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Written by alexgfrank

September 21, 2009 at 10:36 pm

>High/Low

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>The buzzword in fashion for the past decade has been “high/low”, which implies a girl or boy who mixes Chanel with H&M. This has been Vogue’s supposed sensibility. Well, it’s been the trend in cultural criticism too, probably for longer. I like writers who can discuss George Michael and economist Emanuel Sanz only one blog post apart, like Joshua Clover. But of course, because I’m no elitist, I spend most of my time reading his stuff on the former, as opposed to the latter. This excerpt about George Michael from his new book has some funny things to say:

“George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90” does not of course concern world events; its providential name was required to distinguish itself from the earlier Wham! song “Freedom.” It nonetheless manages to crystallize the feeling of the post-Wall moment without taking a stance regarding it, through its sense of unbounded duration as liberation, its formal evocation of the sudden absence of barriers — and its sense of this as something potentially intrinsic to the music, to the truth of pop.”

“…the song’s unabashed pleasure in the very pop it claims to have exposed and outgrown… “Heaven knows we sure had some fun boy, what a kick just a buddy and me,” he sings, referring to his supposedly abject days in the germ-free duo Wham! “We had every big shot good-time band on the run boy, we were living in a fantasy.” That this delight is casually tied to a male-male bond — that is, to the confessional’s half-hidden truth — is one of the secrets the song yields;”

…Against the masculine-coded renunciation of pleasure which historically defines the “mature” rejection of pop (which is for women and children), the song poses the truth of pleasure as the excess within pop…

I like the politics of the essay a lot because I think its important to acknowledge musical figures who do play around with pop instead of forgoing it for seriousness. And I think that deep understandings of pop are always heavily gendered, or sexualized. And even though he only does it briefly, I like that he ties it to 90’s liberation, which would bring on a new phase in both feminism and queer rights. Both of those movements would embrace a sort of politics of celebration after the dismal 1980’s. Remember when you saw Gay Pride parades on the news and nothing looked like more fun? The liberatory politics was celebration; that doesn’t mean there weren’t serious things going on. They aren’t so joyous anymore, it was a cultural moment that’s probably mostly gone.

Kathleen Hanna picked up on this whole thing in a conceptual way when she stopped making punk, a music taken seriously by the grand guards of musical credibility, and started making dance songs with Julie Ruin and Le Tigre. I notice that people react differently if I tell them how much I love Le Tigre’s first album compared to if I want to discuss Bikini Kill. Most gay friends of mine haven’t even heard of Bikini Kill, and most straight male friends of mine don’t give a damn for Le Tigre. But Kathleen has talked about, in words more eloquent and nuanced than mine, how basically sick of punk she was and how she thought she could convey her politics to the “right people” better through danceable music

Why is the understanding, love, and attention to pop music done mostly by gays and women? What does indie credibility have to do with masculinity? Is it just a phase? I don’t think Phil Spector worried too much about seeming fey. Then again, his pop elegance was tied to an abusive relationship with the woman who sang his songs. And why am I comfortable with my gender in so many ways, yet still feel sporadic pangs of discomfort when I’m in conversation with “music dudes” and don’t know enough about Mike Watt, a person that Kathleen directed her anger at famously, or whomever?