“Resilience & Melancholy–Post-feminist Pop & Its Discontents” by Robin James

by Jessica Dilday on January 26, 2015

My new book Resilience & Melancholy: pop music, feminism, & neoliberalism is about the politics and aesthetics of post-feminist pop music. Resilience–the practice of extracting surplus value from damage or crisis–is the ideal that informs both contemporary Western ideals about femininity and musical pleasure. As I say on the back cover, “When most people think that “little girls should be seen and not heard,” a noisy, riotous scream can be revolutionary. But that’s not the case anymore. (Cis/Het/White) Girls aren’t supposed to be virginal, passive objects, but Poly-Styrene-like sirens who scream back in spectacularly noisy and transgressive ways as they “Lean In.”” White supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist society expects women to roar, and it expects us to like hearing them roar.

In post-feminist pop music, the lyrics focus on women’s overcoming of the damage patriarchy inflicts on them–negative body image, “controlling images” (stereotypes), etc. The music similarly manifests resilience, often in the form of the musical gesture called “the soar,” which I argue is a sonic analogue for shock-doctrine style capitalism. The tape begins with white feminist approaches to resilience and ends with black feminist and queer responses to resilience discourse. It also begins from a pretty peppy pop place and ends in deeper, more dance-oriented grooves. I’ll leave it to the listeners to figure out whether that correlation between politics and aesthetics is a coincidence or not.

This songs on this mixtape are mainly songs I discuss in the book. Like the book, the mixtape traces the contours of post-feminist pop, and considers both paradigmatic examples and notable counter-examples, critiques, and responses. But the mixtape can do things the book can’t: it can reveal sonic relationships, patterns, and practices that theory might not be the best medium for examining. And whereas a theorist would tell you what those relationships, patterns, and practices are, a DJ leaves that up to her listeners to hear and discover themselves.

I left the songs relatively unaltered, and didn’t do a lot of painstaking mixing. First, so that we can more accurately assess the ideological and aesthetic work these songs do as most people hear them in everyday life, we should hear the songs in their most commonly-consumed forms. Thus, I took a more curatorial approach to the mixtape, one that focused on setting the musical objects in the right light, and in the right arrangement with other objects, so that interesting features and relationships emerge from the arrangement. Second, because the songs were chosen primarily for their social and ideological meaning (and not for specific musical features), the tempo variation among the songs is more than I have the time or chops to transform into some carefully cross-faded mix.

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Robin James is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte. She is author of two books: Resilience & Melancholy: pop music, feminism, and neoliberalism will be published by Zer0 books in February 2015, and The Conjectural Body: gender, race and the philosophy of music was published by Lexington Books in 2010. Her work on feminism, race, contemporary continental philosophy, pop music, and sound studies has appeared in The New Inquiry, Noisey, SoundingOut!, Hypatia, differences, Contemporary Aesthetics, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies. She is also a digital sound artist and musician, and often works as a member of citation:obsolete. She blogs at its-her-factory.com and is a regular contributor to Cyborgology & xcphilosophy.

Track Listing:
Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass
Taylor Swift – Shake It Off
Lady Gaga (feat. Beyonce) – Telephone
Beyonce (feat. Lady Gaga) – Video Phone
Miley Cyrus – We Can’t Stop
Katy Perry- This Is How We Do
Rihanna – Pour It Up
Diplo & Grandtheft – Sweet Nothing remix
The Bottoms – My Body
Nicki Minaj – Anaconda

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