Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Kultur als dritte Kraft neben Politik und Wirtschaft?

Investigating gender roles, ready-made images and effects of female pop icons

Suna Suner (Universität Wien)



Pop music, as well as pop culture, has been an imported product from the producer USA to the rest parts of the world, including Europe. In this sense, it might not be wrong to suggest that pop music is a set of USA produced-dominated cultural dynamics which are represented, pretended and imitated, on a socio-cultural, as well as on an economic level by the European pop music landscape.

It could be suggested that there are 2 crucial points of investigation for a clear discussion of the issue: initially, it is important to clarify the particular era of pop music which is to be analyzed. Secondly, it is also of crucial emphasis how, and in which terms pop music is defined and categorized; because for a long time in cultural history, pop was the general name given to almost all the musical genres -including musicals, jazz, blues, gospel, soul, R&B, and even to a certain extent, Musiktheater in the German sense- other than the western classical music which has been the epitome of the so-called mainstream high-culture. Of course in our times, this does not seem to be the case, and all musical genres once regarded generally as pop, have already been not only distinguished among themselves, but also categorized into many other new sub-genres in their own right.

The female issue regarding pop music in the context of gender roles, doubtlessly is interrelated within a diverse set of other disciplines, fields and phenomena, among which are performance studies, economy, socio-cultural gender roles, gender studies, women's emancipation, sexual revolution, the male gaze over the female (in this context, the female singer) as the sole object of desire, male dominated music business, marketing strategies, image-making, the operation of record labels and so on.

Regarding the above academic fields, disciplines and phenomena and referring to female gender and performance theoreticians such as J. Butler, de Bouvoire, R. Schneider, C. Paglia, P. Phelan among others, it is doubtlessly an exciting occasion to investigate the gender roles, ready-made images and the effects (definitely on artistic and on social levels) of female pop icons and figures as controversial and as contradictory as Björk, Patricia Kaas, Rebekka Bakken, Joss Stone, or the 2004 Eurovision winner Roxana from Ukraine, among others; and to consider these pop figures in their relations to the male dominated USA pop (and the like) music scene (MTV, Grammy, etc.), and in relation to prominent American icons like Madonna, Kylie, Britney, Alicia Keys, etc. who are the products of, and carrying behind a huge legacy of American female-made blues, gospel, jazz, soul, Rhythm & Blues (with reference to the 60s & 70s Motown label - Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Tina Turner, etc.) and pop, performed and produced under the wings of the American male-dominated music and show-bizness.

Simply look at how the new celebrity in the European opera-diva scene, Anna Netrebko, is employing marketing strategies and self-presentation techniques which, definitely do not fit to the regular code of conduct of European opera circles, but which are overtly the manners and the image which we all are accustomed to experiencing in the images, self-presentation and the marketing of European and American female pop icons. Or, just remember a few days ago the political campaign event of Angela Merkel in Dortmund: the ever legendary hit by the ever legendary Rolling Stones, despite all reactions by the Rolling Stones themselves, served the nationalist-patriot-chancellor-candidate Merkel's own campaign: "ANGIE! ANGIE! [...] WITH NO LOVIN' IN OUR SOULS, AND NO MONEY IN OUR COATS!"

With the above event on TV and in newspapers, we all witnessed, in a sense, how the whole issue could be turned upside down, and a German female political figure from the right -wing could willingly make benefit from the song of a British band with a high-level of testosterone, for 40 years belonging to the male-powered-dominated pop business, imported, again, from the USA.

What a socio-political contradiction! - or maybe, - What a coincidence!

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005 I

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-11-26