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Reviewed by:
  • Voicing Girlhood in Popular Music: Performance, Authority, Authenticity ed. by Jacqueline Warwick, Allison Adrian
  • Jennifer O’Meara (bio)
Voicing Girlhood in Popular Music: Performance, Authority, Authenticity. Edited by Jacqueline Warwick and Allison Adrian. New York: Routledge, 2016. 300pp.

In this timely collection on the voicing of girlhood, Jacqueline Warwick and Allison Adrian use popular music as the prism for analyzing how, even though girls’ voices are often “considered ineffectual, contemptible, or even unlistenable, . . . [they] find ways to raise their voices and make themselves heard” (3). With a focus on the contemporary Anglophone world (mostly the United States), the book is notably interdisciplinary in its approach and includes specialists in musicology, ethnomusicology, and vocal pedagogy, as well as researchers from women’s studies, education, and media studies. Although the thirteenth book in the Routledge Studies in Popular Music series, this is the first to focus on women— a topic that Warwick explored previously in Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s (2007). Owing perhaps to the book’s interdisciplinary perspective, the editors do not spend undue time surveying the existing literature on young women in pop music. Instead, their nimble introduction is dedicated to what they mean by voice in terms of its material and metaphorical properties and how their collection fits within the growing field of girlhood studies.

One of this book’s strengths is how the themes and topics covered in each part— “Voice and Agency,” “Voice and Vocality,” “Voice and Authenticity,” and “Voice and Narrative”— build on each other in sometimes unexpected ways. Several of the chapters highlight and examine the relative invisibility (or, rather, the inaudibility) of girls of color while problematizing the ways girlhood in popular music is understood in terms of whiteness. This is the case in chapter 3, “I Love Beyoncé, but I Struggle with Beyoncé: Girl Activists Talk Music and Feminism,” coauthored by Lyn Mikel Brown and Dana Edell but with credited contributions by three girls from the SPARK movement, an intergenerational feminist activist community to which the five belong. Brown and Edell examine “the impact women’s music has on girls in order to understand the ways it can be used as a tool and a mobilizing force in today’s young feminist movement” (57). They do so with utmost respect for the young women whose opinions they present. Transparency and the acknowledgment of intergenerational difference prove important here, and the authors note that they are both of European descent, as is one of the girls [End Page 199] (Georgia Luckhurst), while the others are biracial (Montgomery Jones) and African American (Joneka Percentie). Given that the group discusses racial politics in relation to singers like Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj, the contributors’ reflections on personal identity seem relevant. Percentie considers Minaj’s music video for “Anaconda” as “an intentional performance by a woman of color engaged in active resistance to the policing of black feminine bodies and dominant representations of black woman” (62). The authors acknowledge Minaj’s overt performance of sexuality as an understandable reaction to the long-standing trend for the music industry to cast black women as dancers in order to profit from the “excessiveness” of their bodies relative to white women’s bodies— a trend upheld today by Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and others.

The book returns to this topic in more detail in chapter 10, Kyra D. Gaunt’s “YouTube, Twerking, and You: Context Collapse and the Handheld Copresence of Black Girls and Miley Cyrus.” Based on the title alone, Gaunt’s chapter may seem out of place in a book on voice. Yet she demonstrates that “twerking is a form of vlogging for adolescent black girls whose bodies speak more powerfully than their voices” (215–16). As Warwick and Adrian note in their introduction, as early adopters of social networking technologies, girls are more likely than boys to create online trends (2). Gaunt’s chapter is one of several to engage meaningfully with how the digital landscape is providing increased platforms for girls to be heard, even as it also generates new forms of abuse. As Gaunt warns in relation to twerking videos shared on YouTube, “Black girls, like other...