Lecture Videos

EMP Pop Conference 2013 ›
Emerson College Book Talk ›

Discussion Questions

Preface

1. Why did appearance requirements change for female artists after MTV broke?
2. Please watch the literal video for Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It’s satirical, but what can we learn about the presentation of female stars from it?
3. Now watch Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” video. What does it tell us about how male artists in the1980s used female bodies in their videos?
4. Fast forward to Fergie’s 2007 Fergalicious video. How does it exemplify the “formula” James Dickerson discusses in the preface?
5. How did MTV boost the power of brands?
6. On the last page of the preface, Norma Coates talks about how female artists are positioned as pop artists, and pop feels artificial. Correspondingly, she argues male artists are more likely to be positioned as rock artists, which consumers read as “authentic.” Agree or disagree, and provide evidence from the popular music you consume.

Chapter 1

1. What verbal and visual messages are being communicated to audiences through Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video?
2. How are Lady Gaga and Beyoncé like and unlike major pop stars who came before them?
3. What is the Cultural Diamond? Please explain it as a framework, defining each of its points. 4. How is the Cultural Diamond useful in exploring people, stories, and events in popular culture? 4. What is critical theory?
5. What is symbolic interactionism?
6. How are Lady Gaga and Beyoncé masters of impression management?
7. What can we learn about gender presentation/representation from Lady Gaga’s appearance as Jo Calderone?
8. How does communication theory relate to pop star brands?
9. Ferris says “meaning making occurs on both sides of the celebrity-audience divide.” What does this mean to you? Please give an example or two from popular culture to support your explanation.
10. How does Jonathan Schroeder construct the idea of the “artist as a brand?”
11. What are brand meaning and brand resonance? How do Lady Gaga and Beyoncé exemplify both concepts?
12. What is multivocality?
13. Can firms be “celebrities?” Why or why not?
14. How do you feel about the way Fergie explained her previous meth addiction? Was this a good way of proactively managing potentially damaging meanings? Would you advise other artists to do the same?
15. Please watch Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video. What do you think of Van Munching’s assessment of it?

Chapter 2

1. Explain Lady Gaga through the lens of the person brand.
2. Why is it important to explore the ideas of “person brands” and “short-term brands?”
3. What’s different about managing “short-term person brands” as opposed to brands built for the longer term that don’t have living people at the center of them?
4. What is a career artist?
5. As you examine Table 2.1 and Table 2.2, is there anything that surprises you? What are some of the most valuable takeaways these tables illustrate?
6. How does Kay Hanley’s career trajectory demonstrate the power of brand extensions?
7. How do artists such as Shakira, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Nicki Minaj extend their brands through licensing or collaboration?
8. What are some of the “unlikely extensions” mentioned in the book?
9. What the five guiding principles of managing person brands?
10. What, if anything, strikes you about Kay Hanley’s observation about differentiation at the end of the chapter?

Chapter 3

1. What are some of the major revenue streams open to top-level pop stars?
2. How important is streaming as a measure of success and as a distribution outlet in the current marketplace?
3. Explain the importance of touring, festivals, and casino shows in the female pop star portfolio of revenue streams.
4. What are some of the factors driving whether a song (or a full-scale release) is considered a hit (using contemporary measures)? Sponsorship, licensing, and endorsement deals are also increasing in importance. Drawing on the comments of those interviewed, how do these deals tend to happen. Who tends to get them, and who doesn’t?
5. When do such deals work well, and when are they less successful? Why did Lewis describe Cyrus’s deal with Converse as perfect for both brands?
6. What major changes have occurred in music distribution, retail, and radio in recent years? How have these changes impacted the work of record labels/music companies? How have they affected artists?
7. What role(s) do gatekeepers play in the music industry?
8. What are the main differences between indie artist career considerations and pop star career considerations, as evidenced by the illustrations on pp 101-102?
9. What is the Blockbuster model?
10. In your view, what are the most important things someone hoping to work in the music industry (as an artist or as a marketing person) should know prior to entering it?
11. Based on what you read, where do you think the industry is heading in the next five years? 10 years? 20 years? What challenges and opportunities do you find in your future-looking take on the industry?  

Chapter 4

1. What were some of the major themes the author’s interviewees shared about how female pop stars must look and behave? How does this differ from male artist positioning?
2. Please briefly describe what the lifecycle model is, and what it does.
3. Stephen Thompson breaks down the marketing of boy bands. Does his analysis ring true? If so, can you provide other examples? If not, please explain your own view on the subject, using evidence from popular culture.
4. Elizabeth Lang does the same for young female performers. Does her analysis ring true? If so, can you provide other examples? If not, please explain your own view on the subject, using evidence from popular culture.
5. Explain the effects of coming to market to aggressively, not only avoiding the good girl, but actively playing the bad girl.
6. What’s a good girl? Please provide examples from the book and examples of your own.
7. What’s a temptress? Please provide examples from the book and examples of your own.
8. Who is Linda Perry, and why is she an important figure in this book with respect to what her story tells us?
9. Same question as above, but with Kara DioGuardi.
10. Professor Tim Riley offers an interesting perspective at the close of the chapter. What’s your take on it?

Chapter 5

1. Please read the descriptions of each lifecycle category in this chapter. Then return to the Lifecycle Model illustration in the previous chapter and see if you can plug contemporary pop stars into each phase.
2. What are the characteristics of a provocateur? Why is this one of the more desirable places for a female pop stars to be within the model?
3. What is the role of gender in driving artist positioning toward “hot mess” or “troubled genius?” What can we learn from the stories of Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, Fiona Apple, and others about these categories?

Chapter 6

1. The survivor is a new category, and one that has several noteworthy exemplars. Who are they, and how can they use this positioning platform to redirect their images toward more sustainable positioning (within or outside of the Lifecycle Model)?
2. How do female pop stars become gay icons?
3. What are some of the reasons (and ways) a pop star might find herself in self-imposed exile/protected status? What can be done or gained while in this phase of the Lifecycle Model?
4. Which artists have been able to launch successful and sustained comebacks? What are the two named life events that tend to trigger such redemption for female pop stars?
5. At the close of the chapter, Madonna is explaining some of the lessons she has learned from her time in the entertainment business/music industry. What are some of them?

Chapter 7

1. What does Theodor Adorno say about popularity, and how things meant to be popular are constructed? Do his ideas still apply to the modern music industry?
2. What is sexual scripting and how might we apply this idea to pop videos?
3. What is a gender performance? What does it mean to “do gender?” How might we apply these ideas to Meghan Trainor’s “I’m A Lady?”
4. What is the male gaze, and how does it apply to the contemporary music industry? How does Katy Perry’s “Bon Appetit” or Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea’s “Booty” videos show some of its declarations in action?
5. What is face-ism? How does it contribute to the way audiences look at and make sense of female pop stars?
6. What is an ISA? How are ISAs important in establishing and maintaining cultural norms?
7. What is fauxmosexuality? How do you think “playing gay” for the camera (while publicly identifying as straight) is different from trying to own one’s authentic bisexuality or sexual diversity as a female pop star?
8. In your view is there a post-modern gaze, or a female gaze? If so, who constructs it, what’s the source of its power, and what does it see?
9. What is “everyday pornography?” Please provide an example of it that is not given in the book.
10. What is self-objectification? What are some of its harmful effects on the person seeing herself through the expectations of another’s eyes?
11. Do you view the Super Bowl performances referenced in this chapter as theatrical entertainment, activism, entertaining activism, or something else entirely? On what details do you base your assessment?
12. What is mainstreaming, and why is it potentially instructive for music industry performances?
13. What is a gendered space? What would you identify as gendered spaces in the music industry?

Chapter 8

1. What is intersectionality? How might our view of Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, or Jennifer Lopez change if we study them through this more complicated and comprehensive lens?
2. What is cultural appropriation? Why does it “hit a third rail” in contemporary culture, per Doug Melville?
3. What are the differences you notice about how Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, and Katy Perry allegedly appropriate or face censure for their appropriations?
4. Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj have also faced appropriation charges (for elements of the “Formation” video and for feigning bisexuality for attention, respectively). Do these cases look or feel different to you than those noted above?
5. What is Title VII and why is it important? Why do you think harassment and gender-based discrimination has been so rampant for so long in the entertainment business?
6. As the book went to press, there was more open discussion of these matters, and more people being held accountable for their actions. While the book was in press, the Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey stories broke, showing that comedy and film organizations were also beginning to explore their own relationships to sexual harassment and violence. Where do you think these outcomes lead? What industry changes do you hope to see by the time you enter your chosen field or industry?
7. What are some of the positive ways the industry has arguably changed for the better since the first edition (as indicated in the book’s conclusion)? 

Reports and Articles

Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls.

Report Summary
Great media literacy resource. Media literacy efforts aim to teach people how to critically read, watch, and listen to the messages they receive on an ongoing basis. For example, one might learn how to analyze an advertisement based on the perceived financial interest of the advertising company. In short, such efforts help people know what to watch for as they process messages, particularly commercial messages.

In its own words, this report: “(a) defines sexualization; (b) examines the prevalence and provides examples of sexualization in society and in cultural institutions, as well as interpersonally and intrapsychically; (c) evaluates the evidence suggesting that sexualization has negative consequences for girls and for the rest of society; and (d) describes positive alternatives that may help counteract the influence of sexualization.There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.”
View This Report

 

“The Devil in Greg Dark”
By Tom Junod for Esquire

“He was a pornographer. Maybe the worst pornographer. Now, through Britney and Mandy, he’s teaching our teenage daughters about budding desire. And he’d prefer that you get off his back about it.”

View This Article

Related Videos and Covers

Preface Videos

Literal video parody of Bonnie Tyler’s smash hit/ MTV video: “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” video:

Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run,” the second video ever aired on MTV:

Chapter 1 Videos

Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video:

See Lady Gaga and R. Kelly perform “Do What U Want” on Saturday Night Live in 2014:

See part of Lady Gaga’s SXSW performance in 2014 here:

Lady Gaga/Jo Calderone (2011): When dressed as a man, Gaga commands our full attention as a musician and invites us to listen to her narrative and her singing.

Missing Persons’ “Words” video: Before Stefani Germanotta/Lady Gaga was even born, there was Dale Bozzio…

Chapter 2 Videos

Shakira “Can’t Remember To Forget You,” video, featuring Rihanna:

Beyoncé’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself” video:

Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You” video from the 2016 Oscars:

Official trailer for Can I Be Me:

Chapter 4 Videos

Linda Perry performs as lead singer of 4 Non Blondes:

For the original video see:

Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” video (written by Linda Perry):

Linda Perry discusses how she feels about “covering” her own song on Make or Break: The Linda Perry Project:

Miley Cyrus’s “Can’t Be Tamed” video:

Chapter 5 Videos

See Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” video here:

See Sia on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden:

See Miley Cyrus, Joan Jett, and Laura Jane Grace cover the Replacements’ “Androgynous” as part of the Happy Hippy Foundation Backyard Sessions here:

See Nicki Minaj’s “Only” video here:

See Beyoncé’s “Formation” video here:

Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty” video:

See Fergie’s “M.I.L.F$” video here:

Chapter 6 Videos

See Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” video here:

Chapter 7 Videos

See Meghan Trainor’s “I’m A Lady” video here:

See Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” video here:

See Katy Perry’s “Bon Appétit” video here:

See here for Beyoncé’s “Partition” video:

View the “Booty” video here:

See Amy Schumer’s “Milk Milk Lemonade” (from Inside Amy Schumer) here:

Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” video:

See Perry’s HRC Speech here:

Watch the video for Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl” here:

Chapter 8 Videos

See Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s three-song cycle at the 2013 VMAs here:

See Perry’s performance of “Unconditionally” at the AMAs here:

See Perry’s “This Is How We Do” video here:


You are indeed the queen of the universe, and you deserve mad props for pulling this off. But when dancing in the bleachers in front of millions, may I respectfully suggest flats?

See the original, unrated video for “Blurred Lines” here:

and the rated version here: