boys will be boys

Music connoisseurship is a man’s world. The logic and character of discourse is so masculine in character that a synesthete would say that arguments smell like locker rooms. Although I feel comfortable stating that as fact, here’s some evidence, anyway: Rembert Browne (blogging at 500 Days Asunder) created and completed a playoff bracket for songs by Outkast.

Seeds were based on the popularity of the song (determined by the author) and games were won or lost based on the author’s assessments of their merits. As subjective as this method clearly is, the text defending his picks reveals that he’s relying on a pretty standard discourse about what qualities a good song, a good rap song, and a good Outkast song, should have. That is, these picks are really not terribly idiosyncratic at all, although you’d expect individual brackets to play out quite differently from one another.

Here’s the initial bracket, and you should go to his website to read about his decisions as songs make it into the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4 and then the playoffs. I’ll even withhold the winner, so that you’ll read his work.

Of course, this is an exaggerated, heteronormative masculinity–one that prescribes all manner of social phenomena can be meaningfully analyzed through comparison with sports, war, and other competitive contexts. And I’m overdrawing the character of discourse among audiophiles and music lovers to claim that it is dominated by a single way of thinking, acting, talking, adjudicating. But as long as we’re in this wonderland of exaggerated gender norms, I wonder: what would music connoisseurship look like if it were a woman’s world? Instead of brackets, would we produce graphs of family lineages of sounds? Would we sort songs according to emotional states? What’s that picture?

h/t to GrandGood for the link.



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3 responses to “boys will be boys

  1. I know nothing about this, but even I could confidently predict before clicking through that no way was a #1 seed going to win, or likely even make it to the finals.

    I wonder when it was that this sort of music criticism became really prevalent—does it coincide with the rise of music charts?

  2. Jenn Lena

    I’m actually not sure, Kieran. I checked with a friend who is expert in classical music and he suggested it is linked to the rise of rock and rock journalism…Rolling Stone in 1967, Creem in 1969…but I should think there are plenty of earlier examples in jazz in blues…in Melody Maker starting in 1926, and growing from the desire to cultivate a readership among musicians, who were–by and large–men. So, my guess is that market information regimes and masculinist critical discourse were not coupled until the later 1960s.

    FWIW: Billboard starts calculating popularity in 1940, but doesn’t produce a composite chart (sales, airplay, etc.) until 1958. There are earlier charts than Billboard’s–Peterson and Anand (“Market Information…Fields”) write: “By the late 1940s, record stores, publishers and music licensing agencies, record industry and broadcasting trade magazines, industry tip sheets, and jukebox distributors all generated lists of their most popular records. The leading radio stations themselves released rankings of hit records played, and the NBC radio network broadcasted the widely popular countdown program “Lucky Strike’s Your Hit Parade” (Sanjek 1988).”

  3. Jenn Lena

    And here’s more from said friend: “There is a certain kind of masculinist discourse in music criticism from the beginning (mid 1800s Europe). Especially talking about virtuoso performers, everything has to do with heroism, leadership, military metaphors, command, etc. Hanslick, writing a criticism of the virtuosic Clara Schumann (almost a contradiction, since she’s a woman) has to spend time saying, “In spite of her femininity…” and talking about musicality that comes in spite of her lack of power (and yet she’s quite powerful). It’s fun to watch him try to describe it. But this seems to be a different animal from the kind of clubby sporty betting on your team with reasons criticism that you mean. Jazz criticism had a lot of that insider boy sport feel.”

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