Annelot Prins is pursuing her PhD in American Studies at the Graduate School of North American Studies at the Freie Universität, Berlin. Her research is grounded in Feminist Theory and Celebrity Studies, and mostly focuses on American popular culture. She is especially interested in the relation between popular music and identity politics. Previous work consisted of an intersectional analysis of Beyoncé’s star text, and she has engaged representations of white female sexuality in the oeuvres of Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus in her work, leading to publications and media appearances in these areas. Currently, she is working on white nostalgia and the fascination with the fifties in pop music. Her dissertation analyzes the rise of celebrity feminism in contemporary US-American pop music.
In 2014, iconic singer Beyoncé stood in front of a beaming sign reading FEMINIST during the MTV Video Music Awards. After Beyoncé’s performance, red carpet questions suddenly changed from questions about dresses to inquiries about feminist beliefs. Moreover, an abundance of pop songs framed as feminist flooded the charts. The fact that pop music, often framed as light-hearted and apolitical commercial entertainment, is the medium of this insurgence of feminism is remarkable. Does this mean pop music is politicized, or are politics depoliticized and turned into entertainment? What does the rise of “pop feminism” mean for our understanding of politics and entertainment?
This interdisciplinary PhD project will provide an intersectional analysis of contemporary pop music branded as feminist by the media, artists, and fans. I argue celebrity feminism is a foundation of contemporary societal debates. My investigation of the ways debates about feminism are shaped by, and related to, celebrities in pop music will be informed by three different perspectives. First, I situate contemporary feminist pop music in the history of both protest music and identity politics (i.e. politics that are structured by the desire to emancipate particular identities). Second, I perform a close reading of lyrics and videos of several exemplary case studies in order to create a taxonomy of the representations of feminism in pop music. Third, I perform ethnographic research that engages with the tension between social justice and celebrity culture: how do fans make sense of the tension between activism and commercialism? How do they experience “pop feminism”? I will argue that celebrity feminism allows two contradictory strands of contemporary feminism to coexist: on the one hand celebrity feminism illustrates the inescapable nature of both neoliberalism and capitalism, yet on the other hand it also shows how both are still potentially escapable from within. These escapes might be but small cracks, but also point to the possibilities of art to politically resist and transgress societal understandings of identity.