Representations on Radio: Discourse & Power
In ‘Rock & Sexuality’ (Frith & McRobbie, 1990) the idea the rock music often has sexual messages is suggested. They state that youth subculture adopted an ideological meaning through consumer cultures. However, they do agree that it can have many meanings, some of which contradict each other as representations of both masculinity and femininity are evident.
In ‘Popular Music and Youth Culture’ (2000), Bennett states how popular music became part of youth culture in the 1950s, alongside the gain in popularity of rock ‘n’ roll and the ‘birth of the teenager.’ This text also includes Adorno’s argument that music is ‘pre-programmed’ and follows guidelines in order to get a specific response from the audience. He also believes that this response comes so easily that no listening skills are required from the audience to understand the message. He contrasts popular music with high culture music such as classical which requires attention and focus to understand and appreciate, unlike popular music which ‘dictates how we listen to it.’
The two texts both discuss male and female roles in rocks music and how they think that rock music is male dominated. Firstly, Frith and McRobbie discuss how the majority of musicians, writers and business people involved in rock music are male. They also describe two types of music which show contrasting male presences: Cock Rock and Teenybop. Cock Rock is the aggressive, dominating and boastful presence front men often have in bands to create the image of a typical rockstar. Teenybop contrasts with this and describes the younger ‘teen idol’ style rock star who is aimed at a female audience rather than other men. However, Bennett suggests that front men often challenge gender stereotypes and rarely ‘declare a fixed sexual identity.’ This is also similar with women, for example, Annie Lennox has short hair and regularly wears suits.
Frith and McRobbie also believe that the ‘male dominance in the rock business is evident in…the musical careers of female rockstars’ as they are either associated with females singers of other genres or have to become ‘one of the boys’ to be seen as a rockstar. An example given is ABBA where the men wrote the songs, played the instruments and made all the decisions for the band while the women just sang what the men wrote and looked glamorous. Bennett also agrees that traditional gender stereotypes are often reinforced in the music industry and draws upon Robert Walser’s research into heavy metal music which found that a ‘legitimisation of male power and control’ in the lyrics and music videos even though sexism is not usually related to that kind of music. Similarly to this Jeffrey Arnett’s research found that female fans of metal music often ‘struggle to reconcile their enthusiasm for heavy metal with their sense of being not quite welcome in that world.’
For research into this area I would look at the mediated image of a performer and compare it to their personality off stage or in interviews.
Bennett, A. 2000, ‘Popular Music and Youth Culture: Music Identity and Plance, Macmillan, Basingstoke
Frith, S & McRobbie, A, (1990). ‘Rock & Sexuality’. In: Simon Frith & Andrew Goodwin (ed), On Record: Rock, Pop & the Written Word. 1st ed. UK: Pantheon Books. pp.(371-389).