Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary

Univ. of Texas. Apr. 2020. 264p. ISBN 9781477318782. pap. $18.95. MUSIC
In their debut title, arts and culture journalist Geffen offers a sprawling, star-studded tour of gender expression beyond the binary in Western pop music from the 1950s to the early 2000s. “Music,” Geffen argues, “shelters gender rebellion,” the context of performance producing a space in which musicians are able to create and re-create gendered identities more varied than have been typically accepted or celebrated in everyday American life. Gesturing back to earlier queer themes found in the output of blues musicians such as Gertrude “Ma” Rainey and midcentury rock artists including Little Richard, Geffen opens the study in earnest with the Beatles and their fans. From there, the book weaves a sinuous path through glam rock, disco, punk, postpunk, synthpop, hip-hop, women’s music, riot grrrl, grunge, and more. The author explores how musicians used lyrics, composition, voice quality, clothing, hair and makeup, stage presence, and public persona to express gender in ways that defy easy binary categorization.
VERDICT Geffen’s clear love and deep knowledge of the subject, along with insightful historical and critical arguments about the intertwining of gender and music, make this a deliciously necessary read for anyone interested in either pop culture or gender studies.

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