Thursday, September 24, 11:00am - 11:30am (Live Discussion of Asynchronous Presentations)
Youth, Sex & Boredom
- Bella Swan Listens to Muse: 2000s Girl Culture and the Amplification of Indie Rock, Morgan Bimm (York University)
- Altering One’s Aspect to the Sun’: Feminist Perspectives on Aging in the Industry, Paula Propst (producer)
- “Take that, Tipper Gore”: Alanis Morissette, Suburban Youth, and the Politics of Consumer-Friendliness, H. Megumi Orita (UNC Chapel Hill)
- Bored This Way: Adolescent Ennui in Punk Songwriting, Elizabeth Lindau (Cal State Long Beach)
Bella Swan Listens to Muse: 2000s Girl Culture and the Amplification of Indie Rock, Morgan Bimm (York University)
In this presentation I argue that it is possible to read the overwhelmingly indie soundtracks of mid-2000’s ‘girly’ franchises as an attempt to elevate or add cultural value to the ‘lowbrow’ genre of feminized media texts. If we understand mid-2000s indie music as a genre defined by its proximity to a particular kind of culturally literate, white, middle-class, straight masculinity, we can posit the deliberate curation of, for instance, the Twilight saga’s (2008-2012) indie-heavy soundtracks as a strategic distancing from the feminized, faddish, even “abject” popular (Cook 2001). Pairing indie music with these types of texts can thus be read as a strategic move to lend teen dramas and vampire love triangles, long the domain of teenage girls, a certain degree of legitimacy that exists in tension with the associative or affective role of similar music in male-coded coming of age films such as 2004’s Garden State. Given the role that mid-2000s film and TV soundtracks played in shaping young audiences’ musical tastes (arguably unmatched until the advent of streaming services), the deliberate pairing of masculinist indie rock with girls’ cultural texts also ironically led to the mainstreaming of indie rock and a perceived erosion of the very authenticity that gave the genre such sweeping cultural capital in the first place. How has the legitimizing power of masculinist indie music interacted with ‘girlier’ media objects to reproduce particular truths about girls and youth? Can we reconcile the documented derision of 2000s girl culture (Wald 2002, Genz and Brabon 2009, Swindle 2011, MacDowell 2017) with girl audiences’ consistently excellent taste? And how might we hold space for the stories of those girls who view mid-2000s indie soundtracks as their invitation into music fandom (Gilke 2018) without further reifying the cultural hierarchies that reproduce ‘girly’ media texts as historically and unequivocally ‘uncool’?
Altering One’s Aspect to the Sun’: Feminist Perspectives on Aging in the Industry, Paula Propst (producer)
“If Brittany can make it through 2007, I can make it through this day,” were words emblazoned on a popular meme made around 2007-2009. A paparazzi picture of Brittany Spears’ growling face and freshly-shaven head captured the older teenage pop princess in one of the darkest periods of her life. Many people would say, “What happened?!” However, most women could respond, “I get it.” For someone like Spears, a child star still in the spotlight at the time, media responses are most certainly brutal. These responses, however, are thrown at most women in popular music. Others face similar backlash to changes in their behavior and their bodies – whether that be through mental instability, body weight fluctuations, gender presentation and/or identity, or simply the natural process of aging such as grey hair and wrinkles. However, the acceptable gender presentation of women, girls, and queer individuals, especially those identifying and/or presenting as feminine, are traditionally so strict that many performers eventually react, sometimes in similar ways to Spears. This paper examines the strict cultural codes of behavior and body image forced onto femme/feminine bodies and how these codes overlap with musical performance through an analytical lens of youth culture, gerontology, and intersectional feminism. Are women or girls young enough? Cute enough? Thin enough? Sexy enough? 'Feminine' enough? Body politics play a major role in the acceptance of feminine presentation or performance in the music industry due to these strict measures of marketability, and some performers may fear “ageing out.” Further, this paper explores contemporary shifts in these cultural codes and the changing marketing strategies that now fit into the current social justice-oriented society.
“Take that, Tipper Gore”: Alanis Morissette, Suburban Youth, and the Politics of Consumer-Friendliness, H. Megumi Orita (UNC Chapel Hill)
“Of course, a square-inch of sticker didn’t stop Alanis from selling 13 million records […] Take that, Tipper Gore,” writes Flavorwire’s Jillian Mapes. The 1995 commercial success of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill amid the nascent Parental Advisory Label shows that, even with increased supervision, US girls listened—and were allowed to listen—to Jagged, which addressed topics like assault and anorexia. Jagged articulated new public narratives of girlhood, which could reach and empower a wide population of US girls thanks to Morissette’s consumer-friendly sound and image. Yet, aspects of Jagged’s commercial appeal were used to undermine its impact as Morissette faced criticism for performing feminist music that lacked apparent calls-to-action. In this paper, I argue that Morissette’s commercial appeal does not negate her music’s political saliency, but can be understood as a political tool that helped her traverse the boundaries of 1990s suburban censorship and present middle-class girls with alternative feminist practices in which they could viably participate. This music was a salient medium for highly politicized identity construction for a spotlighted US youth demographic—suburban, white girl listeners between the ages of ten and eighteen. These listeners’ individual engagement with politics through pop music resulted in a politicized girl identity, which changed mainstream socio-political discourse on girlhood. I first interpret Morissette’s music and image in the context of 1990s US suburban anxieties about popular music and youth, proposing that this confluence of consumer-friendliness and political music constituted a gainful socio-political strategy. Next, I analyze fans’ responses to Morissette through Adriana Cavarero’s theories of narrative to re-frame girls’ activism to include private practices accessible to middle-class teenage girls. Finally, I contextualize Morissette within a greater musical-political context, examining the present-day impact and application of commercial musics that bring narratives of girlhood to the attention of mainstream US socio-political discourse.
Bored This Way: Adolescent Ennui in Punk Songwriting, Elizabeth Lindau (Cal State Long Beach)
The soundtrack to the Netflix teen drama _13 Reasons Why_ features Billie Eilish’s 2017 single “Bored.” In the song’s chorus, the sixteen-year-old pop phenom listlessly repeats the words “bored, I’m so bored.” While Eilish’s lyrics complain of a tedious person (also known as a “bore”), generalized boredom is supposedly endemic to modern young adulthood. Psychological studies claim that teenagers are especially prone to boredom by virtue of their underdeveloped attention spans, feelings of confinement at home and in school, limited freedom of choice, inadequate stimulation, and stifling adult oversight. Boredom may precipitate delinquent, depressive, or self-destructive behaviors: it is no coincidence that Eilish’s song appeared in a television series about teen suicide. Even among adults, being easily bored is seen as juvenile—a sign of emotional immaturity.
This presentation surveys adolescent boredom as a topic of popular song since the 1970s. This mundane emotional state is central to punk rock in particular. Artists like the Buzzcocks (“Boredom” ), Iggy Pop (“I’m Bored” from New Values ), and Destroy All Monsters (“Bored” ) have recorded songs either depicting or expressing boredom. Teenagers appear as bored subjects in the Ramones’ debut album, where under-stimulation leads to thrill-seeking (“now I wanna sniff some glue / all the kids want somethin’ to do”). “Bored Teenagers” (1978), an anthem of collective ennui by the London-based Adverts, now lends its title to a twelve-volume UK punk anthology. With “nothing better to do,” Bad Religion declared themselves “Bored and Extremely Dangerous” (2000). More recently, The Suburban Homes’ _. . . Are Bored_ EP (2016) expresses contempt for provincialism through songs like “Cul de Sac” and “Small Town Boredom.” Punk’s aggressive music is juxtaposed against lyrics about the stultifying, the humdrum, and the indifferent. Collectively, these songs suggest that boredom might spawn self-expression rather than self-destruction.