Session/Séance 7e: IASPM Panel 2. Saturday/samedi 27 May 2017. 9:00AM - 10:30AM, EJB 216.
Queer Activism, Alternatives, and Romance
Moderator: CRAIG JENNEX (McMaster University)
1. “I Am Made of Love”: Representations and Celebrations of Queer Romance in the Music of Steven Universe
Alyssa Tremblay, Carleton University
Colloquially dubbed the “universal language,” music can convey complex thoughts and emotions in ways that resonate with listeners of all stripes. Through video and textual analysis, my paper examines how the Cartoon Network animated series Steven Universe employs music – a form of creative expression that has historically given those excluded from the dominant social discourse a platform to express themselves – to gently “out” queer female characters while subverting network censorship of same-sex relationships in shows aimed at young audiences. Steven Universe recounts the seaside adventures of a young boy named Steven and a trio of pastel-coloured warriors from outer space called the Crystal Gems as they fight to protect the Earth from being colonized by the powerful Gem Homeworld from which the Crystal Gems defected. The show is peppered with catchy musical numbers that offer insight into each character’s inner emotional state while also providing entry points into difficult topics relevant to its young audience, such as anxiety, self-esteem and love. Through these musical interludes, two major female- identifying characters express their feelings of unrequited love and forbidden love towards other female-identifying characters. Whereas the actions between these characters could already be read as implicitly queer, their character songs allow them to “come out without coming out” (to quote Wayne Koestenbaum), queering the pitch of the entire show and confirming the same-sex romance implied by its dialogue and visuals into the realm as explicit fact. By depicting the relatable emotional experiences of queer characters through song, Steven Universe gives queer and questioning youth a place to see themselves reflected while simultaneously encouraging non-queer youth to listen to and empathize with the experiences of queer persons.
Keywords: television studies, LGBTQIA, popular music, children’s cartoons, queer romance
2. “Queercore”: PWR BTTM and Sounding a Queer Alternative
Josh Hochman, University of California, San Diego
Queercore has undergone a number of changes since Bruce LaBruce’s original depiction. First coined in the Toronto- based zine J.D.s, queercore by LaBruce mixed images of punks with gay pornography to provide skinhead machismo and the aggressive sound of hardcore punk with a campy subtext. After this early moment, the performance of gender and sexuality in queercore would undergo a striking shift in aesthetics and politics. Contemporary queercore groups are now calling upon indie-rock to soundtrack their alterity. Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM, for example, derives his inspiration from “sissy indie rock” and stakes the queerness of his musical practice on an indie-kid’s thinking of musical amateurism as authenticity. The queering of indie-rock has facilitated my own queries into the reception history of nineties alternative musics, specifically centring on the topics of gender and sexuality. This paper draws from an interview conducted with Ben Hopkins during PWR BTTM’s Ugly Cherries tour. I interrogate the transformation of riot-grrrl’s twin dictums – smash the patriarchy and destroy capitalism – into a queer politics which leans on its own sissyness as a kind of feminism. I attend to PWR BTTM’s nineties nostalgia as being more critically thinking than restorative, re-imagining the queer potential of a critical moment in feminist-punk dialogues. Lastly, I propose that the unifying thread of queercore is the alternative space which it imagines, rather than any particular moment’s aesthetics or politics. The sound of queercore is difficult to define. Perhaps this is because “queercore,” most frequently, is invoked to describe a space for misfit, queer youth to convene. The space itself transcends the musical styles which it houses, consistently providing an alternative to queer capitalism and a place to belong outside the mainstreaming of queer identity.
Keywords: Queercore, 1990s popular music, interview ethnography, feminism, homonormativity
3. In Defense of Teenage Dreams: Katy Perry, Gay-Rights Activism, and Accusations of Emptiness
Eric Smialek, McGill University
Since 2010, Katy Perry has increased her political visibility, notably through the Trevor Project supporting gay rights and her endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Despite this activity, music journalism and scholarship has de-emphasized Perry’s personal agency when writing about her career. In scholarly articles, Perry becomes a product of neoliberalism (Clark 2014, James 2014a, 2014b), capitalism (Vesey 2015), and postfeminism (Walser 2015) rather than a contradictory and complex individual who deserves both admiration and critique. Musical discussions of her songs are often cursory and dismissive while her videos and lyrics usually receive a singular, authoritative interpretation that fits a critical theory. Without a more charitable appraisal of her work, grounded in the experiences of fans, scholarship risks diminishing her impact in popular culture and, I argue, reproducing the misogynistic discourses that critical theories ostensibly critique. My presentation demonstrates how Katy Perry’s gay-rights activism extends to her recordings and videos through pop-culture references that resonate with gay audiences. “Walking On Air” (2013) uses 1990s deep house and Eurodance to recall the atmosphere of ’90s circuit parties, lavish dance events for gay men. Its guest appearances from Sabina Ddumba and the Tensta Gospel Choir evoke “diva” performances expressive of gay identity since the disco era. “Peacock” (2010), which Perry intended as a gay- pride anthem (Pastorek 2010), captures a class-inflected, cruising mentality by drawing from campy cheerleader anthems such as Toni Basil’s “Mickey” (1982) and inner-city, dance fantasies (e.g. Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” , the Step Up films, the series So You Think You Can Dance). Given her investment in mass-media, commercial success, the song’s controversial reception with straight music critics raises questions about which audiences Perry prioritized. Ultimately, I argue that these songs, combined with Perry’s public activism, demonstrate a social consciousness and personal agency that Perry’s critics have yet to acknowledge.
Keywords: Katy Perry, gay rights, queer theory, genre, feminism