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Reviewed by:
  • We Are the Champions: The Politics of Sports and Popular Music by Ken McLeod
  • Stephanie Salerno
McLeod, Ken. We Are the Champions: The Politics of Sports and Popular Music. Ashgate: Surrey, 2011. Pp. vii+227. Bibliography, notes, and index. $89.95 hb

The intersection of sport and popular music is so ubiquitous quite often one has to stop and really consider the breadth and depth of their relationship. Going beyond the obvious connections of fight songs or group anthems such as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” McLeod compiles an interesting, often surprising, and valuable history of how pop music of the twentieth century has inspired, shaped, and often commodified popular forms of sport. There are also numerous examples of how sport influenced musicians in their creative output. It is, in the simplest terms imaginable, a history of popular culture partnering up with popular culture. But that is reductionist and ignores the complexity of experiencing two extremely beloved pastimes—participating in the consumption of sport (either as a player or a spectator) and music making (as a listener, performer or even critic)--at once.

McLeod critically analyzes the relationship between music and sport through several different lenses, including identity formation and the body, the “sports-music business,” communal bonding, African-American masculinity, global communities, and various media such as television, video games, and film. The roles of men and women, both gay and straight, are considered and positioned according to their race, ethnicity and social class. The dominant hegemonic notions of the sport hero are often similar to those of the musician; the fight to achieve greatness, whether that is measured by gold medals or gold records, is often not without resistance from the mainstream due to racial tension, gender inequality, unrealistic expectations put upon the performer or athlete, or marginalization of the underdog.

This book does a fine job of connecting the realities of both sport’s and music’s effects on the body. Athleticism is prized and honored because of the extraordinary amount of work the individual must put into training for the big game, the fight, or the Olympic trials. McLeod connects the stress and strain of competitive athletes with the physical pain and fatigue musicians, particularly classical professionals, experience after years of repetitive motion. While society at large may not see the connection immediately, training and practicing are one in the same, and injuries to the body have the potential to heartbreakingly halt careers in their prime in both fields.

A chapter I found particularly important for the highly manufactured and questionably authentic times we live in was “Who Let the Dogs Out?”: Sports Music, Marketing Crossover, and the Business of Performance Enhancement.” Focusing equally on doping and the controversies surrounding athletic enhancement and the use of technological enhancement in the recording studio or during live performances, McLeod interrogates the idea of authentic performance in an age where the cyborg and post-humanism is increasingly part of the scholarly conversation. Likewise, “Gonna Fly Now”: Visual Media and the Soundtrack of Sports” confronts popular media such as video games and film’s use of music to enhance, inform, and dramatize the narratives one sees on screen. As a culture with immediate access to nearly everything that can be recorded and replicated on the [End Page 354] Internet, the question of authenticity is vital to the continuous exploration of how sport and music, both individually and together, affect our lives, actions, traditions, and social rituals.

While the focus of this book was largely on mainstream music and sport, an in-depth examination of alternative sports and underground music could have been an exciting and useful inclusion, particularly in the chapters dealing with African Americans and transnationalism. While the mainstreaming of sports like skateboarding and snowboarding through consumerism and the X-Games is mentioned briefly, the artists associated with that phenomenon are decidedly mainstream, eclipsing both the cultural history of extreme sports and their original anti-establishment roots. And while gay and lesbian experiences are presented in thorough and interesting examples (e.g., the Gay Games, the ways Freddie Mercury of Queen challenged heteronormativity through his dress and music, and the use of the Pet Shop Boys...


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pp. 354-355
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