Category Archives: Popular music

Enya and the female myth of Ireland

The personification of Enya as a modern archetype of female Ireland has become irrevocably intertwined into the grand narratives of popular culture that make up the last decades of the 20th century.

Her music has many cultural significations; Celticism, romance, fantasy, spirituality, and femininity. The common denominator in Enya’s translucent embodiment of this myth is her seemingly unconscious femininity and her self-distancing from the media and her followers. The unwillingness of Eithne Ní Bhraonáin and her co-creators to discuss their work in turn assists the reading of Enya as a text rather than as an object of ethnographic inquiry.

The significations in the music of Enya’s How can I keep from singing? interrelate with the significations in the lyrics, and a semiotic analysis of the visual imagery in the song’s music video further illuminates how her work perpetuates and reinvigorates the myth of Ireland and Irish womanhood for popular culture.

This according to “How can I keep from singing?” Enya and the female myth of Ireland by Anna Maria Dore, an M.A. thesis accepted by the University of Limerick/Ollscoil Luimnigh in 2003 (RILM Abstracts 2003-21780).

Today is Enya’s 60th birthday! Above and below, the video in question.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Selena crosses over

As a musician, Selena Quintanilla Pérez will be remembered for her ability to transform traditional Latino musical styles such as cumbia into viable pop mainstream commodities. As a personality, she has acquired a larger-than-life status, symbolizing tejano music’s increasing profile within the record industry during the 1990s.

Born in Freeport, Texas, Selena was encouraged to perform and record as a preteen. In 1989 the family band, Selena y Los Dinos (simply called Selena by 1991), graduated from generic synth-flavored, dance-pop released on indie labels to a more individualized sound.

The emotional depth of her singing, along with her brother A.B.’s clever songs and slick rhythmic arrangements, netted a Grammy for  Selena live in 1993. Amor prohibido, the last album released prior to her tragic shooting by a former fan in 1995, demonstrated the band’s wide range of styles, including reggae-inflected dance fare, hard-edged rock, and torchy ballads.

This according to “Selena” by Frank Hoffman (Encyclopedia of recorded sound; this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works).

Today would have been Selena’s 50th birthday! Above, Selena live in concert in 1994 by hellboy_93 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0;  below, performing in 1993.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

The Bristol sessions

In the summer of 1927 a group of musicians gathered for a recording session in Bristol, on the Tennessee-Virginia border, including musicians who would become some of the most influential names in American music—the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Stoneman, and more.

Organized by Ralph Peer for Victor Records to capitalize on the popularity of “hillbilly” music, the Bristol sessions were a key moment in country music’s evolution, producing the first commercial recordings by these artists.

The musicians played a variety of styles largely endemic to the Appalachian region. Rather than attempting to record purely traditional sounds, however, Peer sought a combination of musical elements, an amalgam that would form the backbone of modern country music. The reverberations of the Bristol sessions are still felt, yet their influence is widely misunderstood, and popular accounts of the event are more legend than history.

This according to The Bristol sessions: Writings about the big bang of country music (Jefferson: McFarland, 2005; RILM Abstracts 2005-19593).

Below, all four tracks from the Carter Family’s Bristol session.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Global hip hop studies

 

In 2020 Intellect launched Global hip hop studies, a biannual peer-reviewed, rigorous, and community-responsive academic journal that publishes research on contemporary as well as historical issues and debates surrounding hip hop music and culture around the world.

The journal provides a platform for the investigation and critical analysis of hip hop politics, activism, education, media practices, and industry analyses, as well as manifestations of hip hop culture in all four of the classic elements—DJing/turntablism, MCing/rapping, graffiti/street art, and b-boying/b-girling/breaking and other hip hop dances—along with the under-examined realms of beatboxing, fashion, identity formation, hip hop nation language, and beyond.

Below, the South Indian rapper Smokey the Ghost, who is interviewed in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under New periodicals, Popular music

Rocking the (Chinese) tradition

 

In December 2015, on the Zhongguo zhi Xing (China Star) television program, a reality-show competition among professional pop singers, the singer Tan Weiwei presented a song collaboration with masters of Huayin laoqiang (a xiqu genre originating from Shuangquan village in Huayin), telling her audience that it represented “the earliest Chinese rock music.”

This broadcast, and a second one at the 2016 CCTV Chunjie Wanhui (Spring Festival Gala), led to considerable controversy regarding the three-way negotiation among Chinese rock music, the “Intangible Cultural Heritage’” represented by traditional Hauyin laoqiang, and the political ideology of the Chinese Communist Party.

The reception of these performances among various groups of viewers–general audience members, rock music fans, musicians, and government officials–illustrates how different interpretations reflect audience members’ differing social ideologies. The process of combining rock music and traditional culture is given different meanings based on the identity and stance of different viewers.

This according to “Rocking the tradition or traditionalizing rock? A music performance on Chinese reality show China star” by Yang Shuo (Sounding board 2017; RILM Abstracts 2017-43941). Above and below, the historic performance.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Popular music

Jascha Heifetz and popular culture

 

Throughout Jascha Heifetz’s career he was celebrated as an epitome of highbrow taste; but he was no stranger to popular culture. He appeared in three films: Carnegie Hall, Of men and music, and They shall have music, in which he performed the finale of the Mendelssohn violin concerto and four other works.

Heifetz also composed popular songs, including “When you make love to me (don’t make believe)” and “So much in love”. “When you make love to me” (1946) was published under the pseudonym “Jim Hoyl” (maintaining the initials J.H.) to prove Heifetz’s point that the name of the composer would have little bearing on its success. The song was recorded by Bing Crosby and sold 300,000 copies when first released.

This according to “Heifetz, Jascha” (Biographical dictionary of Russian/Soviet composers Westport: Greenwood, 1989).

Today is Heifetz’s 120th birthday! Below, his own recording of “When you make love to me”.

BONUS: The Bing Crosby version:

Related article: Paganini and Marfan syndrome (featuring Heifetz on the violin)

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Renfro Valley Barn Dance

 

First broadcast in 1937, Renfro Valley Barn Dance was the first American barn dance radio program to be performed and recorded in an actual barn as opposed to a radio studio.

The program’s producer, John Lair, propagated his single-minded reconstruction of an idealized past and his own personal image of authenticity in American folk music. Lair constructed his aesthetic within Appalachian stereotypes and definitions of genre in folk and country music, and his interactions with performers, radio regulators, and advertisers illuminate his careful negotiation of the hillbilly icon and of signifiers of truth, sincerity, and authenticity in early country music.

This according to “Encoding authenticity in radio music: Renfro Valley Barn Dance and Kentucky folk music” by Helen Gubbins (Ethnomusicology Ireland V [July 2017] 15–30; RILM Abstracts 2017-24515).

Above, sheet music for a song that Lair wrote for the show; below, a compilation of radio clips and period photos, featuring Lair himself.

Related article: Happy 90th to the Grand Ole Opry!

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Filed under Mass media, Popular music

A day in the life

 

In 2019 Le Castor Astral launched A day in the life, a book series directed by Christophe Quillien. Each title evokes a key moment in the great rock saga; beyond the detailed narration of the facts, it traces the day’s consequences, sometimes unexpected, and its influence on rock in general.

The inaugural issue, De rock et de metal: 30 mai 1980, Trust dynamite–Le hard français by Pascal Paillardet (RILM Abstracts 2019-17626), focuses on the evening in 1980 when the band Trust was recording “Antisocial” for its album Répression. This song became the anthem of the group and the spearhead of French hard rock. Through an account of this recording, the author illuminates the emergence of hard rock in France in the 1980s.

Below, the recording in question.

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Filed under New series, Popular music

Huapango arribeño and the voices of migration

 

From New Year’s festivities in the highlands of Mexico to backyard get-togethers along the back roads of central Texas, Mexican people living on both sides of the border use expressive culture to construct meaningful communities amid the United States’ often vitriolic immigration politics.

Huapango arribeño, a genre originating from north-central Mexico, carries the voices of those in Mexico, those undertaking the dangerous trek across the border, and those living in the U.S. The genre refigures the sociopolitical and economic terms of migration through aesthetic means, illuminating the ways transnational music-making is at the center of everyday Mexican migrant life.

This according to Sounds of crossing: Music, migration, and the aural poetics of huapango arribeño by Alex E. Chávez (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017; RILM Abstracts 2017-45167).

Above and below, Guillermo Velázquez, one of the musicians discussed in the book. Don’t miss the step dancing toward the end!

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Filed under North America, Politics, Popular music

K-pop and political activism

 

For those who are new to K-pop fandom, a fancam is a video closeup filmed by an audience member during a live performance by a K-pop idol group. Fancams have been the bane of many Twitter users, however, who often find their own viral threads hijacked by users posting fancams to capitalize upon the thread’s popularity.

Following the murder of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis police force, K-pop “stans” redirected their energies to posts on Twitter and Instagram made by police departments seeking to identify protestors against police brutality—jamming them instead with videos of K-pop stars. Other strategies used to subvert such efforts, and to promote Black Lives Matter, include hashtag derailment, rickrolling, and weaponizing Disney’s heavy-handed copyright policing.

This according to “How K-pop fans are weaponizing the Internet for Black Lives Matter” by Aja Romano (Vox 22 June 2020; RILM Abstracts 2020-2918).

Below, a brief documentary on K-pop political activism.

Related article: The music of Black Lives Matter

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Filed under Curiosities, Politics, Popular music