Analysing the Pop Persona. An Exploration of a New Interdisciplinary Approach to the Analysis of Popular Music as Performance
Performative aspects such as staging a live performance, acting on stage, the construction of the performance persona (Auslander 2009) or star personality (Frith 1996), audience participation, but also socio-cultural developments, contribute to the overall concept of a performance in popular music. New methodological perspectives have been developed in current popular music studies that have linked historical, structuralist, or phenomenological paradigms with the discourse of performativity. By analysing a stage performance or a music video, we have to consider that we normally only get to see fragments of the ‘person’ behind the artist, thus the relationship between the performance persona and the character (Auslander 2009) is usually foregrounded.
Artists participate in contemporary socio-cultural discourses by developing a pop persona along the axes of sexual identity, race, social background, and other identity categories. A pop persona is usually based on existing models and certain conventions that try to fulfil or deconstruct expectations concerning authenticity. By regarding David Bowie or Janelle Monáe, one can hardly speak of a fundamental pop persona, which serves as a reference point for all his or her personae. Their different personae are not congruent with the characters embodied by both artists on stage, in music videos, or in popular songs.
Pop persona analysis differs from transcription methods of musicologists, notation methods of dance research, or analysis methods of theatrical performance. In this paper I discuss the history of pop persona analysis and introduce a new interdisciplinary approach to understand what popular musicians do as performers that integrates popular music studies, film studies, performance studies, cultural studies, and musicology. The model I have developed provides a framework for the performance analyst to consider expressive content across words and images with the aim of interpreting the social and cultural meanings that arise from that content.
Magdalena Fuernkranz is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Popular Music at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. As co-leader of the project “Performing Diversity” and leader of the project “Female Jazz Musicians in Austria”, her recent research has focused on performativity, gender, and intersectionality in pop and rock music, popular music historiography, Austrian music scenes and gender/identity in jazz. She is co-editor of Performing Sexual Identities. Nationalities on the Eurovision Stage (2017)and author of Elizabeth I in Film und Fernsehen. De-/Konstruktion von weiblicher Herrschaft (2019).