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Elvis has finally left the building? Boundary work, whiteness and the reception of rock music

Colloquium Musicology
dr. Pauwke Berkers

Thursday 18 February, 15:30-17:00
Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16, room 3.01

Music genres are constitutive of social boundaries as they are often structured along ethno-racial lines. Since Elvis Presley in the 1950s, rock music has been appropriated by whites, edging out non-whites from this music genre – the so-called Elvis Effect. Drawing on two ongoing studies with Julian Schaap, this presentation focuses on how music critics as well as audiences draw ethno-racial boundaries in rock music.

First, using content analyses of professional and lay reviews, our analyses show evidence of social marking: (1) the presence of ethno-racial markers e.g., “Black singer”; (2) the extent to which such markers crowd out aesthetic classifications, e.g. focusing on ethno-racial similarities instead of aesthetic differences; and (3) the way in which ethno-racial markers affect the rating of the album, as unmarked artists are arguably rated as superior.

Second, making use of the innovative subjectivity-based visual Q-methodology and post-sorting interviews, we will demonstrate how (1) non-white musicians are habitually marked as opposed to the unmarked white (male) norm; (2) non-white artists are both seen as tokens and role-models, revealing how difference can function as a double-edged sword; (3) discourses of color-blindness, color-consciousness and ironic minimization are employed to discuss ethno-racial inequality.