the fore in songs about youth and sexual prowess/availability?; How do boy bands and girl bands negotiate the fraught process of sexual maturity?

Rebellion & Revolution — How has the concept of “youth rebellion” coalesced in the contemporary moment, as well as in previous musical eras?; What expressions of rebellion are lionized while others are deemed suspicious?; How have global revolutionary movements been driven by youth?; How are different musical genres adopted into anti-institutional, anti-nationalist soundtracks of youthful rebellion in a range of global sites?; How do we track Gen Z’s sexual revolution? (a recent study that found that only 48% of 13-20 year-olds identified as exclusively heterosexual, compared to 65% of the generation before them); Whose rebellions are deemed quiet, and whose are heard out loud?

Just a Phase — How are our youthful attachments and desires to music limited to the concept of “going through a phase”?; How do artists employ the phase and various transformations through styles to stay relevant to youth culture?; Are counter-cultural politics, styles, musics deemed as “just a phase,” or do they carry the potential for enduring transformations?; In what ways have child artists decided to break from their youthful personae to craft a more “mature” sound?; How is pop music at the forefront of sexual fluidity, queerness, and sexual revolutions that may endure long beyond a so-called “phase”?; What is “youth” and do we need to reconsider these boundaries as the benchmarks for maturity constantly shift or become impossible, from marriage, to the “child-bearing years,” to homeownership, to career security, etc.?

Technologies of Youth — How have different technologies of listening and music-making enabled young people to make and distribute music in unexpected ways?; How have listening, collecting and fandom been modified by technologies across different eras?; How is technology pathologized because of its association with youthful consumption and “attention deficits”?; What improvisations have the youth brought to musical technologies and playing music in public space (e.g. playing music from your phone at a party and putting it in a cup for volume, using tinny laptop speakers, broken earphones, scratched tapes, cd-mixes, and bootleg copies, splitting earphones so you can listen with a friend)?

All Ages Welcome — What are some of the locations, venues, and scenes in which youth cultures have been given room to flourish?; What are youth-run spaces, labels, ventures that have changed the game?; What are the histories of spaces “occupied,” taken over, squatted by youth?; How does pop music enable creating chosen families, affiliations, groups, gangs and misfits, as well as “safe-spaces” for youth in LGBT+ communities/communities of color?; What virtual spaces are forged in gaming forums, chat-rooms, and other networked all-ages spaces online? 

Stuck on Youth — What generations have seized upon/commodified the notion of youth in commemoration of themselves?; How do we get stuck in the music of our younger days, forever looped into nostalgia and longing?; When does musical discovery end--and do we ever “age out”?; When do we become “too old and creepy” to listen to something made for youthful audiences, or to go to certain shows?; What does it mean to “Stan” for the music of our youth, no matter how undeveloped or embarrassing our taste once might have been?; What might getting stuck on a particular era, sound, artist, or song tell us about the experience of listening in general?;  What kinds of pleasures does returning to that younger self afford us? What can pop music tell us more generally about what it means to experience and listen to our younger selves through the present?

Prodigies — How has popular music rivaled the classical world with prodigious talents?; Are prodigies “real,” or manufactured by the culture industry?; What role have music programs at public schools played in the cultivation of young musical talent?; What private systems of patronage or crowdsourced fundraising have emerged to foster young musical talent, and burgeoning careers?; How has the concept of the prodigy shifted from composers to performers, musicians, and now producers?

Proposals are due Monday, November 25 at 11:59PM. Individual proposals for 20-minute presentations should be 300 words, with a 75-word bio. For three-person (90-minute) or four-person (120-minute) panel proposals, include a one-paragraph overview and individual statements of 300 words with a 75-word bio. For roundtables, outline the subject in up to 500 words, include a 75-word bio for each panelist, and specify desired panel length. We welcome unorthodox proposals as well. Please include emails, titles, and affiliations for all participants. Incomplete submissions will not be accepted. Please note that this year, submissions are limited to one paper proposal per person (this includes individual proposals and panels, though you may also participate in a roundtable and/or informal presentation format).

Pop Conference 2020 Fees

Pop Con Presenters

$50 flat rate — includes access to all conference sessions and keynote

General Public


$75 General Admission
$60 MoPOP members and students


$40 General Admission
$35 MoPOP members and students

Registration for presenters will open in early January.


The annual MoPOP Pop Conference, first held in 2002, mixes together ambitious music discourse of every kind in an attempt to bring academics, critics, musicians, and dedicated fans into a collective conversation.

2020 Program Committee Members: Hanif Abdurraqib (writer and cultural critic), Raquel Gutiérrez (writer, performer), Gerrick Kennedy (Los Angeles Times), Summer Kim Lee (Dartmouth College), Iván Ramos (University of Maryland), Robert Rutherford (Museum of Pop Culture), Doreen St. Felix (The New Yorker), Karen Tongson (University of Southern California), J.D. Samson (musician, NYU Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music), RJ Smith (author), and Oliver Wang (CSU Long Beach).