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Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary

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Why has music so often served as an accomplice to transcendent expressions of gender? Why did the query "is he musical?" become code, in the twentieth century, for "is he gay?" Why is music so inherently queer? For Sasha Geffen, the answers lie, in part, in music's intrinsic quality of subliminal expression, which, through paradox and contradiction, allows rigid gender rol Why has music so often served as an accomplice to transcendent expressions of gender? Why did the query "is he musical?" become code, in the twentieth century, for "is he gay?" Why is music so inherently queer? For Sasha Geffen, the answers lie, in part, in music's intrinsic quality of subliminal expression, which, through paradox and contradiction, allows rigid gender roles to fall away in a sensual and ambiguous exchange between performer and listener. Glitter Up the Dark traces the history of this gender fluidity in pop music from the early twentieth century to the present day. Starting with early blues and the Beatles and continuing with performers such as David Bowie, Prince, Missy Elliot, and Frank Ocean, Geffen explores how artists have used music, fashion, language, and technology to break out of the confines mandated by gender essentialism and establish the voice as the primary expression of gender transgression. From glam rock and punk to disco, techno, and hip-hop, music helped set the stage for today's conversations about trans rights and recognition of nonbinary and third-gender identities. Glitter Up the Dark takes a long look back at the path that led here.


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Why has music so often served as an accomplice to transcendent expressions of gender? Why did the query "is he musical?" become code, in the twentieth century, for "is he gay?" Why is music so inherently queer? For Sasha Geffen, the answers lie, in part, in music's intrinsic quality of subliminal expression, which, through paradox and contradiction, allows rigid gender rol Why has music so often served as an accomplice to transcendent expressions of gender? Why did the query "is he musical?" become code, in the twentieth century, for "is he gay?" Why is music so inherently queer? For Sasha Geffen, the answers lie, in part, in music's intrinsic quality of subliminal expression, which, through paradox and contradiction, allows rigid gender roles to fall away in a sensual and ambiguous exchange between performer and listener. Glitter Up the Dark traces the history of this gender fluidity in pop music from the early twentieth century to the present day. Starting with early blues and the Beatles and continuing with performers such as David Bowie, Prince, Missy Elliot, and Frank Ocean, Geffen explores how artists have used music, fashion, language, and technology to break out of the confines mandated by gender essentialism and establish the voice as the primary expression of gender transgression. From glam rock and punk to disco, techno, and hip-hop, music helped set the stage for today's conversations about trans rights and recognition of nonbinary and third-gender identities. Glitter Up the Dark takes a long look back at the path that led here.

30 review for Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary

  1. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Read this near a multimedia device that will play music loudly and celebrate/mourn the incredible power of pop. I kept a Spotify playlist going throughout for anyone that wants to listen along: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4FP... Read this near a multimedia device that will play music loudly and celebrate/mourn the incredible power of pop. I kept a Spotify playlist going throughout for anyone that wants to listen along: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4FP...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Abdi Nazemian

    I don't write a lot of reviews here, but this brilliant book only has 3 reviews right now (!!) so I have to add one. Writing about music, and finding something new in it, isn't easy. But this book offers an essential perspective on music as a force that offers us a way out of binaries and boundaries, and also a new way to look at many of the musicians we've spent so much time with, from The Beatles to Prince to Grace Jones to a new generation of queer artists like Arca, Sophie, Perfume Genius an I don't write a lot of reviews here, but this brilliant book only has 3 reviews right now (!!) so I have to add one. Writing about music, and finding something new in it, isn't easy. But this book offers an essential perspective on music as a force that offers us a way out of binaries and boundaries, and also a new way to look at many of the musicians we've spent so much time with, from The Beatles to Prince to Grace Jones to a new generation of queer artists like Arca, Sophie, Perfume Genius and Janelle Monáe (and so many more). If you're obsessed with music like I am, pick this up.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gil

    music is gay and so am i!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joe Cross

    really interesting and vital book! i really like geffen’s approach here of making this essentially a history of all western popular music through a queer lens and vice versa, and i like that they include artists that we normally wouldn’t consider in that light and finding new angles on more obvious ones. excited to dig into the stuff here i’m unfamiliar with and for the revised version with a chapter about 100 gecs

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jerard Fagerberg

    This is not a clandestine history of queer music but a necessary re-framing of how we look at music history and the queerness that was there all along. Lovingly written by Geffen in their striking, understated style. Decades pass in a beautiful phrase, an elegant through-line drawn from the Beatles to Frank Ocean.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    there were a couple things i found incredibly refreshing about this book: 1. on page 1, paragraph 1, it plainly states that the gender binary is not real, and does not stand up to historical or biological scrutiny, simple indisputable fact. this is not a book that is willing to entertain any "debates" on the validity of identities that fall in between or outside male and female. this is the starting point, not something the reader needs to be convinced of - very much a "let's get this out of the there were a couple things i found incredibly refreshing about this book: 1. on page 1, paragraph 1, it plainly states that the gender binary is not real, and does not stand up to historical or biological scrutiny, simple indisputable fact. this is not a book that is willing to entertain any "debates" on the validity of identities that fall in between or outside male and female. this is the starting point, not something the reader needs to be convinced of - very much a "let's get this out of the way and discuss music." 2. it's not gatekeeper-y at all, in the way that music writing and queer theory can be. the author clearly wants the reader to find joy and meaning in the songs and artists they found it in, not show off how much they know. the Beatles, Prince, and Missy Elliott are introduced and explained with the same level of 101-ness as some of the more obscure artists; it's not assumed that you are coming into the book knowing any given musical era or genre inside and out. it also doesn't assume anything about the reader's own relationship to gender and sexuality; maybe you're reading it for personal insight or maybe you're reading it for cultural history, they're both fine. it felt like a very skillful balance of being accessible to a wide audience without alienating its queer & trans core audience by pandering to all the cishet readers in that wide audience (see thing #1). as with a lot of cultural essays i've read, there was some stuff that had me going "welp, this is a stretch" (Kurt Cobain's sympathetic menstrual cramps?? so many phallic or non-phallic guitars??). but whatever, it's a book about the personal meanings people find in things, and if people see that stuff then sure, why not. overall, a nice concise through-line of how gender line-blurring in pop music evolved from the Beatles' scandalously long hair to out-and-proud mainstream trans artists of the 2010s. i wish there were room to discuss even more artists, especially in some of the older eras where i'm sure there is a lot of buried treasure.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nika

    I like queer books and I like queer music, and I like queer books about queer music, but I absolutely lose it when books I was poised to really really like shoot themselves on the foot by failing to fact check. On page 68, writing about Joy Division, the author states, "The impulse to outsource illness to women was so strong that [Ian] Curtis devised a female avatar to sing about his epilepsy. 'She's Lost Control' positions the speaker as an onlooker to a woman's seizure." The author goes on to m I like queer books and I like queer music, and I like queer books about queer music, but I absolutely lose it when books I was poised to really really like shoot themselves on the foot by failing to fact check. On page 68, writing about Joy Division, the author states, "The impulse to outsource illness to women was so strong that [Ian] Curtis devised a female avatar to sing about his epilepsy. 'She's Lost Control' positions the speaker as an onlooker to a woman's seizure." The author goes on to make some interesting points about the lyrics, but all those interesting points are now resting on a problem - the subject of "She's Lost Control" was not a female avatar for Ian Curtis's epilepsy. She was a real person with real epilepsy who Curtis really witnessed having a seizure. Curtis wrote "She's Lost Control" after her death and before his own diagnosis, and was performing it live before he had his first seizure. The reason this bothers me so much is because the story behind "She's Lost Control" is not obscure. Yes, I happen to be a huge nerd about Joy Division, but also the song has its own Wikipedia page. The author's only citation for the Joy Division material in the book is an article that was written in November 1980. Possibly Mick Middles in 1980 didn't know that the song wasn't autobiographical (the article is behind a paywall, so I can't tell), but it's well established now. This means that either the author went to some effort to make a point about Ian Curtis feminizing his illness without doing their due diligence to make sure it was true, or they knew full well and chose the point they wanted to make over the truth. It bothers me because it was an easy fact to check, and the failure to do so made me lose trust in just about every other fact presented in the book. I wanted to feel like I could trust the points and observations being made to be built on solid ground, but I couldn't. Which really, really sucks, because the book was otherwise so damn interesting.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Spencer

    This book is perhaps one of the best recent examples of musical criticism I have seen, as it analyzes amusic in the context of the ever-changing world of consumerism, capitalism, and identity. While musical criticism in the past has dealt with these issues, no previous work that I'm aware of has been as exhaustive in its research and examples as this one in demonstrating that the hierarchy and barriers we often apply to music are completely false and that in order to truly embrace music as a for This book is perhaps one of the best recent examples of musical criticism I have seen, as it analyzes amusic in the context of the ever-changing world of consumerism, capitalism, and identity. While musical criticism in the past has dealt with these issues, no previous work that I'm aware of has been as exhaustive in its research and examples as this one in demonstrating that the hierarchy and barriers we often apply to music are completely false and that in order to truly embrace music as a form of expression, we must reject these hierarchies and live free of the constraints that society often imposes on us. Geffen perhaps best demonstrates when she states, "[s]he knows there's no such thing as authentic self-expression in a consumer society, just different ways of negotiating with the false" (56). In this quote, Geffen reveals the inherent hypocrisy in modern society (that many of us have now come to be aware of): while we are given thousands of choices of how we can express ourselves as people by means of our consumer purchases, these consumer purchases don't actually allow us to express ourselves authentically, because they are mere tropes designed by other entities for our consumption. Geffen argues, throughout the book, that in order to truly express ourselves, we must reject the notion of consumer-driven identity and instead break the barriers of consumerism by living an independent ethos whereby we create new forms of expression, rather than purchasing and imitating the old. They (Geffen, as a non-binary individual, uses they/them pronouns) continue to elaborate this argument by providing examples of ways that music perhaps should be created when we break down these arbitrary hierarchies and subvert the systems to which we often find ourselves bound: "too horny to live and too boring to die, he [Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day] retreats into his weed-enhanced ennui, surviving the only way he knows how: by complaining loudly into a microphone that's just a little too tall for him" (61). In this quote, Geffen reveals that not only should we break down the hierarchies involving the way music should be made, as a means of attaining "true" self-expression, but also the barriers that bind us to our physical bodies. By praising Armstrong for singing into a microphone that's "a little too tall for him," Geffen communicates that we should even break down the barriers that our physical bodies provide to us by rebelling in subtle ways against our physical limitations. Quoting Douglas Rushkoff, Geffen states "[s/he] instists that if we don't create reality ourselves, someone, somewhere will surely do it for us. And that person will not have our best interests at heart" (78). In this quote, Geffen continues to reveal her thesis that we must break down the arbitrary hierarchical structures of society in order to find true self-expression, and that these hierarchical structures include traditional gender roles. Geffen advocates for breaking the "fixed identity of male and femaleness" and creating one's identity individualistically, demonstrating that hierarchies often exist the way they do because of arbitrary historical context and power structures. They go so far as to call the status quo "claustrophobic" (78), a testament to the fact that power structures and hierarchies are not designed for everyone, especially those who deviate from traditional notions of gender. Going beyond gender (although that is the main topic of this book), Geffen continues to advocate for rejecting the hypocrisy of authority and hierarchy through the use of technology. Throughout the book, Geffen uses examples of electronic processing, robots, and digital sounds as a way of rejecting traditional structures and hierarchies present in music. In the context of gender, Geffen states, "she used electronic processing (and a keen sense of humor) to imitate the vocal affectations of men" (96). Here, Geffen advocates for the use of electronics as a way to break the hierarchies that bind our to our physical forms and instead transcend to a more individual form of expression. Later in the book, Geffen also cites the movement of Internet "DIY" musicians as a way of breaking the capitalist hierarchies we often find ourselves bound to. She uses Grimes as her primary example: a musician who not only rejected traditional notions of gender, by hesitating to identify as a "woman" (206), but also rejected notions of how music should be made: "she belonged to a new generation of artists who refused to box themselves into a given genre and shied away from traditional production arrangements" (207). By analyzing the use of technology as a way of rejecting the arbitrary structures of the society we live in, Geffen demonstrates that only by rejecting societal constraints can we truly achieve individuality and connectedness. In the final chapter of this collection of essays, Geffen ties all of these arguments together, by stating the eventual goal of all of this system-crushing and hierarchy-breaking: to "find ways to coalesce—to become more ourselves, and in doing so, become better equipped to reach out to each other" (220). While breaking the traditional hierarchies of the society we live in may seem daunting and at times anarchic, Geffen demonstrates that in the end, it's not all about being violent or uncivil. In fact, the authoritarian structures that we live in are often more violent than the actions we must take in order to break them down! By breaking down these structures, perhaps by means of short-term violence and "incivility," we can build a better world, with fewer artificial boundaries. "In losing yourself, you can better become yourself" (221), Geffen posits, demonstrating that we all have a sense of individuality that we can find, if we remove ourselves from the coercive structures of the society we live in and "lose ourselves" to who we truly are. After all, what is the point of living, if not to find connection and to feel less alone: to become who we "know ourselves to be" (221)?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    I thought this book was extremely enjoyable and engaging. Although published by a university press, the writing is very accessible and doesn't get bogged down in dense, long-winded academic speak, which makes sense considering Sasha Geffen's background in journalism. I was a little worried most of it wouldn't personally connect with me because a lot of the contemporary artists I already listen to and love don't come up until the final chapter. However, it actually ended up being incredibly power I thought this book was extremely enjoyable and engaging. Although published by a university press, the writing is very accessible and doesn't get bogged down in dense, long-winded academic speak, which makes sense considering Sasha Geffen's background in journalism. I was a little worried most of it wouldn't personally connect with me because a lot of the contemporary artists I already listen to and love don't come up until the final chapter. However, it actually ended up being incredibly powerful to reconsider those artists in light of the pages and pages of binary-challenging pop history that led up to their success and, in fact, their ability to even exist as proudly and openly as they do in the first place. Moreover, Geffen has a special talent when it comes to describing music and visuals in a way that makes every song and video sound transcendent. A few chapters in, I decided to follow along as best I could through listening and occasionally viewing, and I was always disappointed when my experience of a track didn't completely drop my jaw like the writing made it sound like it would. Even so, I appreciate some of the gaps that hearing them helped me fill in my knowledge of musical history, and I still ended up adding at least a dozen albums to my "to listen" list (which, like my "to read" list, is constantly growing). A few notes that are less criticisms and more musings on what I would have included if this were my book: 1. The last chapter moved at breakneck speed from the late '90s through to today. On one hand, this makes sense, considering contemporary music hasn't been around long enough to accrue extensive bodies of analysis or firmly cement its place in musical history. On the other hand, I really would have liked to see incredibly important trans artists like SOPHIE and Arca receive the detailed treatment given to most of the artists from earlier decades rather than the few paragraphs they were afforded. They may be brand new in the grand scheme of things, but I think they represent an extremely important moment in which trans creators are once again innovating the electronic music genre but this time receiving the credit and accolades they deserve for it, a full blossoming of the seeds planted by artists like Wendy Carlos, whose work took many years to be recognized for its full significance. 2. As a result of the speediness of the last chapter, a lot of modern gender-busting artists who I consider essential were left out. As an obvious example, I was shocked that Xiu Xiu never came up once. As a less obvious example, Parenthetical Girls are probably too little-known, but Zac Pennington's presentation and lyrics absolutely follow in the tradition of artists like Prince, David Bowie, etc. who were discussed at length. As they're one of my favorite criminally underrated (and sadly dissolved) bands, I couldn't help imagining how great a deep-dive into Pennington's experiments with traditionally feminine personas and expression would be. Both of these bands have musical and geographical ties to Perfume Genius, mentioned several times. 3. I wish there would have been more trans men discussed. I know it takes a bit more digging to find them, especially within the realm of pop music (even as loosely as Geffen seems to define the word "pop"), but even a discussion of this lack of representation and the implications behind it would have been welcome. 4. I was a bit saddened that aside from Hole and a couple of riot grrrl bands, the incredibly strong '90s female alternative scene was completely ignored. This may be my own bias showing, as they're the sort of artists I consider formative to my own music taste, but I feel like Tori Amos, Bjork, and PJ Harvey would have slotted perfectly into the overall discussion. On a superficial level, they may have often presented in typically female ways and sung from a distinctly feminine perspective, but I think they all pushed against the gender binary in their own ways. Tori Amos straddled her piano bench with splayed legs like a man taking up space on a subway and sang in a harsh, often gutteral snarl, extending her notes into wounded wolf howls. Bjork has always seemed more alien than human, positioning herself as a timeless, placeless, genderless extraterrestrial being. PJ Harvey performed with the swagger and brashness of a male rocker and penned confrontational, grimy lyrics, all while wearing red lipstick and sparkly evening gowns. Not to mention, they all had to battle against relentless misogyny and belittling from the music press and mainstream audiences. All this would have been ripe for an entire chapter, which I now kind of want to write for myself just to see how it turns out. Anyway, I'll stop there. I didn't mean for this to be so long, but I feel perhaps more passionately about music than books even, so it's hard for me to shut up once I get started. Long story short: I definitely recommend this book, and it's given me enough musical food for thought to keep me full for weeks.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Greg Talbot

    Written with the gusto of a TMZ article and an unfocused social critique lens, "Glitter Up the Dark" sullies a potentially rich book about the way gender identity has been challenged by popular music. At it's best Geffen roots an an artist with a technology enhancement such as the 808 scratching of hip-hop sampling with "Planet Rock" , or details the way an artist purposefully used their image and vocal range to subvert audience expectation with Bowie and Prince. Too often the book scolds with mal Written with the gusto of a TMZ article and an unfocused social critique lens, "Glitter Up the Dark" sullies a potentially rich book about the way gender identity has been challenged by popular music. At it's best Geffen roots an an artist with a technology enhancement such as the 808 scratching of hip-hop sampling with "Planet Rock" , or details the way an artist purposefully used their image and vocal range to subvert audience expectation with Bowie and Prince. Too often the book scolds with male bashing, self-serving identity politics, and bombastic writing without much reflection. Statements about Kurt Cobain were some of the most egregious: "Like many people with uteruses, Cobain suffered mysterious and seemingly untreatable abdominal pain. It was as if the singer were haunted by phantom menstrual cramps. Not only did his sickliness dent his masculinity - the male gender holds little spce for chronic illness - his pain clustered in an area associated with womanhood, like the pain of periods and childbirth." Honestly what is that?- what college paper would be taken seriously with that? It isn't to say that trans artist and the LBGTQ community haven't dramatically impacted modern pop music. Geffen's last chapter on the dehumanistic pop of Arca, Grimes and Sophie feels like the forefront of a new musical chapter. But there is so little attention given to how these artists are making music or how these artist appraise their art. So if you want a screed on identity politics in pop-music, with some flimsy and quirky conclusions read it. Probably better to just listen to the artists themselves though.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    "Music supplies the perfect alibi: you can sing the truth about yourself as many times as you like but it'll stay in the realm of the imaginary. It's the perfect place to say something without saying it, to dance between genders without having to confront the material reality of transition. Inside a song, every singer is exactly who she says she is in the moment her voices passes through her throat. The voice makes reality, even if that reality evaporates like a dream the second the tape stops r "Music supplies the perfect alibi: you can sing the truth about yourself as many times as you like but it'll stay in the realm of the imaginary. It's the perfect place to say something without saying it, to dance between genders without having to confront the material reality of transition. Inside a song, every singer is exactly who she says she is in the moment her voices passes through her throat. The voice makes reality, even if that reality evaporates like a dream the second the tape stops rolling." I didn't know how much I needed a book like this. I highly recommend it, especially to my fellow queer-identified musicians. Best to read with the referenced songs/artists playing in the background.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Castles

    Should be three and a half stars. The first chapter about the Beatles was cracking, and the final chapters about Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love and artists working today were really strong. I was a bit disappointed by other chapters, which at times seemed like a catalogue of artists rather than bringing new insights to them. But the idea as a whole is great and I did find out lots of interesting facts from the central section - and have been listening to lot of tracks I haven't before, or haven't for Should be three and a half stars. The first chapter about the Beatles was cracking, and the final chapters about Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love and artists working today were really strong. I was a bit disappointed by other chapters, which at times seemed like a catalogue of artists rather than bringing new insights to them. But the idea as a whole is great and I did find out lots of interesting facts from the central section - and have been listening to lot of tracks I haven't before, or haven't for ages. Definitely worth a read, but not quite as strong as I was hoping.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katja

    Excellent book! The language is very approachable too, not overly technical for example, so anyone interested in the subject matter should read it. The book starts with The Beatles, which might not seem to be what the book is about, until you remember (or learn here) that their too long hair was almost scandalous at the time. The book goes on mostly chronologically except sometimes when several genres or artists were popular at the same time. The structure is clean and clear, easy to follow. Some Excellent book! The language is very approachable too, not overly technical for example, so anyone interested in the subject matter should read it. The book starts with The Beatles, which might not seem to be what the book is about, until you remember (or learn here) that their too long hair was almost scandalous at the time. The book goes on mostly chronologically except sometimes when several genres or artists were popular at the same time. The structure is clean and clear, easy to follow. Sometimes Geffen focuses on an artist or band a little more, sometimes a genre is looked at through many artists. It brings nice variation. Many of the musicians and other music people the book talks about are queer but not always but even in those cases they brought something binary breaking to the music world. The book explores many different types of gender related topics, trans people of course but also masculine females, feminine males, androgynous people and many other forms too. Geffen looks the artists both through their music and the way they present themselves. It's wonderful look through pop music history and various genres through a specific lens.

  14. 4 out of 5

    J. Brendan

    A fun and detailed overview of the ways in which musicians across the 20th and 21st century (but mostly in the rock and post-rock era) have played with gender through their vocal and musical experimentation. Geffen's overall thesis is that the voice in music demonstrates the mutability of bodies, genders, and the divide between bodies and technology. Geffen's focus in much of the book is on breadth instead of depth - this means a lot of ground gets covered but sometimes I would have loved more t A fun and detailed overview of the ways in which musicians across the 20th and 21st century (but mostly in the rock and post-rock era) have played with gender through their vocal and musical experimentation. Geffen's overall thesis is that the voice in music demonstrates the mutability of bodies, genders, and the divide between bodies and technology. Geffen's focus in much of the book is on breadth instead of depth - this means a lot of ground gets covered but sometimes I would have loved more time and focus on certain artists. The Beatles chapter was especially detailed in a way that later chapters felt a bit scattershot (the women's music/Tracy Chapman/riot grrl chapter was especially erratic for me). The chapters on the Beatles, synth pop, disco, punk and grunge were especially strong. Overall, a very readable and fun examination of this topic. The book can easily be read as a series of essays that you can dip into and need not read straight through. Overall, recommend!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    "Listening to music is inherently a sensual exchange," writes Geffen — an intimate act. What's more, "music's ambiguity also enables the covert expression of queer desire and identity." I came to Glitter Up the Dark as a straight cis man, and one of the things I loved about the book is how Geffen celebrates the way that challenging the binary is inherent to the appeal of pop music for all people who approach it with open ears and hearts: it clears a space for all of us to more truly understand t "Listening to music is inherently a sensual exchange," writes Geffen — an intimate act. What's more, "music's ambiguity also enables the covert expression of queer desire and identity." I came to Glitter Up the Dark as a straight cis man, and one of the things I loved about the book is how Geffen celebrates the way that challenging the binary is inherent to the appeal of pop music for all people who approach it with open ears and hearts: it clears a space for all of us to more truly understand the human experience. I reviewed Glitter Up the Dark for The Current.

  16. 4 out of 5

    aglaecwyf

    I loved this, just like I was expecting to. It's a great overview of the most important movements in pop music between the mid 20th century and today, but the queer framing meant that a fair amount of the history was new to me, even when I was familiar with the subject matter. My only issue, in fact, is that the book covers so much ground (and it isn't a big book) that it ends up breezing past some really interesting stuff that might have been worth a more in-depth look. Some subjects - Beatleman I loved this, just like I was expecting to. It's a great overview of the most important movements in pop music between the mid 20th century and today, but the queer framing meant that a fair amount of the history was new to me, even when I was familiar with the subject matter. My only issue, in fact, is that the book covers so much ground (and it isn't a big book) that it ends up breezing past some really interesting stuff that might have been worth a more in-depth look. Some subjects - Beatlemania, Prince - get more detailed coverage, but I would have enjoyed a deeper dive into some of the other artists and areas that only get a sentence or a paragraph.

  17. 5 out of 5

    E. V. Gross

    I haven't felt so fully seen—and my many selves (past, present, and future) so beautifully articulated—by a book in such a long time. "Glitter Up the Dark" helped validate so many thoughts, feelings, theories, and obsessions that I've held for as long as I can remember. Music has always been a powerful conduit for me in expressing my internal desires and this was such a well-researched, and well-argued, position around the power of pop music as expansive, and (at times) utopian, and inherently q I haven't felt so fully seen—and my many selves (past, present, and future) so beautifully articulated—by a book in such a long time. "Glitter Up the Dark" helped validate so many thoughts, feelings, theories, and obsessions that I've held for as long as I can remember. Music has always been a powerful conduit for me in expressing my internal desires and this was such a well-researched, and well-argued, position around the power of pop music as expansive, and (at times) utopian, and inherently queer.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shane Longoria

    One of the most profound explorations of gender as a construct through the lens of pop music. Not only is there incredible history and analysis on 20th and 21st century popular music, but there is also a beautiful love letter to the artists who, through music, were able to challenge and deconstruct expectations of the gendered body and spirit, continuing the work of pushing humans to think past binaries of male/female into a new, liberated conception of bodily existence and presentation altogeth One of the most profound explorations of gender as a construct through the lens of pop music. Not only is there incredible history and analysis on 20th and 21st century popular music, but there is also a beautiful love letter to the artists who, through music, were able to challenge and deconstruct expectations of the gendered body and spirit, continuing the work of pushing humans to think past binaries of male/female into a new, liberated conception of bodily existence and presentation altogether.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve

    Excellent writing and thought-provoking ideas. The author dives into details about various artists' work, appearance, performance style, history and how those relate to gender and attendant expectations. I enjoyed the connections Geffen drew between the different artists and musical genres, the historical narrative woven somewhat chronologically. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys musical criticism. Excellent writing and thought-provoking ideas. The author dives into details about various artists' work, appearance, performance style, history and how those relate to gender and attendant expectations. I enjoyed the connections Geffen drew between the different artists and musical genres, the historical narrative woven somewhat chronologically. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys musical criticism.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Serge

    Great sociocultural analysis Geffen offers granular analysis of iconic performances in a variety of genres that persuade the reader that music is the ideal vehicle for gender non-conformity. Freedom onstage and in videos has been a hallmark of artists willing to push the envelope. I enjoyed Geffen's exploration of the music scene in the seventies from David Bowie and Lou Reed through Wendy Carlos, LaBelle and Donna Summer. Great sociocultural analysis Geffen offers granular analysis of iconic performances in a variety of genres that persuade the reader that music is the ideal vehicle for gender non-conformity. Freedom onstage and in videos has been a hallmark of artists willing to push the envelope. I enjoyed Geffen's exploration of the music scene in the seventies from David Bowie and Lou Reed through Wendy Carlos, LaBelle and Donna Summer.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    Skim read the entirety of this book in about an hour whilst doing research for an essay, but alas it was not useful for my particular essay. This isn’t a mark against the book or anything, it just wasn’t as relevant as I was hoping. Still I came across some music I was not familiar with before, so that’s a plus.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tad

    Will definitely appeal more to the music nerds out there. I've always been more of a casual music listener so this was a less engaging read for me. But I did learn a lot about the industry and some of the artists behind it. All in all, a very informative and very well researched book. Should come with its own soundtrack! Will definitely appeal more to the music nerds out there. I've always been more of a casual music listener so this was a less engaging read for me. But I did learn a lot about the industry and some of the artists behind it. All in all, a very informative and very well researched book. Should come with its own soundtrack!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Susie

    I love music and this surely gave me a backstory that I never considered. Some artists dress as they do I just thought that is was for artistic effect. The inner struggle and the desire for acceptance is really the backstory. Particularly liked Kurt Cobain’s story. I did skim some parts... didn’t know the artists. There was even a shout out to Sting 😉.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I feel like a few of the chapters got a little bit off topic and focused on describing the music instead of furthering the thesis of how pop music broke the binary (I still enjoyed those sections) and thought a few of the connections made were slightly tenuous but, overall, it was a immensely readable book about the erosion of the gender binary in pop music from the 30's to the present. I feel like a few of the chapters got a little bit off topic and focused on describing the music instead of furthering the thesis of how pop music broke the binary (I still enjoyed those sections) and thought a few of the connections made were slightly tenuous but, overall, it was a immensely readable book about the erosion of the gender binary in pop music from the 30's to the present.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bill DeGenaro

    Excellent look at the connection between pop music and gender nonconformity. Geffen hones in on specific artists and pop culture movements and so never seems to be writing about concepts in the abstract. I especially enjoyed the chapters on Prince and post-punk. Best of all, I managed to note some contemporary artists I never heard of who I'm looking forward to checking out. Excellent look at the connection between pop music and gender nonconformity. Geffen hones in on specific artists and pop culture movements and so never seems to be writing about concepts in the abstract. I especially enjoyed the chapters on Prince and post-punk. Best of all, I managed to note some contemporary artists I never heard of who I'm looking forward to checking out.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carter K Delloro

    I read a lot of music books and it’s rare that they change how I listen to music. But this one did. Geffen grounds their analysis of pop music in both academic theory (Baudrillard, Mulvey, hooks) and lived experience. It’s a monumental work that breathes fresh life into old texts and locates newer masterpieces in the history of transgressive popular music. Highly recommend.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book with the accompanying playlist. It gave me a chance to look at pop music through a nonbinary lens, which I often overlook as a cisgendered person. It was also a fun moment to be reading a book like this one. I 100% think that MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) would have been featured if the book came out next year. Maybe an epilogue?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kurt Reighley

    My favorite study of music and gender and sexuality since Martin Aston's excellent "Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache." Engaging and intelligent, yet never ankled by academic rhetoric. A refreshing, informative read. My favorite study of music and gender and sexuality since Martin Aston's excellent "Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache." Engaging and intelligent, yet never ankled by academic rhetoric. A refreshing, informative read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    (jessica)

    [4.5/5] A solid text, and one I'm likely to integrate into some syllabi. A little more of a history than what I was anticipating, but one with a great deal of insight away from what's commonly written about the many, many artists cited. [4.5/5] A solid text, and one I'm likely to integrate into some syllabi. A little more of a history than what I was anticipating, but one with a great deal of insight away from what's commonly written about the many, many artists cited.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Fun. Ferocious. Impeccably researched. Brimming with a heady mix of optimism and sober clarity. Absolutely progressive and forward-thinking while offering up an excellent history of queer voices in 20th and 21st century music history.

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