- The British Pop Dandy: Masculinity, Popular Music and Culture
Stan Hawkins is perhaps best known for his scholarship on queer theory, identity, and expressions of masculinity in popular music, and his new book continues this line of inquiry to address the British pop dandy. The field of musicology in general is rapidly expanding to include new multidisciplinary methodologies particular to the study of popular music genres including gender and queer theory, performance studies, and vocal semiotics, and Hawkins' book engages these disciplines while situating his subject in a convincing historical and cultural context. His study follows a recent trend in scholarship examining representations of masculinity in popular music, including the essay collections Queering the Popular Pitch (ed. Sheila Whitely and Jennifer Rycenga [London: Routledge, 2006]), and Oh Boy!: Masculinities in Popular Music (ed. Freya Jarman-Ivens [London: Routledge, 2007]). Though Hawkins surveys several decades of popular music styles, applying a wide palette of analytical methods to his chosen musical texts, he reminds us that the ultimate role of the British pop dandy is to entertain.
After tracing the etymology of the word "dandy" itself, Hawkins begins his study by locating this problematic and politicized figure in a historical lineage beginning with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dandies such as Lord Byron, Charles Baudelaire, George Bryan "Beau" Brummel, and Barbey D'Aurevilly, progressing through Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, and Cecil Beaton, and finally addressing contemporary pop figures including, but not limited to, David Bowie, Adam Ant, Robbie Williams, Pete Doherty, Bryan Ferry, Morrissey, and The Kinks. Hawkins argues that in all these cases the dandy is a product of intricate social, political, and cultural mechanisms, one that redefines gender norms through vocal style, fashion, public display, camp, and theatricality. He also contests that pop—with its emphasis on spectacle and the visual display of the body—is the only musical genre through which the dandy can be described or defined. "Dandy" is a nebulous and malleable term, Hawkins admits. The artists he chooses to address embody the categories that contextualize them, and are often performers who exhibit instability and create paradox. Hawkins ambitiously engages and analyzes vocal timbre, moments of agency, production techniques, fashion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, image, and semiotics in describing and defining the British pop dandy.
Building on the pathbreaking work of gender and queer theorist Judith Butler and feminist musicologist Susan McClary, Hawkins continues his discussion to matters [End Page 103] of style and subversion in chapter 2, framing the dandy as a spectacular persona through iconographic trends in British fashion and music. Fashion, gesture, recording technology, genre, music video, live concert performances, television appearances, and other "audio-visual texts" hold clues as to how pop identities are formed. It is in this section that Hawkins asks the important question: "How is British pop dandyism framed by traditions that raise questions of subjectivity and spectacularity?" (p. 42). The dandy constructs himself for the enjoyment of others and, according to Baudelaire, through temperament. Beginning with 1960s British Mod culture and fashion as paralleled in the music of The Kinks, Hawkins quickly progresses to 1970s Glam rock and culture, analyzing the powerful music video for David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes." Hawkins succinctly likens the dandy to dissident masculinity, a construction that articulates gender through nonverbal aural and visual signifiers.
Continuing his discussion in chapter 2 from another vantage point, chapter 3 again profiles the dandy according to spectacularity by analyzing both songs and music videos. Here Hawkins introduces a subject he will later take up in earnest in chapter 5—the voice. Voices are gendered, and part of the allure of the pop singer is the perception that, as Hawkins states, "the voice is always vulnerable, offering the promise of intimacy" (p. 85). This chapter explores issues of naturalness, authenticity, and sincerity in the pop dandy's performance through lyrical, visual, and aural conceits of hyperbole, extravagance, excess, and contradiction. Performances by Morrissey, the Pet Shop Boys, Adam...