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Topics in Focus

Gender and Sexuality in Popular Music Studies

By Lori Burns, Professor of Music, University of Ottawa

As an artistic form with a rich history of performance and recording practices, popular music displays a vast range of gendered and sexualized subjectivities, communicating powerful stories about the ever-shifting dynamics of human agency in society. Never standing as fixed positions, identity categories of gender and sexuality take shape within the contexts of social, cultural, historical, political, economic, and technological forces, as these contexts continue to change and intersect in new ways.

During the 1980s and 90s, popular music scholars began to examine the nuances of gendered expression in popular music, especially in response to the rise of the music video through televised platforms (MTV, MuchMusic, Kerrang!, Channel V, etc.). Media scholars such as E. Ann Kaplan, Lisa Lewis, and Andrew Goodwin opened a dialogue about gender address in music video, while popular musicologists such as Sheila Whiteley, Barbara Bradby, Marion Leonard, and Stan Hawkins developed new approaches to the analysis of gender performativity in popular music. Since the new millennium, we have witnessed the burgeoning of critical inquiries about gender and sexuality in popular music, with many significant avenues emerging from this literature.

Below we delve into content on Bloomsbury Popular Music to explore gender ideologies and norms, as well as topics as varied as the sexualisation of women’s bodies in Hip Hop, fair access and equality in the music industry, and gender subversion in the music of Joni Mitchell. You can also view our dedicated subject guide on Gender and Sexuality by visiting the Research and Learning Tools page.

Studio photo of Marc Bolan from the bank T-Rex, taken in 1970
Studio photo of Marc Bolan, 1970 (Photo by Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns)

Gender and Sexuality: defining powerful terms

Sarah Cohen and Marion Leonard’s article on “Gender and Sexuality” in the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World is a productive place to explore clear definitions of these two powerful terms, as well as a framework for their consideration in popular music contexts. That framework includes the gendered and sexualized connotations for specific genres and historical moments in popular music; the links between performance practice and gender norms; the association of gender with specific musical instruments and technologies; the promotion of gendered ideologies through media cultures; the constructions of gender and sexuality that emerge through genre expression; and the messages and themes that take shape in the lyrics of popular music. In addition to laying out this framework, Cohen and Leonard also open up significant critical space for the concept of resistant expression, allowing for challenges to norms and conventions.

Taylor Swift poses with the Best Solo Act In The World Award in the winner room at the NME Awards 2020 at O2 Academy Brixton on February 12, 2020 in London, England.
Taylor Swift poses with the Best Solo Act In The World Award at the NME Awards 2020 (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Are female artists taken as seriously as male artists?

The norms and conventions of popular music, as they are associated with gender roles and constraints are taken as a point of concern by Alison Stone in her chapter on 'Feminism, Gender and Popular Music' in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Religion and Popular Music. Are female artists taken as seriously as male artists? Stone examines the critical remarks about artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, revealing the biases that emerges when women are described in terms that trivialize their work and assess it as superficial and artificial. These tendencies rise to the surface when a female artist is directly compared to a male artist, as in the case of Ryan Adams’ version of Taylor Swift’s album 1989. The value proposition of re-recording a female artist’s work raises numerous issues around the assumptions of genre superiority and expressivity. Stone sets out some important binary oppositions that circulate in the reception of female artists—authenticity/superficiality; agency/objectification; technology/nature—and cautions feminist musicologists from falling into these interpretive traps.

Rah Digga, Da Brat, Rampage, Mariah Carey and Busta Rhymes photographed together at a party in 2003 (Photo by Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage)
Rah Digga, Da Brat, Rampage, Mariah Carey and Busta Rhymes at a party in 2003 (Photo by Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage)

Representations of femininity and masculinity in Hip Hop

In Remix Multilingualism: Hip Hop, Ethnography and Performing Marginalized Voice, Quentin Williams examines extreme representations of femininity and masculinity in Hip Hop performance. The chapters, “Staging Masculinity” and “Precarious Femininity”, expose relevant examples of what gender theorist R. Connell would refer to as hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity. Taking up scholar Tommaso Milani’s suggestion that we ought to scrutinize “the conditions that enable the production of heterosexual masculinities,” Williams discloses the ideologies of tough masculinity that underpin the lyrics of male emcees. Here we see the value of discourse analysis to discover the motivations and ideologies that drive linguistic expression. Taking up these concerns for female representation (as “bitch” and “ho”) in the discourse of Hip Hop, Williams dedicates a chapter to the ways in which the misogynist linguistic elements are connected to the sexualization of female bodies in the genre of Hip Hop. Nowhere is this more evident than in the genre of Body Rap that Williams brings forward.

French singer from indie band Savages, Jehnny Beth (whose real name is Camille Berthomier) performs on stage during the 29th Eurockeennes rock music festival on July 9, 2017 in Belfort, eastern France.
Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier) from French indie band Savages performs on stage during the 29th Eurockeennes rock music festival in France, 2017 (SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)

A spotlight on female artist-creators

In her chapter on gender and music production in Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound, Paula Wolfe shines the spotlight on female artist-creators, studying their creative production processes with the aim of revealing the significance of gender within industry practices. From this lens, Wolfe is able to illuminate aspects of authorial control, intentions, and expressive power in the recording studio. Taking two case studies—1) Molina, female artist and self-producer; and 2) Hostile, male producer of the all-female band Savages—Wolfe’s ethnographic approach teases out a myriad of critical concerns for the production of music as a gendered practice. Ultimately, Wolfe raises points that will lead to interesting future debates about musical conventions and the gendered implications of negotiating such constraints: “When positioning the work of both Hostile and Molina in the framework of a gendered contemporary music industry culture, Hostile’s sonic control as ‘producer’ adheres to ‘patriarchal assumptions’ (Mayhew 2004) inasmuch as Molina’s control over her own sound challenges them.”

Lady Gaga sings the National Anthem during the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Lady Gaga sings the National Anthem during the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021 (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Women’s participation in the music industry

With their author-collaborators, editors Sarah Raine and Catherine Strong assemble some hard facts about women’s participation in the music industry in Towards Gender Equality in the Music Industry: Education, Practice and Strategies for Change (click here to read the introduction to this volume), raising many questions about industry and education structures that do or do not lead to fair access and equality. Shining the light on these concerns allows this gathering of authors to reveal gender biases in industry practices and to pave the way forward for more inclusive and diverse approaches. While the scholars do not shy away from calling out some serious examples of misogyny and exclusion, they also offer positive reflections on female and queer voices in music creation, performance, and production. One of the great strengths of this collection is its dedication to robust methodologies and theories that will provide the next generation of scholars with the requisite tools to continue a constructive dialogue about exclusive practices and structural inequalities.

Joni Mitchell pictured backstage at Wembley Arena, London, 23rd April 1983
Joni Mitchell backstage at Wembley Arena, London, 23rd April 1983 (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Joni Mitchell’s aging voice as a site of queer resistance

Through her contribution to Joni Mitchell: New Critical Readings, Emily Baker mobilizes an intersectional approach to the analysis of embodied musical expression and subjectivity. Focusing on Joni Mitchell’s covers of her own previous recordings (on the 2002 album, Travelogue), Baker exposes the singing voice as the expressive site of converging axes of identity—for instance, gender, sexuality, age, and ability. In the case of an artist such as Joni Mitchell, we have access to the full range of vocal expression over a lengthy recording career as well as a great deal of writing about her life experiences. A female vocalist who has been the object of much critical analysis, debate, and speculation, Baker reveals Mitchell’s original songs to subvert traditions, with her later self-covers developing an intentional commentary on genre and stylistic boundaries. In particular, the song “Borderline” is reframed to present an aging and sensual body that “undoes” the conventions of popular music.

The Music Industry in the Digital Age

Explore the various ways in which the music industry has adapted in response to the digital revolution in recent years through the featured content links below.

Amazon Music application displayed on an Android Sony smartphone in front of old 33rpm vinyls. (Photo Illustration by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The death of the record industry

“In terms of the death of the record industry, it is a story, a media story. That’s all . . . a story that is being fed through the media.” -- Jim Carroll, journalist and ex-MD of the Lakota Record label

The digital revolution has driven radical change in the music industry. Back in 2013, Jim Rogers asked 30 industry professionals how the industry had responded to its changing technological environment. Whilst all of them signalled the arrival of the internet as a medium for the circulation of music as the most significant development, they also pointed to other factors in record industry decline, including employment trends, the decline of ‘bricks and mortar’ retailing, a failure to grasp opportunities early enough, and the effects of supermarket retailing. However, as Rogers went on to discuss, the crisis in the record industry did not amount to a crisis in the music industry as a whole.

Learn more in 'Evolution, not Revolution…'' in The Death and Life of the Music Industry in the Digital Age.

Spotify logo displayed on a phone screen (Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Copying and culture

“Copying … is real enough and we do not have the luxury of describing whether we like it or not. The question—in the words of Buddhist poet John Giorno—is how we handle it” -- Marcus Boon

Kim Dotcom’s arrest in 2012 was just like a movie: helicopters swooped in; hounds were unleashed; and semi-automatic weapons were waved in the air, wielded by the New Zealand police who stormed into the rural mansion where the Megaupload billionaire, his wife, three children, and house guests were sleeping. On the day before his thirty-eighth birthday, Dotcom was charged with numerous offences including copyright infringement, racketeering, money laundering, and piracy.

Subsequently, the influence of the MP3 blog on popular music culture began to fade. The chilling effect of the Dotcom raids and other antipiracy efforts took its toll. Simultaneously, streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music produced yet another change in listening habits, away from the downloading, collecting, and the virtual hoarding that characterized the first decade of the twenty-first century, towards on-demand streaming and ‘social’ listening. And yet, copying remains functionally essential, one of the central practices of digital culture. Again and again, we see culture transformed and sustained by reproduction and repetition.

Learn more in 'This is not a remix' in This is Not a Remix: Piracy, Authenticity and Popular Music, in which she considers the relationship between media and culture, by focusing on the social and material histories of copies and their circulation.

The Minitech Project recording a DJ set in a studio to be broadcast on social media on October 11, 2020 in Amsterdam, Netherlands (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

Crowdfunding and alternative modes of production

Crowdfunding has rapidly gained exposure as a new way for musicians, composers, record producers and all manner of music creatives to find new ways of realizing their work. Among the general excitement, there is often considerable media interest in musicians or producers who succeed in crowdfunding a project that has been neglected by the mainstream. When a music creative uses crowdfunding successfully, it throws light on crowdfunding as a credible and effective way for new music to be brought into a form wherein it can find an audience. In this way, there is often as much excitement about crowdfunding and the particular platform used as there is about the project itself.

Learn more in Mark Thorley’s 'Crowdfunding and Alternative Modes of Production' in Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound.

Beastie Boys at Trans Musicales 2004 in Rennes (WikiMedia Commons)

Live music: artist and audience collaboration

The 2006 Beastie Boys concert film Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That, documenting a New York show by the band at Madison Square Gardens, explicitly recognizes the arena audience as participants. The film also discusses the role audiences can play in documenting an arena experience.

Awesome is an attempt to include the experience of the ‘common people’, however banal at times, within an official record of an arena show. This practice of recording a personal experience, banality included, is now part of the fabric of arena shows, for better or worse. The film declares that arena experiences should be as much about the audience as the artist if not more so and that the event should be collaborative. The experience should be made together.

Neil Fox explores the practice of recording arena experiences through portable devices and sharing them online via social media platforms. Learn more in his chapter We Made This Together - How Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! Foresaw Changes in the Live Concert Experience Brought about by Digital Technology and Social Media in The Arena Concert: Music, Media and Mass Entertainment.

The Futureheads perform during Unconvention at Niamos Radical Arts & Centre on March 06, 2020 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage)

How online networking inspired a face-to-face independent music community

In the first few years of the 21st century, a number of social networking platforms such as MySpace began to achieve widespread popularity and these were quickly embraced by some in the independent music sector as platforms for promotion. By 2005, a number of public forums, blogs and websites emerged that discussed the ways in which the independent music sector could approach and make use of these new technologies and adapt to the online environment.

However, the advice and insight was not universally embraced by the industries, and despite the comparative popularity of these blogs, that knowledge was not widely accessed. To a large extent, the independent music practitioners making use of the knowledge available online were something of a self-selecting group: by definition the ones who were already both active internet users and those seeking new, alternative methodologies.

From this context, Un-Convention arose as a grassroots series of independent music knowledge events that bring together music workers and musicians in a hybrid conference and music festival format. While these sorts of conversations were taking place online, Un-Convention provided a geographically specific site for face-to-face conversations and dialogue about strategies for independent music as well as a celebration of that music and culture.

Learn more about this international platform in Andrew Dubber’s 'Everybody talk about pop music: Un-Convention as alternative to festival, from DIY music to social change' in The Pop Festival.

The Music Video

While the first music videos arguably can be traced back to the beginning of the last century, they really came into their own during the 1980s due to the launch of MTV, an American cable and satellite channel with its headquarters in New York City.

Symbolically, it was the clip ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by The Buggles (produced by Trevor Horn) that ushered in MTV, followed by ‘You Better Run’ by Pat Benatar. Mark Goodman, one of the first five MTV VJs, uttered the MTV slogan: “Starting right now, you’ll never look at music the same way again … We’ll be doing for TV what FM did for radio.”

Rapper Sweet Tee (Toi Jackson) during the filming of the 'On The Smooth Tip' music video taken in East Elmhurst, New York, 1988.

Shaping cultural identities

Music videos in all their forms remain powerful cultural artifacts that circulate widely across social media platforms to promote music and musicians. The proliferation of social networking sites and handheld technologies has changed the course and format of the video and its modes of screening music.

As music videos animate our social and cultural spaces, they shape significant representations of gendered, sexualized, raced, and classed identities. The musical contexts of genre and style comprise a driving force in the shaping of cultural identities and a complex set of factors cultivate a musical persona.

Learn more in Framing Personae in Music Videos in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Video Analysis.

This photo taken on January 5, 2020 shows a smartphone recording footage of an amateur K-pop group performing on a street in the Hongdae district of Seoul.

The internet video experiment

The advent of the music video in the MTV age not only transformed the landscape of pop, but may well have been part of a larger artistic project. Sunil Manghani suggests that videos have become a new site of cultural production. A new video form – which he calls the Internet video – has emerged as a means for a younger generation to communicate and experiment with the forming of identities and social connections.

Learn more in The Pleasures of (Music) Video in Music/Video: Histories, Aesthetics, Media.

Rihanna performs onstage during the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden on August 28, 2016 in New York City.

Close reading: ‘This Is What You Came For’ (Nava, Harris and Rihanna)

‘This Is What You Came For’ is a video collaboration between artists Nava, Harris and Rihanna that has received over two billion hits on YouTube. We encounter at the very on-set a multitude of spaces, including a desert, a clearing in the Cascadian forest, and a massive white cube, closed on all sides except one.

Using an innovative 360-degree camera technology and projection mapping, Nava is able to project realistic environments into the cube which are captured entirely in-camera (no post-production, no CGI). Such virtual spaces, which include dance clubs, desert scenes and even a simulacrum of the aforementioned forest, are so convincing that the viewer sees Rihanna, the video’s constant focal point, to be interacting with them in real time.

Learn more in Risers, drops and a fourteen-foot cube: A transmedia analysis of Emil Nava, Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s ‘This Is What You Came For’ in Transmedia Directors: Artistry, Industry and New Audiovisual Aesthetics.

Musical Countercultures

Musical countercultures have sprung up across the world throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, prevailing as an expression of societal subcultures and anti-establishment movements, and as a sonic rebellion against the dominant musical genres which embody the status quo in their particular moment. Discover countercultures throughout the modern era as explored by a range of international authors on Bloomsbury Popular Music:

Psychedelic Poster Shop, Haight Ashbury, 1967 (Getty Images)

1960s counterculture

In his chapter on the politics of novelty in the 1960s, Peter Dale explores the legacy of the era’s political activism and the true countercultural contribution of its rock music. He examines the impact of reductive secondary interpretations of a singular ‘Sixties’, and the potency of the peace movement and political significance of rock having been amplified.

Psychedelic spirituality and the use of drugs underpinned the sounds and counterculture of the 60s. LSD and marijuana in particular were associated with hippiedom at a time when there was an ‘easy confluence between Indian spirituality and drugs’. Read more about psychedelia and spirituality in the context of the creative process, from the influence of Ravi Shankar and transcendental meditation on The Beatles, to the relationship between drug use for ‘mind expansion’ and the creation of psychedelic soundtracks for counterculture films.

Promotional poster for Woodstock Festival, 1969 (Getty Images)

Woodstock Festival

This iconic music and arts festival held in August 1969 has come to symbolize the ultimate expression of 60s counterculture, with its legendary performances and socio-political, activist ambitions. Read more about how it was characterized as both 'the zenith and nadir of festivals', by some as 'three days of rain and mud, with insufficient food and inadequate sanitation' but for others a shorthand for 'utopian bliss, for peaceful coexistence, and for the power of music to unify a population'.

While depictions of the festival on screen helped to mediate collective perception by playing down the commercial side of the event and mythologizing its countercultural impact and 'aura', one artist of the time for whom the Woodstock vision of free love and revolution had its limitations was Joni Mitchell. Discover how the pointed lyrics in her song, Blue sought to puncture "Woodstock’s hazy, under-conceptualized dreams of what the counterculture might achieve".

Protesters sing the Venezuelan national anthem during an anti-government demonstration, 2014 (Getty Images)

Canción de protesta and nueva canción latinoamericana

In South America, the canción de protesta or ‘protest song’, denotes a song with a political and ideological message or with a marked social criticism, usually expressed through its lyrics. The canción de protesta first appeared in Venezuela’s popular music in the mid-1960s, within the context of the global countercultural media explosion, and the centre of its activity was based in the country’s universities where concerts, rallies and marches took place.

It was a music trend similar to that of the nueva canción latinoamericana in other countries such as Chile, where 'Rock andino' was also emerging in the late 60s and early 70s as an expression of youth counterculture in combination with the movement nueva canción chilena which employed marginalized music from the Andes. One of the canción de protesta genre’s most prominent musicians was Alí Primera, who was a national political activist and expressed the idea that he was not only a singer of the political left, but a singer for all poor people.

Read about the fine line between the canción de protesta and propaganda which came to develop in the genre’s ‘second period’ from 1999 onwards, as it came to be adopted by Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez as the sound of the 'Bolivarian revolution' and manipulated in the hands of the regime as a mass-gathering device for left-wing political propaganda.

Joe Strummer, of punk rock band The Clash, performs onstage (Getty Images)


Punk as a cultural genre first emerged back in 1976 and 1977, and as author Kevin C. Dunn outlines, over the years it has become a global force that constructs oppositional identities, empowers local communities, and challenges corporate-led processes of globalization.

A key characteristic of punk music was its chaotic, dissonant assault on the established norms of rock’n’roll from the likes of the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and Siouxsie and the Banshies; shared rejection of fashion norms was also an important aspect of punk counterculture.

In Global Punk, read about how a deeper understanding of punk means recognizing its multifaceted character as a set of social practices, with punks rejecting 'sanitized' popular culture and creating their own cultural products. Adoption of the national idiom and the founding of independent labels was an important part of this DIY ethos, for example in Europe, punk was sung in native languages and organized by local scene.

Despite its overprotective 'gatekeepers' and punk participants’ tendency towards hyperbole, punk’s rejection of passive consumerism and reflection of the working-class, artistic, and nihilistic attitudes felt by young people can be seen to have 'created the opportunity for political empowerment and resistance in people’s everyday lives', beyond the parameters of 'high politics'.

Environmental activist from Extinction Rebellion walks on stilts and plays the violin in London (Getty Images)

Protestivals in the 21st century

Campaigning political practice within the last three decades has taken on a renewed carnivalesque atmosphere, with contemporary protests reminiscent of the festal demonstrations of 60s counterculture. Creative, diverse performances have been at the forefront of festival-style Climate Camps, Extinction Rebellion roadblocks, or the Occupy movement with its pop-up tents in urban financial centres. These collectives have drawn on rebellious festival or event culture in what author George McKay describes as 'celebratory confirmation of the demand for social alternatives'.

Discover his exploration of ‘Protestivals’ and their role as a creative response to the traditional political rituals of the left, with marches from point A to point B and speeches along the way. He delves into the concept of protestivals as experimental ‘cultural heterotopias’ providing alternative possibilities to the status quo, while exploring their countercultural value from the view of cultural critics – are they truly an ‘instrument of political opposition’ or merely a temporary 'ritual of rebellion'?

Music and National Identity

From the beginnings of the twentieth century to today there has been a fascination with the idea of music as a marker of shared tradition within a nation, and therefore as a builder of cultural identity. In an increasingly globalised world, the connection between music-making and identity has become a more difficult, yet still important, area of study.

Garifuna women (from the Honduran Atlantic coast) attend celebrations of the Columbus day in Tegucigalpa

National Identity

National identities are often simultaneously embraced and contested in the practises of popular music, particularly through its fusion of traditional with contemporary or commercial styles. Discover how the creation of Punta Rock, in the 1970s and 80s helped to promote Garifuna identity through the maintenance of the Garifuna language and song forms; how Zenji Flava demonstrates the locality of the Isles of Zanzibar through song lyrics, musical patterns, and music videos; and how Moroccan fusion bands have elevated regional and sub-group musical traditions such as gnāwa to a marker of national identity.

Television presenter Katie Boyle, left, checking the Eurovision Song Contest scores of 1960


Held annually since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest involves over 50 participating countries and regularly reaches hundreds of millions of television viewers. Overtime it has refashioned the national identities of the countries involved, making them appear more attractive through new media, technologies and fashions. Eurovision songs, while derided by some as over the top cultural kitsch, present elements of national and European identity through the selection of music style and performative symbols. Explore Dean Vuletic’s Postwar Europe and the Eurovision Song Contest on how the contest has historically reflected political and cultural shifts across Europe, acting as a vehicle to address topics such as patriotism, European integration, and war. Read more about Abba, one of the most iconic Eurovision acts, in Elisabeth Vincentelli’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series.

Folk dancers in Turkey

Bridging Gaps

Perhaps owing to its ability to conserve cultural memory, and therefore a collective identity, music is particularly important in cultivating ties to the home country of migrant or diasporic communities. Read about how migrants from Turkey, who settled in Berlin in the 1960s, utilise bağlama and Türkü bars in order to keep their cultural heritage and identities alive; and about how Parisian-based Radio ALFA uses fado to establish a contemporary relationship between the Portuguese communities of France and their homeland.

Popular music has also been used to assert a cultural identity that is in opposition to the dominant culture of a country; this is often communicated via hip-hop. Since its birth in the Bronx in the 1970s as a protest medium, hip-hop has been utilized as a mechanism for expression. Discover how hip-hop features in the musical life of individuals from Mexico to Sub-Saharan Africa, alongside how indigenous musicians in Australia empower themselves through hip-hop whilst rejecting the idea that their expression of identity has to be done in a traditional way.

Popular Music and Literature

The relationship between popular music, literature and the written word throughout the 20th and 21st centuries has extended from their critical connections as subjects of study, to structural similarities, and a shared narrative power to represent and shape cultural, social and political history. Explore the ongoing encounters and collisions between these disciplines, and some of the key artists and writers at the heart of their intersections.

“I’m a poet, and I know it.
Hope I don’t blow it” 
– Bob Dylan (from ‘I Shall Be Free No 10’, 1964)

Bob Dylan plays piano with a harmonica around his neck during the recording of the album 'Highway 61 Revisited' in Columbia's Studio A in the summer of 1965 in New York City

Poet songwriters

In 2016, Bob Dylan received widespread media attention for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, in recognition of the poetic value of his lyrics. Discover the story behind the enduring critical interest in his ‘song-poems’ and Dylan’s own intention for his songs as continuous lyrical autobiography, statements of political protest, and as an outlet for his disillusionment with the big city, in the style of poets such as Charles Baudelaire or Arthur Rimbaud.

Another poet-songwriter and Bob Dylan’s contemporary, Leonard Cohen, transitioned from writing formalistic poetry and prose, to poetry in song. Learn about how jazz and poetry readings by Jack Kerouac had a notable early influence on his work.

Allen Ginsberg and other Beatnik poets reading poetry during a party.

The Beat Generation

American writer and figurehead for the ‘Beat Generation’, Jack Kerouac, lived a life infused by the sound of songs at home, out on the road, and within live performances. Read more about the rich association between literature and music in his work and how his peripatetic style sought to mirror bebop jazz rhythms.

Also discover Kerouac’s influence on modern artists from Van Morrison to Pearl Jam and that of his fellow Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg on The Beatles, as well as how Paul Simon came to reinvent their American road narrative.

 Rapper YG performs onstage at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California

Intertextuality of rap music

Intertextuality is a device mainly known within a literary context, but author Quentin Williams explores the frequency of intertextual references within rap, along with its multiple levels of meaning and linguistic subtlety. Discover more about the way MCs sample from everyday texts circulating in and outside of hip-hop spaces and how their performances may be indicative of intertextual sampling.

English singer Sheila Buxton reads music magazine 'Melody Maker' at her home in 1958

Music Journalism

Reporting or writing about music is a key component of the industry’s ecosystem. Read more about music journalism’s common critical criteria, its role in capturing the essence of music, and how its connection to the more literary style of New Journalism led to the development of the cult of the rock journalist.

The Swing Phenomenon

Photo of Fletcher Henderson, circa 1970

From Fletcher Henderson to Elvis Presley

In When Genres Collide, Matt Brennan rethinks popular music history by exploring how writers in the music magazines Down Beat and Rolling Stone constructed an artificial ideological divide between jazz and rock ‘n’ roll that would be replicated in American musical discourse for decades to follow. This provocative new history received an honorable mention in the Association of American Publishers’ PROSE Award for Music & Performing Arts in 2018.

Brennan challenges the widespread view that the mid-1950s was a revolutionary starting point for popular music, the moment when African-American-originated ‘rhythm ‘n’ blues’ was brought to a new mass market of white teenagers through re-branding it as ‘rock ‘n’ roll’. In the chapter 'Jazz Culture as the Precursor to Rock 'n' Roll', he argues that this was in fact pre-empted by the 1930s swing craze. When Benny Goodman hired the African-American bandleader Fletcher Henderson (pictured) to create arrangements of hot jazz for his 1935 radio show, Goodman leaped to stardom: hot jazz, now labeled ‘swing’, immediately tapped into a young white audience across the USA, in a similar way to Elvis Presley’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956.

Read more about the swing phenomenon in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World entry on ‘Swing Music and Big-Band Jazz’.

Music and Gaming

A classic video game 'Space Invaders' is displayed at the Science Museum in London.

Music and Gaming

From classic arcades of the 1970s to modern blockbuster video games, music is key to the experience and popularity of gaming. One of the most iconic and innovative gaming soundtracks to date is Koji Kondo’s score for Nintendo’s 1985 game, Super Mario Bros. Andrew Schartmann's 33 1/3 title outlines how Kondo and his team transformed the creative landscape of video game music.

During the 21st century, musical production, performance, and gameplay have become increasingly interconnected. Discover more about the evolution of hip-hop, electronic dance music, and interactive media in Mike D’Errico’s chapter of Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound.

Artists in Focus

David Bowie On Set of 'Jump They Say' Music Video (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images)

David Bowie

“Exactly when did poetry become subsumed by rock ‘n’ roll? When was experimental film swallowed and digested by music videos? My generation of artists held a starry-eyed belief in the notion of crossing over; of leaving the elitism of the white cube for other media and venues: video, performance, audio, music.” Tony Oursler

Tony Oursler was not only David Bowie’s friend and muse but a collaborator who was interstitially involved with the music videos Bowie created with Floria Sigismondi. A significant transmedia artist in his own right, Tony Oursler understood the artistic magnetism that drew Bowie and Sigismondi into a creative partnership. Oursler’s ‘starry-eyed belief in the notion of crossing over’ and resistance to elitism sum up an approach that has been neglected by much of the literature on transmedia.

Learn more in The alchemical union of David Bowie and Floria Sigismondi: ‘Transmedia surrealism’ and ‘loose continuity’ in Transmedia Directors: Artistry, Industry and New Audiovisual Aesthetics.

Discover David Bowie’s work as a music video pioneer in The Boy Kept Swinging: David Bowie, Music Video, and the Star Image in Music/Video: Histories, Aesthetics, Media.

Celia Cruz performs at Alice Tully Hall, 1992

Celia Cruz

The Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz rose, during the mid-twentieth century, to become one of the most important and dynamic performers of Latin American music, across genres such as Salsa, Bolero, and Guaracha. Born in Havana in 1925, she produced her first recordings in Venezuela in 1948, before touring Latin America over the subsequent decades with groups and artists such as Sonora Matancera, Tito Puente, and Johnny Pacheco.

American jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis performs live on stage at the Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970

Miles Davis

Miles Davis enjoyed a prolific five-decade career as one of the most acclaimed and innovative musicians in the history of jazz. Born in Illinois, his family eventually moved to St Louis, Missouri where he began to play his trumpet in bands, before later moving to New York City and becoming a jazz session regular in Harlem – performing jazz in the bebop style, and alongside his hero Charlie Parker. He went on to develop the idiom of cool jazz with his various groups, eventually coming to write his seminal work Kind of Blue in 1959, which became the best-selling jazz album of all time.

Find out more about one of his greatest albums, Bitches Brew, in the 33 1/3 edition by George Grella Jr.

Aretha Franklin appearance on The Andy Williams Show, 1969

Aretha Franklin

Over the course of a career that spanned more than five decades, Aretha Franklin became the internationally recognised voice of Soul. Her music sound tracked the burgeoning feminist movement of the late 60’s while powerfully evoking the emotions of the civil rights movement. Her recent death prompted an outpouring of tributes, including from President Obama who stated that her music ‘helped define the American experience’.

Undated portrait of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum

Umm Kulthūm

Discover the works of one of the pre-eminent figures of Arabic music, Egyptian singer-songwriter Umm Kulthūm.

Fela Kuti (David Corio/Getty Images)

Fela Kuti

The Nigerian multi-instrumentalist bandleader and activist Fela Kuti brought the sound of radical African jazz to a global audience. Born into a politically active family, he understood the fundamental connection of music and politics.

In the early 1960s he began playing in a style inspired by the American soul/proto-funk of James Brown that he termed 'Afro-beat'. Later, he travelled to the United States to tour and record and there he was introduced to the Afrocentric activism of the Black Panthers and the writings of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, and others and began to compose unabashedly political music.

In Nigeria, Kuti founded a recording studio, the Kalakuta Republic and toured West Africa. In 1977, he released Zombie, an extended attack on the state of Nigeria’s military. This led to a government-sanctioned attack on the Kalakuta Republic resulting in great personal and professional loss.

You might also be interested in the chapter 'Art at the Cutting Edge: Class, Cultures, and Globalization in African World Music in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music and Social Class.

Photographic portrait of Tim Maia, 1987

Tim Maia

Brazilian singer, composer and musician Tim Maia enjoying a long career in which he created music spanning an eclectic range of genres from soul to samba-rock. His memorable musical style and impassioned approach to life were encapsulated by his infamous Tim Maia Racional recordings in particular. Allen Thayer’s 33 1/3 volume on Racional Vols. 1 & 2 Introduction explores Maia’s larger-than-life public persona and pioneering contribution to international soul and the music of his homeland.

At the time of the US civil movement, Maia was the first black Brazilian entertainer to thoroughly break from the traditional roles, namely samba, as he introduced American soul music with its outspoken cultural stances to Brazilians of all colours. His music’s blend of modern soul and Brazilian music with elements of samba and baião, led to the development of the so-called Black Rio music scene in the 1970s, which helped to define a modern black Brazilian identity beyond mass culture’s circumscribed role for Afro-Brazilians.

Prince performs at the Fabulous Forum on February 19, 1985 in Inglewood, California


Prince’s eclectic, genre defying music, and uniquely flamboyant style made him one of the most popular yet controversial artists of the late 20th Century. Key themes dominating his life, work, and legacy are explored in Joseph Vogel’s illuminating new biography, This Thing Called Life, including chapters on gender, race, religion and death.

Find out more about Prince at his creative peak in the 33 1/3 edition, Sign ‘O’ the Times, by Michaelangelo Matos, which delves into one of the landmark double albums of the 1980s. Also discover the para-religious devotion of Prince’s fan community in Chapter 7 of Religion and Popular Music, and the significance of his connection with Minneapolis in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

Singer Caetano Veloso performs on stage during Coracao Vagabundo at the 3rd Rome International Film Festival, 2008

Caetano Veloso

As part of the brand new 33 1/3 Global series covering key recordings from around the world, discover the life and work of the legendary Brazilian artist, Caetano Veloso. Exiled by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s, Veloso helped pioneer the Tropicália movement that took the South-American country by storm, having a lasting impact on Brazilian popular music and remaining a point of reference for innovative musicians into the twenty-first century. Find out more about Veloso’s life as Barbara Browning explores his third studio album A Foreign Sound.

American singer-songwriter and founder member of the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed (Getty Images)

The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground are seen by many as one of the most influential rock groups of all time, despite a lack of commercial success during their years as a band in the mid-late 1960s. Their avant-garde style of rock 'rejected the creative status quo of the time', and sought to 'mould the perverse, the brutal and the beautiful into art'. Lou Reed and John Cale combined complex musical techniques from other genres such as jazz and classical with controversial lyrics about subjects such as drugs, sexual deviance, and prostitution.

Their music was built on drones and distortions, and was pioneering in its unashamedly experimental tone, blurring the boundary between the avante-garde and pop with significant cross-pollination from beat generation lyrical imagery and minimalist classical composers such as La Monte Young and Steve Reich.

Celebrity visual artist Andy Warhol became the group’s manager in 1965, having decided they were the perfect house band to provide music for his multimedia pop art shows 'The Exploding Plastic Inevitable'. He created the famous 'banana' artwork for their album 'The Velvet Underground and Nico' and the avant-garde scene at his Silver Factory headquarters helped Lou Reed grow as a songwriter and musician.

Read more about their seminal album, 'The Velvet and Underground and Nico' in Joe Harvard’s 33 1/3 which explores its creation and lukewarm reception in 1967’s 'Summer of Love'. Harvard delves evocatively into the sounds of songs such as Heroin and Venus in Furs: 'Clear and cool at times, in some passages dark and murky; ebbing in certain places, then suddenly rushing forward as bubbling, boiling rapids in others, it always flows like water.'

Countries in Focus

A man walks past an image of Carlos Gardel painted on a wall in Buenos Aires


Popular music in Argentina has a richly diverse history, with influences from the indigenous population, European settlers, and African slaves. Tango developed as a vibrant and passionate style of music and dance towards the end of the nineteenth century in Buenos Aires, and grew to become a significant and enduring component of Argentinian cultural identity. Artists such as Carlos Gardél and Ignacio Corsini were key in popularising the genre through the 1920s, leading to a ‘golden age’ of tango in the clubs, dance halls, and streets of 1940s and 50s Argentina. 

Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume IX explores the eclectic popular music genres of the Caribbean and Latin America, including Argentinian folclore, milonga, and rock nacional.

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg singing duo in 1969.


Popular music in France evolved from the emergence of jazz and chanson in the early 20th century, which flourished in the café-concerts and cabarets of Paris. Yéyé became a popular genre of the 1960s, with artists such as Serge Gainsbourg (pictured, with Jane Birkin) creating music influenced by rock ‘n’ roll and doo wop from the US. Darran Anderson’s 33 1/3 provides an account of Serge Gainsbourg’s 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson, which is widely acclaimed for its combination of lush cinematic strings, proto-hip hop beats, and Serge’s spoken-word poetry.

Kraftwerk in concert (ULI DECK/AFP/Getty Images)


At the end of the nineteenth century, a commercial song form called schlager was firmly established as the first genuine German musical genre of national importance. It was rooted in several urban musical developments including an urbanized form of folk song called gassenhauer, whose songs were frequently directed against authorities.

Following the start of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933, famous artists such as Marlene Dietrich and the Comedian Harmonists left Germany. Many Jewish musicians disappeared forever in the concentration camps, and foreign guest performances were resisted as ‘un-German’. After World War II, despite opposing political systems in East Germany and West Germany, the development of popular music and youth culture took a similar course. Beatles-inspired bands pushed at the limits of the musical mainstream established by the representatives of traditional German popular music.

In the 1970s, (West) German domestic rock music became known as ‘Krautrock’. Bands like Amon Düül, Tangerine Dream, Can and Faust created a highly experimental and influential electronic form of rock music. In particular, the band Kraftwerk, with its minimalistic sequencer-driven concept of music, proved to be of lasting influence, providing one of the roots for the electronic dance music of the 1990s.

After reunification in 1990, an outburst of creativity resulted in the emergence of techno as a distinct German version of electronic dance music. The global spread of hip-hop culture stimulated the creation of a strong German-language version of rap music represented by acts such as Die Fantastischen Vier and the all-female Tic Tac Toe. German popular music also continued to retain a distinct East German strand. One of the most famous German rock bands of the 1990s, Rammstein, was established by former members of several GDR punk bands and became a strong symbol of identity.

Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu performs on stage at The Showbox in Seattle, Washington, 2014


Volume 5 of the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music covers Locations in Asia and Oceania, with articles on the history and music cultures of every country, plus important cities and regions, each one with a bibliography and discography. Included is a scholarly account of popular music in Japan, exploring ancient musical traditions such as gagaku and shômyô, through to the adoption of Western instrumentation following the Meiji Revolution, and the J-pop phenomenon of the 1990s. Additionally, read the introductory chapter of Keisuke Yamada's contribution to the recently launched 33 1/3 Global Series—Supercell's Supercell featuring Hatsune Miku, in which Yamada explores the groundbreaking use of synthetic vocals in popular music.

Mexican Mariachi man playing trumpet against a wall


From Guadalajara and Durango to the Chicano Music of California, Mexico’s music is a vibrant melting pot of cultures, styles and ideas.

Photographs from the daily CPDRC dance rehearsals, January 2013
Poster produced by Cebu Provincial Capitol advertising the CPDRC Dancing Inmates ‘LIVE’ performance on 29 May 2010.

Going viral in the Philippines

On 27 June 2009, within ten hours of the breaking news of Michael Jackson’s death, prison warden Byron F. Garcia arranged for a music and dance tribute to the King of Pop to be performed by some 1,500 prisoners in front of a live audience of tourists and media corporations in the exercise yard of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Centre (CPDRC) in the Philippines.

Garcia’s CPDRC inmates’ video-recorded interpretation of Thriller takes pride of place in YouTube culture as one of the earliest, and most enduringly popular, viral videos in internet history. As an example of a post-MTV music video, CPDRC’s Thriller forms part of a growing digital-era practice of covering, sampling and remediating previously recorded music, and these kinds of intensified audiovisual aesthetics have become significant source texts in popular music culture.

Learn more in the Introduction to Dangerous Mediations: Pop Music in a Philippine Prison Video.

Discover more about the history of popular music in the Philippines in the Bloomsbury Enyclopedia of Popular Music of the World.

Outdoor performance by traditional musicians and dancers from the Imperial City, Vietnam (Getty Images)


The music of Vietnam is influenced by both Chinese and South Asian elements. Prior to colonization, popular music entertainments included musical theatre with origins in Chinese opera, folk theatre and chamber music, as well regional folk song styles. After colonization by the French in the nineteenth century, Western melodies and instruments such as the guitar grew in popularity.

In the years following the nation’s division in 1954, government in the communist North controlled everything from musical training to broadcast while in nationalist South Vietnam, popular music was largely left to the free market, with an influx of US troops and money. More widely, US involvement in the Vietnam War which followed was an enduring influence on western artists including Bruce Springsteen and The Clash.

Following post-war reunification, the communist victors sought to ban and confiscate all cultural vestiges of the former southern regime. Many singers and songwriters fled Vietnam, moving primarily to France, Australia and the United States. By the mid-1980s Vietnam’s government began to relax its control on culture, with tea rooms and karaoke establishments spread through the city of Hô Chi Minh.

Since the late 1990s, some Vietnamese commentators have expressed concern about the influence and popularity of overseas Vietnamese music, Hong Kong music, US music and, more recently, Thai music on the marketplace. In contrast, however, to many years of hostility between the Vietnamese diaspora and those residing in Vietnam following 1975, there has generally been a growing interaction between the native and diaspora musics and music industries.