Lecture Videos

EMP Pop Conference 2013 ›
Emerson College Book Talk ›

Discussion Questions


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 from it?
3. Now watch Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” video. If viewing it as an exemplar of 1980s videos, what does it tell us?
4. Fast forward to Fergie’s 2007 Fergalicious video. How does it exemplify the “formula” James Dickerson discusses on p. XV11 of 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: Critical Frameworks for Considering Pop Star Branding

1. Please view Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video. What do you think she is trying to communicate to audiences?
2. What is the Cultural Diamond? Please explain it as a framework, defining each of its points.
3. 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 is Lady Gaga a master of “impression management?”
7. What do you think Lady Gaga was trying to do with her meat suit appearance? With her 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 “artist as a brand?”
11. How do I construct the idea of the “person brand?”
12. What are brand meaning and brand resonance? How does Lady Gaga exemplify both concepts?
13. What is multivocality? How does it turn some of what we’ve learned as marketers upside down?
14. Can firms be “celebrities?” Why or why not?
15. 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?
16. Please watch Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video. What do you think of Van Munching’s assessment of it?

Chapter 2: Female Popular Music Stars as Brands

1. Explain Martha Stewart and Lady Gaga as person brands.
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 do you think of the sales typology for female pop stars? Would you add any categories to it? If so, explain why.
5. What is a brand extension, and how does it relate to female pop star branding?
6. How do artists extend their brands through licensing or collaborating?
7. What are some of the “unlikely extensions” mentioned in the book?
8. What do you think about Kay Hanley’s point about differentiation on p. 65-66?

Chapter 3: The Modern Music Industry

1. What major changes have occurred in music distribution, retail, and radio in recent years?
2. What role(s) do gatekeepers play in the music industry?
3. Name three to five music industry gatekeepers or gatekeeper roles that exist now, but didn’t exist in 2000.
4. What is the blockbuster model?
5. 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?
6. 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: The Lifecycle of Female Popular Music Stars

1. What were some of the major themes my 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 on p. 93. 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 what does she exemplify? 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. Tim Riley offers an interesting perspective at the close of the chapter. What’s your take on it?

Chapter 5: Beyond the Good Girl and The Temptress

1. Read the descriptions of each category in this chapter. Then return to the Lifecycle Model on p. 90 of the text and see if you can plug contemporary pop stars into each phase.

Provide a rationale for why each star belongs where you have placed them. Draw on examples from the book in framing your answer, but try to integrate your own examples, too. Remember, artists can be in multiple phases simultaneously.

Chapter 6: Theoretical Foundations for the Lifecycle of Female Popular Music Stars

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 a “gender performance?” What does it mean to “do gender?”
3. What is the “male gaze,” and how does it apply to the contemporary music industry?
4. What is an ISA? How are ISAs important in establishing and maintaining cultural norms?
5. What is “everyday pornography?” Please provide an example of it that is not given in the book.
6. What is “gendered space?” Can you identify any gendered spaces in the music industry?
7. Who should I add to my list of “people to watch?” Please explain your rationale for your choice.

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 and Covers

Hilarious, literal deconstruction of Tyler’s video, which provides telling clues about what the camera does to women who don’t quite look the part of the post-MTV pop star. The original video is from 1983, the parody is more recent.

Stewart is literally framed by a pair of legs in mesh stockings throughout his performance. Naturally, all we see is the legs as Rod uses them as props, and we only see the whole woman twice – from behind. File under: Routine sexism from this era

This video reflects the male gaze circa 2007, and Fergie’s tendency to tear through looks/stereotypes, presumably in the hope that she finds one to please everyone gazing upon her. All that said, it’s a pretty creative take on age-old ideas.

Chapter 1: Videos and Covers

Does Gaga use/burn the industry, get used/burned by it, conform to its pop star processing to rise to the top, or all of the above? See for yourself and make the call…

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…

Stefani Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga) performs live before she began upstaging her music with her spectacles

This video is indeed filllllllthy. Mission accomplished Xtina!

Chapter 2: Videos and Covers

Is this a Victoria’s Secret ad? Are they courting each other’s markets? Are they trying to confuse us and look like one another?

Chapter 4a: Videos and Covers

Shows Madge playing the innocent virgin and the proudly defiled temptress, complete with lip licking lions. Hey, it was the 80s…

File under Jailbait fantasy – underage good girl presents as temptress.

Apple’s controversial first video, in which she looks underage, but isn’t.

Apple rages against the industry machine, and tells her audience to think for itself.

The good girl ends up face-down in the porta-potty, while the temptress gets the boy. What a lovely lesson…

Chapter 4b: Videos and Covers

Epic song, written and initially performed by an epic songwriter, Linda Perry. Aguilera's cover is also amazing.

Linda Perry performs epic smash “What’s Up” while still a front woman.

Songwriter DioGuardi in her Maxim photo shoot.

RIP Hannah Montana! Miley the young adult is a wild one.

Footage from Beyonce’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue photo shoot.

Footage from Avril Lavigne’s third Maxim cover shoot

Video feature about Mariah Carey’s Playboy cover.

Avril Lavigne's 2007 Maxim Cover

Chapter 5: Videos and Covers

I am sorry, but this is just gross.

Does anyone smell desperation? Is this an attempt at brand revitalization?

Sweaty "temptress" wears her underpants/bikini bottoms outside of her leather pants, repeatedly pants like a dog, and ends up smugly sandwiched between two men.

One of Brit's biggst fans defends her honor … and logs 45+ million Youtube views

Norah Jones earns a rare headshot for her first cover, Come Away With Me.

Norah Jones “earns” a full body shot on her second release, Not Too Late.

Christina Aguilera's 2007 Maxim Cover

Christina Aguilera's 2003 Maxim Cover

Chapter 6: Videos and Covers

I'm not sure I could hate this video much more. Click to see why.

File under: In this house, lonely women court the male gaze aggressively in countless ways, but despite their relentlessly cheesy efforts, no worthy manpanion materializes for any of them. (Imagine how this video might end in 2013). Also, I totally had this cassingle.

File under: Another sweet allegory for women in the music industry

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?

Brittany Howard focuses on her amazing music, not elaborate costumes, and compares her voice to the late Bon Scott. File under: Music first!

Adele’s 21: Classy headshot for a classy artist trained to avoid the male gaze

Gaga’s Born This Way: Part woman, part motorcycle, but somehow still hyper-sexualized!?!

Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday: Artist presented as a Barbie doll

Hmmm…usually she covers her privates with candies and cakes…

Chris Brown’s F.A.M.E.: This is an odd promotional pose for a man with a history of abusing Rihanna.