Stan Hawkins

Gender Performativity and Agency in Popular Song

Theories of performativity are useful for understanding gender representations in popular music. Gender performance in popular song plays a vital role in sustaining, challenging, or even terminating norms. If gender is culturally constructed, how does musical performance help define the performer’s subjectivity? This paper will address such questions by considering the reiteration and formation of masculine norms in the recorded performances of Four Tet and The Game. Through these case-studies, I will explore and demonstrate prevailing stereotypes, as well as considering the possibilities for alternative gender norms.
Tropes of identity help identify agency at work in popular music, and central to the discussion in this paper is the significance of individual agency in performance. Music-analytically, this study involves a malleable approach that locates precise moments in the pop score that are symptomatic of agency and style. This entails scrutinising the desired emotional effect of musical styles through the politics of performance. Through an analysis of vocal techniques, production, sampling and stylistic markers in Four Tet and The Game, I show how the popular song works performatively (in albums, songs, videos, live performances). My method is to extrapolate the musical detail as it is distributed through systems of repetition, where its embellishment and intrigue is ultimately at the beck and call of the performer’s antics. Popular song operates as a historical and cultural mediator of gender, and therefore reinforces a long tradition of performative display. The case-studies I dwell on can be read as part of a meticulously constructed lineage and heritage in popular music.