Tuesday links

  • Finally, a music magazine that isn’t self-absorbed!  I love reading music magazines, but at least once per issue the entire enterprise gets on my nerves.  Here’s an article about a new publication, the Journal of Music, that appears to be trying to cut the fawning hyperbole and provide intelligent music news, analysis, and history that takes a more panoramic view than most publications.  I’ll let you know how it is after I check it out.
  • Jay-Z takes down Bill O’Reilly and O’Reilly flounders around for a comeback. Click through for an amusing clip at The Source.
  • Racialicious thinks about the transcendent power of Michael Jackson’s dancing abilities and ruminates on his approach to race.
  • Hooray, something having to do with Woodstock that isn’t mistily nostalgic and overblown!
  • The Walrus checks out Rip! A Remix Manifesto, a new documentary on copyright laws and why and how they’re a mess in the digital age.  It’s inspired by the work of Lawrence Lessig, Stanford law prof and intellectual property revolutionary extraordinaire (and a Penn alum whose book my year was assigned for our freshman reading project), and mashup artist Girl Talk.  Oh, and you can watch the film for free or cheap.  Click the first link in this paragraph for instructions.

Quick hit: Breaking down gender and sexism in Lil’ Wayne’s music

Samhita over at Feministing describes work she recently did, helping kids analyze gender in pop culture and then having them blog about it.  She comes at Lil’ Wayne’s work from a feminist, gender studies perspective, but given that the analysis is with respect to music this works equally well as ethnomusicology.  Take a look!

What’s under Lady Gaga’s leotard?

The internets have been buzzing with news that Lady Gaga is possibly a hermaphrodite (or is “intersex” more appropriate? please enlighten me if you know), as video footage from one of her concerts shows her getting off a moped-like thing and pulling a Britney Spears in the audience’s direction.  If you look real hard at ~1:10 and squint your eyes, it kind of looks like there might be more going on down there than we had previously thought.

So of course lots of people are talking about how crazy/gross/maybe kinda hot this is, and whether she really has the parts she’s now purported to have or whether this is just a stunt.  I frankly don’t really care; she is who she is.  What I do hope is that this provokes meaningful conversation about the interplay between (biological) sex and gender, and the complex ways in which we choose to go about presenting our sexual identity to the rest of the world.

Because Lady Gaga is, without a doubt, the current mainstream artist most able to provoke those kinds of conversations.  She’s aware that she is as much performance artist as singer and she fully intends to provoke discussion about sex, sexuality and gender.  Let’s roll with it then, and talk about body parts, etc. regardless of the kind(s) that Gaga was born with.

Also, if this is true, it leads to endless possibilities for jokes about how her muffin is bluffin’.  Just saying.

On another note: here’s an interesting take on her unconventional fashion choices–that she’s doing it to emulate avant-garde architecture and design.

Is hip-hop masculinity being redefined?

Jonah Weiner makes a provocative case on Slate today that homophobia in hip hop is decreasing and being redefined–primarily, paradoxically, through the use of the phrase “no homo.”  The crux of Weiner’s argument is as follows:

As society becomes increasingly gay-tolerant, hip-hop is reassessing its relationship to homosexuality and, albeit in a hedged and roundabout way, it’s possible that no homo is helping to make hip-hop a gayer place.

Weiner isn’t entirely wrong.  It’s certainly true that American mainstream culture is trending toward acceptance of gays and lesbians (though we still have a long way to go).  And it’s certainly true that hip hop, given how integrated it is into American life, affects and is affected by general cultural trends.  But ending homophobia in hip hop has less to do with perceptions of homosexuality than it does with notions of masculinity.

Scholars from music to African American studies have discussed in detail how hip hop reflects, and helps construct, ideas about how to be properly masculine for both artists and audiences.  From the meteoric rise of gangsta rap in the late 80s-early 90s to more-recent video ho controversies, a very specific type of masculinity is being worked out in corporate hip hop: tough, heterosexual, potentially violent, financially successful, proud, fashionable, potentially misogynist (running the gamut from physical violence towards women to verbal disrespect towards women–see: Chris Brown and Rihanna for an extreme example).  There are certainly exceptions within mainstream hip hop to all these characteristics (some of which are positive and some of which are negative), but on the whole, many artists attempt to put forth this type of image in the name of authenticity and credibility (even if they are not necessarily like this in their own lives).

Heterosexuality is a key part of this image.  Just as it is important to continually reinforce one’s financial success, fashion sense, and other aspects of this persona, it’s important within the genre to reinforce one’s heterosexuality.  One way of doing this is with respect to women, of course: an artist can boast about his sex life, rhyme about his lady, etc.  (Detractors would argue that this method includes misogyny as a method of reinforcing heterosexuality.)  Another way of doing this is by denying any homosexual impulse or affinity.

Hip-hop homophobia isn’t, for the most part, about hating gays and lesbians as such.  It’s about reinforcing a specific notion of masculinity, one that dictates that men have power over those around them in a variety of ways: whether by having one’s own posse, being able to buy whatever one wants, and by having the upper hand in a romantic or sexual encounter.  Being gay negates this latter possibility: one man will be in power, and the other will have been disempowered (within the context of this idea about being masculine, that is).

So I agree in a way–that

no homo tweaks this [homophobic] dynamic because it allows, implicitly, that rap is a place where gayness can in fact be expressed by the guy on the mic, not just scorned in others….When these rappers say “no homo,” it can seem a bit like a gentleman’s agreement, nodding to the status quo while smuggling in a fuller, less hamstrung notion of masculinity.  This is still a concession to homophobia, but one that enables a less rigid definition of the hip-hop self than we’ve seen before.  It’s far from a coup, but, in a way, it’s progress.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for the day when “fuller, less hamstrung” notions of masculinity don’t need to be smuggled into mainstream hip hop (with the important caveat that certain artists are already unapologetic about trying to redefine hip hop masculinity).  But it’ll be a good day when it arrives.

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