Paper Session
Nov 21, 2021 05:00 PM - 05:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1700 20211121T1750 America/Chicago Voice and Identity in Popular Music AMS 2021
"Age Ain't Nothing But A Number": Adultification By Timbre
Individual Paper 04:00 PM - 04:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 22:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 22:50:00 UTC

[Content Warning: sexual abuse, gendered racism]

Aaliyah was only 15 when she released her 1994 debut album Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. The album was produced by R. Kelly-subject of multiple active sexual abuse cases and singer-songwriter-and the titular song's lyrics are shockingly explicit for such a young singer, expressing that "throwin' down [i.e., having sex] ain't nothin' but a thing," and depicting a young girl coaxing an older man to go "all the way." While it was public knowledge in 1994 that 27-year-old R. Kelly forged documents about Aaliyah's age to marry her, the general public is only now coming to terms with his abuse after watching the documentary Surviving R. Kelly (2019). Kelly's public abuse of a 15-year-old girl with minimal outrage serves as a striking example of adultification-the assumption that Black girls are more mature and knowledgeable about adult topics, especially sex, than their white counterparts (Epstein, Blake, & González 2017). In this paper, I examine how Aaliyah's adult-sounding vocal timbre combined with adult lyrics, presented her as a mature adult rather than a teen girl.

The lyrics to "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number" most obviously support these biases, but Aaliyah's adult-sounding vocal timbre also reinforced listeners' unconscious prejudices. Since her smooth, breathy timbre resembles other prominent Black women performers, such as Sade and Janet Jackson, listeners prescribed womanhood (not girlhood) onto Aaliyah the person, perpetuating the idea that she was "old for her age." This was exacerbated by reviews describing her voice as "mature" and "sultry." Drawing upon the "acousmatic question" (Eidsheim 2019), through which listeners infer specific ideas about the singer as a person from purely sonic information, I examine how listeners made assumptions about Aaliyah's age and sexual knowledge based on timbre, lyrical content, and race to show how these aligned with the implicit adultification of Black girls, allowing her, and other Black girls, to be abused by R. Kelly for decades.

The act of listening, therefore, is not as innocent or passive as it may seem, and may actively endanger Black girls and other marginalized people.

Emily Milius
University Of Oregon
Authenticity and Intimacy in the Space of Bedroom Pop
Individual Paper 04:00 PM - 04:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 22:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 22:50:00 UTC

Authenticity, like musical genres, evades a stable and unchanging ontology in popular music. Markers of authenticity vary from genre to genre and change rapidly over time: what seems authentic and pure today may be tomorrow's "sell-out" (Sloop and Herman 1998). Fans often appoint themselves as genre surveyors and use authenticity as a gatekeeper to include and exclude certain artists based on how well they do or do not conform to their ideas of what "pure" or "authentic" music sounds like.

Bedroom pop further complicates these notions of authenticity. Drawing upon Fabian Holt's theory of genre (2007), I define bedroom pop as an inherently intimate and feminine space that relies on digital music production proficiency in order to create lo-fi, close-mic, whispery music. Gen Z musicians-artists around 18 to 22 years old-develop this style of music exclusively in their bedrooms. These digital natives, the first generation for which many have access to recording and production technology, rely on intimacy in both their music and social media presence to establish a relationship with their fans. This level of intimacy challenges the way music scholars typically theorize authenticity in popular music.

This paper teases apart how gender and sexuality intersect with intimacy in the space of bedroom pop to create a new form of the "authentic" artist. Dubbed a "queer icon," artist girl in red relies on repetitive lyrics over simple harmonies and instrumentation to come to terms with her sexuality, while Billie Eilish crafts unique, modal, close-miked melodies over processed instrumentation to examine issues of gender and mental health. Through musical analyses of their songs, this paper investigates how the safe and intimate space of a bedroom studio allows these young female artists to explore their gender and sexuality via music, then share this experience with their fans. Through illustrations of bedroom pop as both a musical genre and community, a historicization of authenticity in previous genre scholarship, and an analysis of social media use, I demonstrate how these artists curate their own unique versions of the authentic artist and self from the intimate space of their bedrooms.

Lauren Shepherd
Columbia University
Pronunciation as Identity Creation in the Music of Billy Bragg
Individual Paper 04:00 PM - 04:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 22:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 22:50:00 UTC

This presentation will discuss the role of pronunciation in the recordings of British protest singer Billy Bragg. Sociolinguists in recent decades have taken a keen interest in the idea of the singing accent: the pronunciation patterns that musicians use in their singing and how these may differ from the patterns used in their speech. Sociolinguist Peter Trudgill's (1983) seminal work begins with the Beatles and the American-inspired pronunciation features present in their recordings, particularly the earlier recordings. The rest of Trudgill's essay, and the many writings that have followed it, examine other artists (British and otherwise) and subsequent decades, and explore the motivations, often conflicting motivations, that can influence singers' intentional and unintentional pronunciation tendencies. The approach taken by Trudgill and other sociolinguists is relevant to the musical output of Billy Bragg because pronunciation is a particularly salient feature of Bragg's work. His singing accent not only puts his working-class origins in Barking, Essex on display, but it does so prominently and unapologetically. Throughout his career, socialism and his own brand of English left-wing patriotism have been the defining features of Bragg's public persona. Perhaps because of the apparent conflict between his progressive activism and his patriotism, identity creation has been an important part of Bragg's project. As scholars including Mark Willhardt (2006), Kieran Cashell (2011), and Eileen Dillane and Martin Power (Power and Dillane 2019; Dillane and Power 2020) have observed, Bragg's identity creation has involved communicating his identification with punk, with folk music, with the labour movement, with socialism, with the working class, and with England. In this presentation, I will discuss how Billy Bragg has used sung pronunciation in creating his public identity and communicating the authenticity of this identity, thereby amplifying the political messages of his lyrics and the effects of his music overall. In doing so, I intend not only to illuminate the role of pronunciation as a prominent feature in Billy Bragg's music, but also to showcase the wealth of resources for musical inquiry present in the sociolinguistic literature on pronunciation in popular music.

Mary Blake Rose
Western University, Canada
University of Oregon
Columbia University
Western University, Canada
Dartmouth College
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