Notes 60.2 (2003) 428-431
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Settling the Pop Score: Pop Texts and Identity Politics. By Stan Hawkins. (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series.) Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2002. [xiv, 220 p. ISBN 0-7546-0351-2. $79.95 (hbk.); ISBN 0-7546-0352-0. $29.95 (pbk.).] Music examples, bibliography, index.
Stan Hawkins's book is one of a spate of monographs about popular music either recently published or forthcoming. Many of the authors share the conviction that meaning in music can be approached only by considering the music's context and claim that a work of art can be understood only by taking into account its social, historical, and political circumstances. Simply put, it is impossible to speak of "the music [End Page 428] itself," because any analytical choices we make are necessarily reflective of the political and cultural imperatives operative in our society. Drawing heavily from literary theory, the so-called "new musicology" originally arose as a new set of tools for examining Western art music and questioning certain aspects previously accepted as givens. The dawn of new musicology coincided with a growing scholarly interest in popular music and this music—given its marked differences from art music in content, production, distribution, and reception—seemed to demand new analytical methodologies. With Settling the Pop Score, Hawkins aligns himself with this tradition.
The book is divided into six chapters: an introduction and case studies on Madonna, Morrissey, Annie Lennox, the Pet Shop Boys, and Prince. With the exception of chapter 3 on Morrissey, all of the other chapters rework and expand to some degree journal articles written by the author in the 1990s. Hawkins is concerned primarily with how these artists have challenged the stereotypes of sexuality and gender roles in society using pop music as a vehicle of expression, and attempts to illustrate specifically the ways in which they have done this. He also argues for a more active role for the listener in creating the identity of the performer.
Calling attention to poststructuralist approaches to musicology that started in the 1980s and flourished in the following decade (cultural studies, feminism, gay and lesbian studies, etc.), Hawkins asserts: "I would suggest then that reading the pop text be based on a degree of subjectivity and perception of criticism from a variety of standpoints" (p. 7). This seems like a reasonable position, except for the fact that the author's tolerance for various standpoints does not extend to traditional musical theory analyses of pop songs based only in that which he terms the "straitjacket of music analytic formalism" (p. 37). While this phrase in its context may be a mere rhetorical flourish, it is indicative of Hawkins's uncomfortable ambivalence toward formal harmonic analyses and other traditional approaches: "Although I cannot deny the derivation of my analytic methods from the discipline of European-based musicology..." (p. 7). Who is asking him to deny it? Many of his arguments about the music are based on a harmonic analysis of the songs. If the purpose of theory and analysis is to better understand the music, then there should be no reason to be apologetic for employing its methods. Acknowledging the need for context- dependent cultural analysis need not necessarily negate the value of theory altogether. In fact, one of Hawkins's more convincing arguments about the creative use of banality has to do with the melodies and chord progressions that the Pet Shop Boys have used (p. 145 ex. 5.3) and many examples in the book include the harmony with the melody.
Theory can tell us much about part of the picture. In his book Constructing Musicology (Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2001), Alastair Williams posits the following about the value of theory: "Voice-leading graphs, when released from dogma, can bring to attention conflicting or ambiguous processes in music and need not marginalize moments that refuse to be contained by the whole form" (p. 33). The point is that, like cultural or feminist studies, formal harmonic or voice leading analyses contribute to a greater understanding of the music. Hawkins argues...