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Thursday, September 24, 10:00am - 11am (Panel)

Sad Girls & Sophisticates

  • “I was just 11 but at the time music was everything to me:” Musical Memories on “Sad YouTube,” Anastasia Howe-Bukowski (USC)
  • Sentimental Radicals, Misinterpellation, and the Promise of Minor Sounds, Runchao Liu (U of Minnesota)
  • I Was A Teenage Rockist: Revisiting Paramore’s *Riot!* Thirteen Years Later, Kate Grover (U of Texas, Austin)
  • Songs of Experience: Sophisti-pop’s Sighs Against Youth, Mina Tavakoli (NPR)

Presentation Descriptions


“I was just 11 but at the time music was everything to me:” Musical Memories on “Sad YouTube,” Anastasia Howe-Bukowski (USC)

Opening her 2016 essay for MTV News, "Better Off Alone: Mining the Depth of Eurodance Nostalgia," critic Meaghan Garvey quotes an emotionally flaying comment left by YouTube user phi h on the video for DJ Sammy's brash eurodance cover of Bryan Adams's "Heaven": "man it hurt to be young." Indeed, if one takes a dip in the incontrovertibly rough waters of YouTube's comments sections – replete with hate speech and trollish activity – small glimmers of vulnerability, sadness, and unsettling candor akin to phi h’s six word poem begin to emerge. Such is the emotional thrust of Montreal-based writer Mark Slutsky’s now-terminated online project “Sad YouTube” (2012-2015). Accumulating an archive of comments left on song videos, covering the ground from Styx to UK rave heroes LFO, “Sad YouTube” brings to the surface reflective “moments of melancholy, sadness and saudade” that unsuspectingly populate and subtly haunt these spaces below the frame.

Following Slutsky's claim that "you could write a Studs Terkel oral history of America culled entirely from YouTube comments on pop songs," this paper will plumb "Sad YouTube"'s archive for its numerous mentions and memorializations of youth. What does it suggest, for example, to develop the language to express “I was in a childrens home when this was put out in northern england (no im not bitter) i was just 11 but at the time music was evrything to me” as a comment in response to Freeez’s 1983 synth-banger “IOU”? And why take to such a public forum as YouTube, knowing full well it may get lost in the swell of comments about how music just isn’t what it used to be? Here, pop will be taken up as the projective content and sustaining material for deeply weird, sometimes regretful, and often nostalgic paeans to youth, heard as if played once again on the stereo in your teenage bedroom.


Sentimental Radicals, Misinterpellation, and the Promise of Minor Sounds, Runchao Liu (U of Minnesota)

A Pitchfork article titled “How Mitski and K Rizz are Debunking Asian Female Stereotypes in Music” comments that “the way Asian women are portrayed in music culture is no different from how they are stereotyped in the mainstream.” Media discourses such as this are a good reminder of the marginalization of and discrimination against women musicians as well as the significant overlooking of how women in the diaspora and Asian cultures have contributed to the radical and activist traditions of Western popular music. However, these discourses also exemplify a totalizing comprehension of Orientalism that I aim to challenge by situating it in the changing politics of counterculture and musical activism.

While always intersectional, Asian American women radicals in music/rock suffer conflicted instrumentalization that is unique in virtue of the anti-hegemonic legacy of this genre, making them an ambivalent symbol both for liberation and stagnation. This article explores the complications and liberating potentials of this conflictedness through spotlighting the neglected sounds of Asian American women at the intersections of rock music and queer/feminist movements.

Particularly, I focus on examining how sonic intimacy works to organize the minor sounds and, in doing so, their nonwhite gendered sound makers when incorporated into a larger countercultural scene. I show that accentuating Asian American women’s role is crucial for gaining a nuanced, accurate, and anti-hegemonic understanding of the gender and racial politics of radical sound-making. I further contend that, through the reordering of minor sounds, sonic intimacy can disrupt and counter disciplinary and interpellating power.


I Was A Teenage Rockist: Revisiting Paramore’s *Riot!* Thirteen Years Later, Kate Grover (U of Texas, Austin)

I can’t escape Paramore. The seminal aughts pop-punk outfit follows me everywhere these days, from a suggested video on my YouTube homepage to the Hard Rock Café soundtrack in the city I’m visiting for an academic conference. Ten-year-olds wear their t-shirts to the girls’ rock camp at which I volunteer. My Gen-Z students at UT Austin talk about them constantly. And to top it off, the monthly “emo nite” at my local bar keeps a Paramore cover band on retainer. With all this collected evidence, I have to ask: is it finally cool to like Paramore?

Part analytical essay, part autoethnography, part reportage, this paper considers Paramore’s longevity in twenty-first century youth culture. I revisit *Riot!* (2007), Paramore’s wildly successful sophomore album and my first encounter with the band, to highlight the simultaneous pleasures and embarrassments of returning to the music of our youths. As a woman-fronted rock band, Paramore was a revelation to girls, queer people, and others who felt alienated from the softboi emo scene. But when I was a teenager in the 2000s, I couldn’t bring myself to claim them. Was it their corny lyrics? Hayley Williams’s diva-esque vocals? Paramore’s presence on the *Twilight* soundtrack? Or was there something else, a deeper story about taste, belonging, and adolescent identity that continues into the present day? Uncovering this story means interrogating the past while exploring the complex relationships between Paramore and their young(ish) fans today.


Songs of Experience: Sophisti-pop’s Sighs Against Youth, Mina Tavakoli (NPR)

1985, Eton, United Kingdom. Thatcher is in office, the country is fresh off a post-industrial bottoming-out, and financial and sexual crises abound like car smog in hot rain.

Pop music had always been rife with showmanship, but it had never been like this before. Visions of camp and class identity coursed through the popular consciousness like pillars of a new religion, while top-billing artists of all stripes trafficked in varying degrees of glamour and gaud. In a genre now retroactively and unofficially termed ‘Sophisti-pop,’ artists like Prefab Sprout, Roxy Music, and The Style Council summed the soul of an era built on the willful suspension of naiveté in the pursuit of an ideal (both aesthetic and psychic) one could call ‘sophistication.’

The boys – and it remains a disproportionately lad-helmed genre – were typically gangly and unmuscled, but could pass as debonair in the right suit, a coiff, and a close-up. It used R&B, soul and jazz as ideological, rather than structural starting points, liquefying and creaming the genres down to suggestions and signifiers. It was a world of paeans, black fetishization, and literary objects of desire; it was an ekphrastic form that wrapped itself around music as a meta-text.

Who was Sophisti-pop for? What relationship did the practitioners have toward country, toward class, and toward power? In the otherwise dour framework of a Thatcherite Britain, Sophsiti-pop - educationally, socially, and aesthetically aspirant - signaled a new ideal, where the songs were of experience, not innocence; where youth was bottled, tabled, and performed as if from the vantage point of a life already lived. This paper and presentation will critically tweeze Sophisiti-pop - in all its gauche charm, overproduction, and dustings of cocaine - and frame it as a sleekly costumed rebellion not in the name of youth, but against it altogether.