Notes 59.2 (2002) 320-323
[Access article in PDF]
Disruptive Divas: Feminism, Identity and Popular Music. By Lori Burns and Melisse Lafrance. (Studies in Contemporary Music and Culture.) New York: Routledge, 2002. [xix, 255 p. ISBN 0-8153-3553-9. $85 (hbk.); ISBN 0-8153-3554-7. $24.95 (pbk.).] Bibliography, index.
As an academic with a shared interest in popular music, feminism, and identity, I am always intrigued by new publications in the field. For a start, they are certainly needed. Popular music is still a relatively new area of study, and international publishing houses such as Routledge have been instrumental in creating a vital source of informative texts for researchers and students alike. It is also encouraging to see that musical texts, rather than sociological critiques, are becoming the focus of investigation. Again, this is a relatively new development and a welcome intervention for students of popular musicology. For those of us who situate music (live or recorded) at the center of our research, we also know how problematic this can be. Lyrics and transcriptions are subject to copyright restrictions and, as such, researchers cannot always rely on fair use; they have to obtain permission from the holders of copyright—not always the artist—and as I know to my cost, this can be refused. Having negotiated these problems, Burns's and Lafrance's Disruptive Divas is now the sixth book to appear in the series "Studies in Contemporary Music and Culture" edited by Joseph Auner of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
It is obvious from the outset that both Lori Burns and Melisse Lafrance have a clear sense of purpose. They avoid grand or universal modes of theorizing, disrupting, and destabilizing dominant discourses, norms, values, disciplinary mores, and conjectural boundaries through a "transdisciplinary approach," combing sociocultural and musicological perspectives (p. xii). This is achieved by each author using "the other's analytical engagement with the text as a yardstick for the salience and legitimacy of her own discussion" (p. xiii). With regard to the actual writing, the "analyses are kept relatively discrete," ensuring that the reader knows "who is 'speaking' at any given point" (p. xiii). There are both strengths and weaknesses to this approach. On the positive side, it allows students to study and discuss two different analytical approaches within a shared framework: a particular song by a particular artist. It also allows those without a specialized knowledge of musical analysis, for example, to be selective. The substantial introductions by the two authors also provide a useful insight into the theoretical perspectives and interpretative methodologies of cultural studies and popular musicology, a useful [End Page 320] section in its own right. Clearly, such an approach relates to the individual positions of the two authors, but I have to admit that I prefer the more integrated approach characteristic of contemporary popular musicology, despite the claim for "transdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration" (p. xiii).
As Richard Middleton observes (in Popular Culture: Understanding Pop Music [Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1997], 5): "There are many possible ways to study pop.... To some extent, you can if you wish specialize methodologically, but I'm convinced that you will do best if you try to bring together the different angles of approach, from musical studies, sociology, cultural theory, etc." Given this reservation, the issues and debates surrounding gender, sexualities and identities, and the artists chosen for analysis (Tori Amos, Courtney Love, Me'Shell NdegéoCello, P. J. Harvey) offer a rich diet for those with an interest in the disruptive potential of contemporary women in popular music. It is this shared interest in femininity, sexuality, desire, and the social relations of domination and subordination that provides a sense of coherence across the otherwise discrete sections of the book.
Both authors engage convincingly with feminist frameworks that are informed by theories of identity. As Lafrance explains, "the musicians included in this book were selected according to the extent to which they disrupted mass musical culture ... the musical expectations placed upon them by the mainstream media and the conventional listener" (p. 2).
Disruptive Divas comprises six...