The British Pop Dandy: Masculinity, Popular Music and Culture.
Stan Hawkins is perhaps best known for his scholarship on queer theory, identity, and expressions of masculinity in popular music, and his new book continues this line of inquiry to address the British pop dandy. The field of musicology in general is rapidly expanding to include new multidisciplinary methodologies particular to the study of popular music genres including gender and queer theory, performance studies, and vocal semiotics, and Hawkins' book engages these disciplines while situating his subject in a convincing historical and cultural context. His study follows a recent trend in scholarship examining representations of masculinity in popular music, including the essay collections Queering the Popular Pitch (ed. Sheila Whitely and Jennifer Rycenga [London: Routledge, 2006]), and Oh Boy!: Masculinities in Popular Music (ed. Freya Jarman-Ivens [London: Routledge, 2007]). Though Hawkins surveys several decades of popular music styles, applying a wide palette of analytical methods to his chosen musical texts, he reminds us that the ultimate role of the British pop dandy is to entertain.
After tracing the etymology of the word "dandy" itself, Hawkins begins his study by locating this problematic and politicized figure in a historical lineage beginning with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dandies such as Lord Byron, Charles Baudelaire, George Bryan "Beau" Brummel, and Barbey D'Aurevilly, progressing through Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, and Cecil Beaton, and finally addressing contemporary pop figures including, but not limited to, David Bowie, Adam Ant, Robbie Williams, Pete Doherty, Bryan Ferry, Morrissey, and The Kinks. Hawkins argues that in all these cases the dandy is a product of intricate social, political, and cultural mechanisms, one that redefines gender norms through vocal style, fashion, public display, camp, and theatricality. He also contests that pop--with its emphasis on spectacle and the visual display of the body--is the only musical genre through which the dandy can be described or defined. "Dandy" is a nebulous and malleable term, Hawkins admits. The artists he chooses to address embody the categories that contextualize them, and are often performers who exhibit instability and create paradox. Hawkins ambitiously engages and analyzes vocal timbre, moments of agency, production techniques, fashion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, image, and semiotics in describing and defining the British pop dandy.
Building on the pathbreaking work of gender and queer theorist Judith Butler and feminist musicologist Susan McClary, Hawkins continues his discussion to matters of style and subversion in chapter 2, framing the dandy as a spectacular persona through iconographic trends in British fashion and music. Fashion, gesture, recording technology, genre, music video, live concert performances, television appearances, and other "audio-visual texts" hold clues as to how pop identities are formed. It is in this section that Hawkins asks the important question: "How is British pop dandyism framed by traditions that raise questions of subjectivity and spectacularity?" (p. 42). The dandy constructs himself for the enjoyment of others and, according to Baudelaire, through temperament. Beginning with 1960s British Mod culture and fashion as paralleled in the music of The Kinks, Hawkins quickly progresses to 1970s Glam rock and culture, analyzing the powerful music video for David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes." Hawkins succinctly likens the dandy to dissident masculinity, a construction that articulates gender through nonverbal aural and visual signifiers.
Continuing his discussion in chapter 2 from another vantage point, chapter 3 again profiles the dandy according to spectacularity by analyzing both songs and music videos. Here Hawkins introduces a subject he will later take up in earnest in chapter 5-the voice. Voices are gendered, and part of the allure of the pop singer is the perception that, as Hawkins states, "the voice is always vulnerable, offering the promise of intimacy" (p. 85). This chapter explores issues of naturalness, authenticity, and sincerity in the pop dandy's performance through lyrical, visual, and aural conceits of hyperbole, extravagance, excess, and contradiction. Performances by Morrissey, the Pet Shop Boys, Adam Ant, Robert Palmer, and Jay Kay of Jamiroquai form the analytical backbone of the chapter. However, Hawkins' analyses of specific musical texts including Robbie Williams' "Rock DJ" and The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" are particularly efficacious in demonstrating how the dandy can present a "real" self--though constantly in flux--to the listener through both vocal styling and visual signifiers.
Chapter 4 analyzes the dandy through the lens of queer theory and the means through which masculinity is put on display in the masquerade of pop. Queerness in pop performance is delineated through the subversion of or compliance with hetero-normative ideals. Hawkins examines, through the songs and queer performativity of Pete Doherty, Marc Almond, and David Sylvian, how masculinity is reconfigured through kitsch, melodrama, camp, and other transgressive behaviors. Hawkins analyzes specific performances, iconography, mannerisms, vocal timbre, and the public personae of the artists before concluding that every performance is an opportunity for the dandy to depict identity--from Babyshambles' simple but overproduced "La Belle et la Bete," to Marc Almond's satirical and hyperbolic vocal style in "Kitsch." Defining queerness is elusive, Hawkins asserts; however, the singers he analyzes in this chapter all exhibit various degrees of theatricality, camp, and irony.
The musicological crux of Hawkins' argument occurs in chapter 5, wherein he addresses vocality, technology, and the dandy's different modes of performance. Hawkins asks perhaps the most compelling question of his entire study: "what makes a performance dandified through singing?" (p. 151). For Hawkins, it is the voice that may possibly be the most powerful element of the pop performance. He asserts that the voice communicates subjectivity through not only timbre but also recording techniques. British pop in particular is rife with queer sensibilities, and defining camp plays a large role in locating the dandy. Hawkins believes "camp takes something ordinary--an object, a phrase, a person or a situation--and turns it into something ironic, exaggerated and seriously defensive" (pp. 146-47). From the standpoint of the dandy's performance, camp is articulated in a number of ways, including wordplay, elongated vowels, and affected intonation. Hawkins again analyzes specific pop performances including The Darkness's "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," Baby-shambles's "Albion," David Bowie's "Slip Away," Morrissey's "At Last I Am Born," and Robbie Williams's "Millennium." These examples illustrate the close connection between performer and producer, voice and technology. Stylization of the voice--through, in this case, the mask of camp--exposes contradictions, complicates gender positioning, and transmits subjectivity.
Hawkins' final chapter examines the role of camp and strategies of masking and role-playing in British pop. Adding artificial operations to the recorded voice--compressing the sound, close-miking, or other post-production techniques such as reverberation--creates a compelling paradox wherein the dandy must reinvent himself as sincere and "real." The ways in which the artist articulates this paradox through performance illustrate the flexibility and appeal of the dandy, Hawkins looks generally at the cover song phenomenon and more specifically at the album of standards Robbie Williams recorded in 2001, as well as the tropes of virtuosity and mimicry in Roxy Music's 1972 "Bitters End." Again, this tension between a "real" performer and an artificial identity created in, for example, a cover song, forms the focal point for analyzing the dandy persona in this chapter.
Readers familiar with discourses on cultural theory, gender studies, and queer musicology--particularly the works of Butler, McClary, Phillip Brett, and Jean Baudrillard--will be comfortable with Hawkins' theoretical framework, while popular music scholars will recognize his diverse techniques in analyzing pop by engaging timbre, technology, image, persona, and performance. Hawkins also includes a helpful "List of Dandies," including their full names, band affiliations, and dates, for those unfamiliar with the repertoire. Throughout his study, Hawkins is careful to acknowledge overgeneralizations and the trappings of what he terms "dandy-spotting." However, The British Pop Dandy is an impressive study that proves musicology can adapt and create new methodologies for unpacking performativity and expressions of gender identity in popular music rather than forcing discussions of this multimedia genre into traditional analytical models.
SARAH F. WILLIAMS
University of South Carolina
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|Author:||Williams, Sarah F.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2010|
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