Academic journal article Current Musicology

Laurie Stras, Ed. 2010. She's So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music

Academic journal article Current Musicology

Laurie Stras, Ed. 2010. She's So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music

Article excerpt

Laurie Stras, ed. 2010. She's So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music. Surrey, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Laurie Stras's edited volume She's So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music is a welcome addition to the recent scholarship on music by female musicians of the 1960s that attends to the complexity of the women and girls who performed and listened to this music in the United States and the United Kingdom. So unexplored is this area of inquiry from a musicological standpoint that, in her introduction, Stras appropriately envisions She's So Fine to be the "beginning of a re-evaluation--with emphasis on value--of the very premises of 1950s and 1960s pop" (23). By extension, Stras's ambitions for the book not only necessitate an interrogation of the merits of the popular music canon, but also call for a reconsideration of the standard criteria for assigning and naturalizing value wherever it calcifies.

The pop music of women musicians in the 1960s has, critically and in general popular thought, been denigrated for its polish and mass appeal. Celebrated volumes on rock history such as The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, (2001) or Robert Palmer's Rock and Roll: An Unruly History (1995) have participated in the dismissal of girl groups by crediting their success to the complex labor force of producers and song-writers "behind" the musicians. Stras observes that "Pop and its attendant girl-space, with their alleged emphasis on conformity and concomitant lack of authenticity, have been noted as a phenomenon, but one that always seems to operate as a foil to prove rock's ultimate superior cultural worth" (22). The most troubling problem posed by these gendered constructions of '60s genres is not so much that popular music is consistently gendered "female"--for as Stras observes, pop music was indeed a space dominated by teenage girls who represented the target audience (21)--but that this feminization simultaneously becomes a marker of conformity, lack, or devaluation. Clearly, the diminished social status of adolescent girls in Western culture is one explanation for the motivations behind this discursive and political suppression of '60s girl pop and the heterogeneity of the girl singers in question. She's So Fine, therefore, is a valuable feminist work because it resonates as the unequivocal rejoinder to all of the pejorative connotations that justify the reduction and dismissal of the category of "girl" from androcentric histories of popular culture.

This collection is divided into three main sections that are organized into a loose chronological fashion, drawing from a broad range of disciplines that include cultural studies, historical musicology, performance studies, and media studies. It uses a wide array of primary source materials that include recordings, television broadcasts, interviews (both published and personal), biographies, autobiographies, images, journalism, rock criticism, and fan-created artifacts. Its methodological and theoretical approaches to 1960s girl pop are so diverse that each reader can map a different trajectory through their arguments, but always with the sense that the essays are in conversation with each other.

Stras charts a course that does not quite resemble a conventional recovery project, whose purpose might be to make extraordinary, otherwise forgotten music more available, mostly because accessibility and public exposure have never been a significant problem for the uniquely situated status of 1960s girl groups. As Stras mentions in her introduction, '60s girl pop presently exists in an abundance of forms within popular culture, entertainment, and media (7)--so much so that the "'60s girl singer" is both a standard, camp figure. The academic and critical devaluation of girl singers, then, has little to do with our failure to acknowledge '60s girl pop and everything to do with a deliberate disempowerment of the teenage girls involved with its creation and reception. …

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