Upcoming presentation: ‘A Blank Space Where You Write Your Name’

I will be participating in a panel with Emily Baker, Ian Biddle and Freya Jarman at the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle. Our panel is on Sunday 17 April and my paper is entitled ‘A Blank Space Where You Write Your Name: Taylor Swift’s Early Late Voice’. Abstract below.

Taylor Swift’s songs invite listeners to connect art and life in the tradition, if not always the style, of the ‘confessional’ singer-songwriter. From an early age, Swift has written and sung about ‘big topics’ like time and experience with a remarkable sense of self awareness. Her songs hymn youthful experience to great effect through references to specific ages or via more general depictions of girlishness, school, first loves, summer vacations and family. Through her lyrical preoccupations, Swift exemplifies many aspects of what I call ‘late voice’, a way of thinking about the writing and singing of time, age and experience. My conceptualisation of lateness considers artists and listeners not only in terms of conventional ‘late’ periods (i.e. old age), but as subjects who reflect on such issues throughout our lives. In the first part of this paper, I make the case for Swift as an exponent of ‘early late voice’.

While a number of commentators have picked up on the maturity of Swift’s writing voice, comparatively little attention has been paid to her singing. I address this gap by looking at the conflation of writing/singing in the singer-songwriter’s voice. I examine tensions that have been noted between Swift’s art and her star persona. To what extent, I ask, is the denigration of Swift’s musical style (her singing as much as her move towards chart pop) a gendered attack on young women’s voices? At the same time, what strategies have been used to authenticate Swift as an artist by other critics? I conclude with a discussion of Ryan Adams’s cover of Swift’s 1989 album and the critical discourse surrounding it, arguing that the ‘blank space’ of Swift’s voice becomes legitimated and appropriated by a critical discourse focussed on roots, genre and masculinity.

Hearing Is Believing

The other day I wrote a piece for The Conversation about the Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi, who, it was revealed last week, has been paying a ghost writer to compose his work for nearly two decades. The story gained greater shock value for the fact that Samuragochi had also been exaggerating the deafness that had given him and his works an emotional, Beethoven-referencing backstory. My piece led to an invitation to take part in a discussion for New York radio station WQXR’s podcast ‘Conducting Business’, available here.

Popular music and the politics of authenticity

The Polish journalist Mariusz Herma has written to tell me that our email conversation about popular music and authenticity has contributed towards a piece he wrote for an end-of-year summary in Polityka (in Polish). He has also translated our whole exchange into Polish on his blog. Unfortunately, my language skills aren’t up to comprehending the text but, as part of the current redesign of this site, I’ll be adding a section for email exchanges of this kind (i.e. Q&A sessions that lead me to write things that might otherwise go unpublished but which I might want to recall) and will include the English language version there. As part of the redesign, I’m also adding links to some of my teaching documents, including my course ‘Popular Music and the Politics of Authenticity’, which ran from 2009 to 2012 at Newcastle University (Module handbook).