I wrote a book

My book, Schooling New Media: Music, Language, and Technology in Children’s Culture, was published by Oxford University Press in May. I started the research for this book in the fall of 2007, so this is just about ten years in the making. Learning about and with and from kids changed my life, and I am so grateful to the kids who were a part of this project. I hope it offers an honest reflection of their values and experiences of being kids in 2007 and 2008. There’s a preview on google books, and also here.

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Ethnomusicology and empiricism (again)

I’ve written about this before, and I suppose this may just be a hobby-horse of mine, and may not matter as much as I think it does, but I notice that the Winter 2012 issue of Ethnomusicology had another “Call and Response” section on experimental methods in which contributors use the term “empiricism” as though it were something other than the normal work of ethnomusicologists. (Academic time is slow, so I’m posting this a year late.) I think it’s important to work to combat this trend. “Empiricism” is something that all (or very very many) ethnomusicologists can and do claim proudly, and I think it’s too bad that the journal is repeatedly reinforcing the idea that the work most of us do is not empirical. We can have conversations about bridging a divide with more scientific disciplines without having to redefine how we’ve long used this term. A couple examples:

  • Lawson contrasts “both ethnomusicology and empirically-based research” (87), “humanists and empiricists” (87) (where it appears that most of us are supposed to be humanists and therefore not empiricists), and “empirically, historically, and ethnographically-derived data” (93) (suggesting that ethnographic fieldwork is not empirical).
  • Zbikowski contrasts “ethnomusicology and the empirical sciences” and “empirical and humanistic methodologies” (125), suggesting that ethnomusicology is not an empirical discipline, and that ethnomusicology instead uses humantistic methodologies.

My graduate training emphasized repeatedly the central importance of fieldwork to our discipline, with the founding story of 20th century anthropology involving a rejection of armchair theorizing in favor of ethnographic fieldwork. That contrast is only meaningful if the task fieldwork accomplishes is to emphasize the rigorous collection of facts over interpretations not grounded in facts (or interpretations of travelogue-style facts whose collection made no efforts at rigor). The whole big methodological idée fixe that we all have beaten into us is that ethnographic fieldwork matters precisely because it is empirical. But in Lawson’s formulation, it seems that “empirical” and “ethnographic” are two different things, which would seem to lump ethnographic fieldwork in with armchair theory as humanistic and non-empirical, and write over more than a century of debate within the human sciences about what methodological rigor should be. I do understand that there’s a meaning of “empirical” that means “experimental,” but it’s not the wider meaning, and it’s certainly not the meaning that most ethnomusicologists I know intend.

I will admit that I may be biased here, but I cringe when Lawson frames this under the theme of “consilience,” an idea that, at least as E.O. Wilson expresses it, I find to be off-putting at best, and usually repugnant (not least because of the idea that to be a humanists is to be categorically not an empiricist, and so “scientists” will come in and show us how to deal with data), and I think we should be extremely wary of offering the sciences a colonizing foothold in our territory. What’s more, humanistic critiques of the sciences are very often made precisely on empirical grounds: whether of evolutionary psychology, neoclassical economics, linguistics, or developmental psychology, the critiques I am familiar with are premised on the idea that presumptively scientific models presuppose empirical claims that are either unavailable or conveniently ignored. (Statistics, of course, are wonderful, and I share Becker’s wish, related by Harwood, to have had some training in those procedures.)

It’s just not at all fair to claim “empiricism” for a group of people that excludes ethnomusicologists. And despite my strong views on the substance of this question of consilience, I think we can bracket that controversy off from this smaller, and hopefully less contentious, question about the term “empiricism,” precisely in the interest of making a possible space for respectful exchanges about the potential for accord with the sciences.

So a general request: Would it be possible, please, to refrain from using “empirical” as though it excludes most of what ethnomusicologists do, at least (at least!) in the pages of our flagship journal?

Because whatever ethnomusicology has been historically, it has always been empirical. What starts to be at least a little offensive in these repeated Call and Response sections is the implication that the non-experimental work that most of us do is not empirical, and rather is “just” humanistic, or somehow lacks rigorous methodological tools for dealing with facts. I am confident that no offense is intended, but the journal keeps taking this term that we all use and that we value immensely, and redefining it to mean something that excludes us. That’s pretty rough.

Hannah Montana and tween postfeminism paper for #SCMS13

This is the text of a talk I presented yesterday (March 7) at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in Chicago, as part of a (really wonderful and exciting) panel on the “Problematics of Postfeminist Girlhood” organized by Amanda Rossie.

“The Best of Both Worlds”: Hannah Montana, “having it all,” and postfeminist tween domesticity

In this talk I want to think about the problematic of postfeminist girlhood specifically as a question about the intersections between gender and age, and how musical and televisual representations of childhood deploy discursive repertoires adapted from postfeminism. I’ll focus on conflicting representations of domesticity and publicity in the Disney Channel sitcom Hannah Montana. In the show 14-year-old Miley Stewart lives a secret life as pop star Hannah Montana. The show’s narrative conflict centers on tensions between Miley’s personal and professional lives, and episodes dramatize the disruptions that her public life creates for Miley’s “normal” childhood. In this paper I’ll focus on the pilot episode from 2006, in which Miley’s concealed celebrity leads to a crisis with her best friend Lily.

Here I’m especially interested in two themes that are central to postfeminism, and which are redeployed in interesting ways in Hannah Montana. The first is the tension between public and private, which takes various forms, but in particular I’m interested here in the concern that women’s move into the workplace presents a threat to intimate relations—especially, but perhaps not only, to the private sphere of the family. I think we can identify the classic postfeminist resolution to this problematic as being to just assume it away; that is, postfeminism recommends either that you make your personal life your work (as for example with Carrie Bradshaw, whose job is to write columns about her sex life) or make your work your family (as, say, with Ally McBeal, whose workplace is the site of a robust and caring group of friends).

From this perspective, the postfeminist take on conflict between public and private is to ask “Conflict? What conflict?” But what it actually does is to ignore the original problem of the family, instead displacing intimacy onto non-familial relationships. Friendship is the key alternative, and I think we can say that a valuable (though by no means unique) contribution of postfeminist texts like Sex and the City or Ally McBeal is to highlight friendship as a relationship (Jane Gerhard [2005] argues a queer relationship) that accommodates care, dependence, emotional and financial support, stability, and affection outside of heterosexual marriage.

The other theme I want to trace is domesticity. In the canonical postfeminist works like Sex and the City, Ally McBeal, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, despite the protagonists’ rich personal and professional lives, the narratives revolve around (or at least repeatedly return to) their deeply felt lack of and desire for children or husbands. This is often framed in terms of a tension between feminism and femininity, where the former is what allows for personal and professional success in the first place, but which seems in the same stroke to foreclose the sort of essential or authentic femininity embodied in roles like mother or wife.

So on the one hand postfeminism presents a superheroic reconciliation of public and private; and on the other hand it laments a field of naturalized gender identity that is left behind. Hannah Montana is built around an almost identical problematic, except the desired but unattainable role is not marriage or motherhood, but friendship itself. Rather than friendship being the intimate relation that allows for reconciling public and private, as in classically postfeminist texts, friendship here is the mode of intimacy that is most threatened by publicness. So I want to argue for two contrasting readings of Hannah Montana: in one, deep contradictions between public and private are reconciled by the ideological deus-ex-machina of consumption and “love conquering all.” And in the other, the problematics of postfeminism are repurposed as a specific problematic of postfeminist girlhood—even perhaps, of consumer childhood more generally—in which not so much femininity as childhood is at stake, and rather than narrating a simplistic morality play of gender-identity retrenchment the show can be read as struggling with what it might mean for children to have real public lives.

So, to lay my cards on the table, I am primarily interested in thinking about childhood and its contradictions, for which I find the tools of feminist analysis overwhelmingly useful. But that also means I run the risk of appropriating those tools and leaving important questions about gender behind. My goal is to start from intersectionality. Childhood and femininity are deeply co-constructed categories: women are infantilized and children are feminized; female youth and sexual purity are fetishized while childhood innocence is profoundly eroticized (Kincaid 1998); women are historically treated as legal and social minors subject to paternal power, and the infantilization of women ipso facto subordinates actual infants and children.

What’s more, the sphere of children’s entertainment that is emerging the most rapidly is directed to “tweens,” who a category that is presumptively (if not categorically) made up of girls. The term, which is a cutesy play on “teen” and “between,” emphasizes an age-based tension between grown-up autonomy and childhood domesticity that resembles nothing so much as the postfeminist tension between feminism and femininity. So talk about tweens is always already gendered. It’s also always already white, affluent, suburban, and consumerist, but then childhood also, as it’s hegemonically constructed, is itself presumptively feminine, white, affluent, suburban, and consumerist. So I want to leave at least a little breathing room for the possibility that, in narrating problematics understood as specific to childhood, the most semiotically efficient route—that is, the framework that draws the most coherent boundaries around childhood as an identity—is this one that is evacuated of marked racial, class, geographical, or political signifiers.

So that’s a lot of preliminaries, sorry! But this is my first presentation on a relatively new project for me, and I want to do my due diligence. On to the show itself:

In its theme song, titled “The Best of Both Worlds,” Hannah Montana poses two worlds, and asserts that you can have the best of both of them.

You get the limo out front
Hottest styles, every shoe, every color
Yea when your famous it can be kinda fun
It’s really you but no one ever discovers
In some ways you’re just like all your friends
But on stage you’re a star

You get the best of both worlds
Chillin’ out, take it slow
Then you rock out the show

You go the movie premiers
(Is that Orlando Bloom?)
Hear your songs on the radio

Livin’ two lives is a little weird
But school’s cool cuz nobody knows

Yea you get to be a small town girl
But big time when you play your guitar

Pictures and autographs
You get your face in all the magazines
The best part’s that
You get to be who ever you wanna be

Who would of thought that a girl like me
Would double as a superstar?

(lyrics by Matthew Gerrard and Robert Nevil, © 2006 Walt Disney Music Company)

On the one hand we have lyrics that emphasize authenticity: “a small town girl,” “a girl like me,” “like all your friends.” On the other hand there’s an exuberant celebration of the joys of celebrity. There’s a hint of tension in the mention that “living two lives is a little weird.” But keeping the two worlds secret—“school’s cool cause nobody knows”—resolves the tension simply and completely. Being a small town girl like all your friends is directly incompatible with being a celebrity pop star with your picture in all the magazines. But the song performs the classic postfeminist move of simply assuming the contradiction away. Who cares if they’re incompatible: do both!

There’s another, more indirect tension around the idea of an authentic self in the first place: the phrase “it’s really you,” which would imply that there is a real you, might be read against “The best part’s that / You get to be whoever you want to be.” And looking closely, the “small town girl” line reads “you get to be a small town girl”; that is, even that identity might also be a choice. Combined with “hottest styles, every shoe, every color,” we can see another classic postfeminist trope of individual choice and empowerment through consumption, where choosing which of two contradictory identities you might want to wear at any moment is as simple as choosing a pair of shoes, and Miley is lucky primarily because she has a bigger closet full of shoes and identities.

So the theme song presents the “situation” of the sitcom as a classically postfeminist and unsatisfying reconciliation of two worlds, one public and one private. If “Best of Both Worlds” is arguing that it’s possible to “have it all,” the “all” encompasses celebrity on the one hand—something like, but a lot more than, a job—and school and friendship on the other. That’s a rather different “it all” than “work” and “family,” and I think this matters for how we think about how Hannah Montana is working through something like a postfeminist problematic within the specific context of childhood.

By contrast to the theme song, the show itself spends a lot more effort fretting about the tensions rather than assuming them away. The pilot opens with Miley’s best friend Lily, who doesn’t know the secret, inviting Miley to see Hannah Montana in concert. Miley declines (she can’t very well attend her own show), and Lily is reasonably upset that her best friend won’t join her to see their favorite act. Miley’s dad advises her to tell Lily the secret, but Miley anticipates horrible results.

“No one would treat me the same”; “I’d never be ‘just Miley’ again.” Now rather than it being a simple matter of “school’s cool cause nobody knows,” the possibility of Miley’s secret being discovered presents an existential crisis. And that crisis framed relationally: “just Miley” is Miley’s identity to Lily: “if she knew the truth, I’d never be ‘just Miley’ again.” The rest of the episode plays out around Miley’s efforts to conceal her identity from Lily. When she finally reveals herself, Lily is upset, but then understanding, and protests that she could never like Hannah Montana more than Miley.

But then Lily gets too excited about Miley’s incredible closet and screws up, calling her “Hannah” instead of Miley.

And finally they reconcile again.

So there’s a lot going on in all of this. Maybe most important is Miley’s own expression of preferences: what she wants most of all is to be Miley, which means specifically to participate in particular sorts of relationships and social roles: to be someone’s best friend and a normal girl at school. Interestingly, her actual family is never an existential problem: more like Ally McBeal’s or Carrie Bradshaw’s group of friends, Miley’s family can be a source of comic relief and sometimes frustration, but they are a stable and unquestioned presence in her life. (So for instance conflict with her brother does not lead to existential fear for the loss of that relationship.) Miley’s friendships, on the other hand, look much more like postfeminist romances: deeply felt and intensely valuable relationships whose stability and continuity is desired but, despite protest to the contrary, not assured, and instead under constant threat and requiring continuous affirmation.

And rather than consumption being the magic tool to resolve all contradictions, Hannah’s material excess elicits an overabundance of desire in Lily that again threatens to destabilize the friendship. We can keep up the comparison with heterosexual romance narratives: overwhelming consumer desire is perhaps the master trope of the cultural definition of the identities of tween girls like Lily. To the extent that that desire is for celebrity bodies like Hannah’s, we might liken this tween consumer desire to constructions of masculine sexual desire. Rosalind Gill {, 2007 #1559} argues that the postfeminist sensibility requires girls and women to internalize the male gaze and self-objectify, resolving the problem of objectification by accepting it as an authentic form of pleasure and subjectivity. This is done primarily through consumer practices of clothing and decorating the body. Lily’s desire for Hannah, which in this scene even revolves around clothing, presents Miley with a similar situation in which a desiring gaze threatens her subjectivity. It seems like if Miley were to follow the scripts of Gill’s postfeminist sensibility she should internalize Lily’s objectifying gaze and adopt Hannah as her full-time authentic self. Whether her strong rejection of that option reflects a critical sensibility toward postfeminism is less interesting to me than the relationships that are filling the postfeminist roles. Friendship here looks a lot like romance.

Finally, the episode’s resolution is basically that true love conquers all: Lily affirms once that she would never like Hannah more than Miley, her actions reveal that to be false, but then she permanently heals the relationship by simply affirming the same thing again. To the extent that this resolution is deeply and obviously unsatisfying, I think we can read the show not as making the simplistic argument that the best of both worlds are easily available, but as instead struggling in a pretty intense way with what it might mean to be part of two worlds in the first place. But then if the second world of Hannah’s fame is such an unrealistic fantasy, it’s hard to find a motivation of all this fraught struggle in the first place? (Clark Kent’s relationship with Lois Lane was never so fraught!) I think in part the unrealistic fantasy of celebrity reflects the real problem that it’s actually hard to picture what it might mean for a 12-year-old girl to have a full public life. But on the other hand, maybe what it means is right in front of us: 12-year-old girls already are full participants in the public sphere of consumption, which is so full of exuberant performances and membership in mass-mediated publics that the figure of a celebrity performer might reasonably stand in as its cypher.

So what I want to stress is that this problematic of public and private, when applied to kids, involves similar structures but different content. That is, if “femininity” is the contrasting term to “feminism” in postfeminist discourse, here something much more like “girlhood” or even “childhood” is set up as the authentic but tenuous identity that is threatened by participation in a public world. Miley Stewart can never reveal her secret identity to the whole world, because if she did so she would stop being a child. You can’t be a be an international pop star and a small town girl who’s just like your friends with a normal school life. But those things are what it means to be a child, just like motherhood and marriage are in some deep way constitutive of culturally constructed femininity. And I think this is confirmed by the larger narrative arc of the show. Miley does finally reveal her secret, but only at the point when she and her friends will leave for college, which is to say, officially terminate their status as children, and being a small town girl with a normal school life no longer exists to be threatened.

To conclude: the children’s consumer and entertainment industries are growing unbelievably rapidly. Participation in the sphere of consumption entails a form of publicity that is in stark contrast to a traditional (if never historically valid) construction of childhood as private, innocent, and islanded in domestic spaces. That problem looks a lot like tensions around gender that media representations have been working through for decades or more. I don’t know if tween media is directly borrowing these discursive frameworks from postfeminism as ready-made tools for narrating its own problematics, or if the postfeminist problematics of intimacy and publicity simply reflect universal problems of identity, so the parallels are just coincidental, or if really what going on is just more postfeminism, where the specific problematics of tween identity are entirely reducible to gender and the fluidities between friendship and romance, and consumer and sexual desire, are just epiphenomena. Probably it’s some combination of the three.

Cited:

  • Gerhard, Jane. 2005. “Sex and the City: Carrie Bradshaw’s Queer Postfeminism.” Feminist Media Studies 5 (1): 37–49.
  • Gill, Rosalind. 2007. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10 (2): 147–66.
  • Kincaid, James R. 1998. Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting. Durham: Duke University.

What does it mean for children to say that adults have become like them? (Some thoughts on Adorno, Kidz Bop, and “regression” inspired by @musicalurbanism)

Leonard Nevarez, blogging at his site Musical Urbanism, has a fascinating post up about Kidz Bop, which is an ongoing topic of interest for me. This post is the first of a series, and it focuses on Kidz Bop’s history and the contexts of it’s production (economic, corporate, technological, etc). It’s incredibly thorough — I don’t think I’ve seen all this material assembled in one place, and it’s telling a fascinating story already about the role of children’s music in a changing commercial music environment. The post is a masterful overview and history of Kidz Bop — definitely a much better introduction to the topic than my own published work is.

Nevarez pulls a quote from Adorno’s essay on the “regression of listening“:

The counterpart to the fetishism of music is a regression of listening. Not only do listeners lose, along with freedom of choice and responsibility, the capacity for conscious perception of music, but listeners come to stubbornly reject the notion that any such perception is possible. They listen atomistically and dissociate what they hear. They are childish. However, their primitivism is not that of the undeveloped, but that of the forcibly retarded.

I’ve always kind of loved this piece of Adorno’s in particular, mostly because I think it’s remarkably insightful about how commodity fetishism works as listening practices. (One of my main goals in my MA thesis on karaoke was to find some empirical verification for Adorno’s account of listening here.) Funnily, however, I haven’t returned to that one since I’ve started working on children and music, and so I forgot the role that “childishness” and a sort of age- or development-based “regression” played in its structure of values.

Also, lately I’ve been sort of collecting statements by prominent cultural theorists who say that the (adult) world is becoming childish somehow — things like Lauren Berlant’s “infantile public sphere” or Benjamin Barber’s jeremiad against consumer culture as puerile, infantilizing, juvenile, etc. (For the record: the former is wonderful and in the best tradition of feminist critique of the figure of the child and reproduction; the latter is a deeply reactionary and sensationalist howl of unreconstructed prejudice.) In principle I take these with a grain of salt, but I also enjoy ironically repurposing them to justify my own interests: if the adult world is being infantilized, what does that mean for children?! So it’s pretty wonderful to return to this piece by Adorno that once influenced me very deeply and see exactly the same thing!

The questions for me are (1) whether Adorno and other critics are correct that the phenomena they identify are somehow characteristic of children or childhood, (2) whether that’s good or bad or something else, and (3) whether such an account of adults provides some insight for understanding children. I think (1) remains an open question that probably depends on too strong a definition of “childhood” to ever be really answerable. And personally I’m happy not to confirm it because from some neurosis built as a scholar of childhood I take a lot of pleasure in letting major theorists assert the importance of childishness for me.

Regarding (3), Nevarez suggests that Adorno’s references to childishness and development make it clearly relevant to a product like Kidz Bop, but I’m not so sure. It seems a bit circular to talk about kids and the regression of listening, so long as “childishness” (or worse, “retardation”) is what makes regressive listening regressive. If Adorno’s right and commodity music reflects the regression of adults, then shouldn’t it be developmentally appropriate for children themselves? But if anything it seems like the popularity of products like Kidz Bop would reveal more the similarities rather than developmental differences between kids and adults (or at least older youths), which is that everyone loves pop music (it’s great!), while younger kids have been artificially excluded from participation as pop audiences for a long time. That is, it’s not teenagers and young adults who are turning to a childish medium, it’s children who are being provided with a genre associated with older people. That’s not obviously infantilization. (I also disagree somewhat with the “getting-older-younger” thesis, but that’s for a different post.)

Regarding (2), I think we need a critique of capitalism that doesn’t require that childhood or disability (regression as “retardation”) be definitionally abject. Cultural critics have been discovering the infantilization of adults or public culture or what-have-you for long enough that it would seem to reflect more on them than on any actual cultural development. Or, to say the same thing, regressive listening is only bad if we think childhood and disability are bad. I tend to think that the more convincing answer is that adults (especially parents) are stodgy ideologues desperately consolidating their own elevation above the vulgarities of consumer culture by deciding that their children’s pleasure must be either abject, unsophisticated, or inauthentic (manipulated). I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this video, which I think illustrates the point as well as anything could:

(edited July 2017 with new video link. For some reason the Ad Council took down the original?)

So I love Adorno’s essay because I think it’s correct about a lot of empirical questions about how pop music works, but it evaluates them through a set of liberal/enlightenment (rather than properly Marxist) values around ability/maturity that I don’t think hold up to scrutiny. To the extent that someone like Adorno (or Benjamin Barber) is correct that the world is becoming childish, it is important to at least ask if that might reflect something desirable — an openness to relations of care and dependence, an emphasis on pleasure and consumption over against “productive investment” and the classic capitalist traps of wage labor, relations like “friend” rather than “spouse” or “coworker,” valuing silliness over seriousness, etc. (And as music scholars we’re supposed to always end up hating the music we study, but to be honest I like kids’ music more and more. The Super Duper Party Troopers in that video above are really good! Maybe kids’ music in general is good? [For the record: I do know that the answer to these questions is that I have no taste, but I still can’t help but raise them.])

Anyways, none of this should be read as a critique of Nevarez’s piece, since he doesn’t really develop his Adornian critique so much in that first post. More this is a welcome opportunity for me to return to an essay by Adorno that I haven’t read in a while and be pleasantly surprised how relevant it still is. I’m looking forward to seeing how he explores these question in the text/consumption posts to come.

Kids’ pop culture canon?

This week I was working through some materials from my dissertation for a talk and was reminded that for some reason AC/DC was a big deal to the elementary- and middle-school kids I was working with in 2007/2008, for reasons I could never figure out. Related, perhaps, the UK-based research team at CelebYouth.org included boxer Mike Tyson in their tentative list of the Top 12 celebrities from their interviews with young people in the UK. I know scandal kept Tyson in the public eye long past his boxing prime, and I guess I saw an ad for his one-man show on the TV the other day (?!) so he’s still around and kicking. But Mike Tyson! In kids’ Top 12 celebrities across sports, music, movies, everything! That can’t possibly be explained just as a comeback. (And in their short writeup the CelebYouth researchers don’t mention his recent exploits, suggesting they didn’t come up in their interviews.) And I’m pretty confident that it isn’t the case that this stuff stays alive for kids as part of a mainstream public cultural memory. For starters I can’t believe that Tyson would be in the top 12 celebrities for adults. But also because other figures that do get archived in public cultural memory can be totally unknown to kids. For instance when I was teaching music in 2001 I was surprised that middle-school kids had no idea who Nirvana were (which I remember because it completely ruined a lesson plan).

Instead I think there’s some sort of process of canonization that takes place largely inside kids’ peer culture. Other examples from my research are MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, which combined with Tyson suggests a strange interest in early nineties pop culture? Those three also fit into a canon of campy, gimmicky, or novelty performances (Tyson’s small voice, Hammer’s pants, Vanilla Ice’s whole act). Of course Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” and Michael Jackson’s music too, but both of those are definitely part of a mainstream public canon too. (Jackson and Tyson have similar trajectories of astonishing talent and a long tail of scandal, combined with voices that are ripe for public ridicule…) Another example of this kids’ canon is the 1997 novelty hit “Barbie Girl” by Aqua:

Also “Bad Touch” (1999) by the Bloodhound Gang:

And in 2007 the kids I worked with were discovering the “Gummy Bear” song, which I imagine may stick around for a while too:

AC/DC doesn’t fit this story about camp/novelty, while KISS would, so that one’s a bit of a surprise I guess. Nelly’s “Country Grammar” (with it’s “Down Down Baby” chorus) would seem like a fair candidate, but definitely wasn’t one that the kids I worked with were into.

I should probably go back to my fieldnotes and make a comprehensive list of these. There’s something interesting happening.

“Tween Music Industry” article for Popular Music

My article about the current state of children’s music, “The New ‘Tween’ Music Industry: The Disney Channel, Kidz Bop, and an Emerging Childhood Counterpublic,” was recently accepted in Popular Music, published by Cambridge University Press, where it will appear in revised form. A PDF is here. Here’s the abstract:

This article examines the expansion of the U.S. children’s music industry in the last decade. It considers the sanitizing of Top 40 pop for child audiences in the Kidz Bop compilations, the entrance of Disney into the popular music market, and the meteoric rise of “tween” music products such as High School Musical, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, and Justin Bieber. Children increasingly consume mainstream musical products and, in the converse dynamic, children’s artists themselves play an increasingly prominent role in popular culture. In many ways they have taken the lead both in commercial success and in stylistic innovations. Examining public expressions of age-based solidarity among celebrity musicians associated with children, this article argues that children’s music is increasingly articulated through tropes of identity politics, representing the emergence of a childhood counterpublic.

MACSEM 2008 Panel: “Children, music, and media in the contemporary US”

In March Jenny Woodruff and I organized a panel at the annual conference of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of SEM, on “Children, music, and media in the contemporary US,” which included papers by Sarah Snyder and Jenny Johnson. It was a rare chance (hopefully more and more in the near future) to bring together some of scholars who have recently been opening up new doors for ethnomusicological study of kids, media, and popular music consumption.

Abstracts after the jump.

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SEM 2008 Panel: “Techniques of consumption: Rethinking kids and commercial music”

Jenny Woodruff and I have organized a panel children as consumers of pop music for the 2008 meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology. It’s called “Techniques of consumption: Rethinking kids and commercial music.” Andrea Emberly will also present a paper, and Charlie Keil has agreed to serve as the discussant. Abstract after the jump.

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