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Glitter Up the Dark

Glitter Up the Dark
How Pop Music Broke the Binary

From the Beatles to Prince to Perfume Genius, Glitter Up the Dark takes a historical look at the voices that transcended gender and the ways music has subverted the gender binary.

Series: American Music Series

April 2020
Available
$18.95
264 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 |
ISBN: 
978-1-4773-1878-2
Description: 

From the Beatles to Prince to Perfume Genius, Glitter Up the Dark takes a historical look at the voices that transcended gender and the ways music has subverted the gender binary.

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.

Contents: 
  • Introduction: An Alternate Ribbon of Time
  • 1. Screaming the Beatles: The First Boy Band Breaks the Gender Mold
  • 2. Oh! You Pretty Things: The Glitter Revolution
  • 3. Whining Is Gender Neutral: Punk’s Adolescent Escapism
  • 4. Wreckers of Civilization: Post-punk, Goth, and Industrial
  • 5. Soft Machines: Women, Cyborgs, and Electronic Music
  • 6. Not a Woman, Not a Man: Prince’s Sapphic Androgyny
  • 7. The Fake Makes It Real: Synthpop and MTV
  • 8. Infinite Utopia: Queer Time in Disco and House
  • 9. Funky Cyborgs: Time, Technology, and Gender in Hip-Hop
  • 10. Butch Throats: Women’s Music and Riot Grrrl
  • 11. God Is Gay: The Grunge Eruption
  • 12. No Shape: The Formless Internet
  • Coda: Whole New World
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Author: 

Sasha Geffen
Denver, Colorado

Sasha Geffen is a writer based in Colorado. Their work focuses on the intersections between pop culture and gender and has appeared in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Artforum, theNation, and theNew Inquiry, among others.

Reviews: 

“A must-read for all those interested in the politics of sound.”
The Guardian

“[Glitter Up the Dark] is a unique examination of gender fluidity and queerness across genres of popular music; a must-read for music lovers.”
Ms. Magazine

“[Glitter Up the Dark] doesn't just discuss various subversions of typical masculine and feminine gender roles—it discusses how we came to accept the full gender spectrum with non-binary and third gender identities. Geffen chronicles gender fluidity in music from the 20th century to the present, discussing everyone from early blues artists and David Bowie to Missy Elliot and riot grrrl bands.”
Paste Magazine

“From Little Richard and Elvis to David Bowie and Prince, Glitter Up The Dark shows how artists have used music and its accompanying fashion and technology to subvert traditionally accepted forms of sexual identity—including what Geffen calls “audio drag,” wherein musicians inhabit shifting personas through vocal manipulation. While Geffen is more than comfortable digging into headier gender theory, the book remains accessible and well-crafted.”
The A.V. Club

“Through deft yet largely accessible analysis, Glitter Up the Dark feels like a revelatory unearthing, as Geffen carefully exposes threads of queerness that typical histories may choose to ignore or erase.”
them

Glitter Up the Dark is not just a chronicle of the transgressive possibilities of pop music but also a history of Geffen’s listening and a demand that we regard pop culture in explicitly political terms.”
The Nation

“Without attempting a comprehensive overview of queerness in music, Glitter Up the Dark nevertheless traces a clear path from the Beatles onwards...Whether it's the time-shifting energy of '70s New York clubs like the Loft, the 'sapphic androgyny' of Prince, or the gay masculine identification channeled through Grace Jones's 'I Need A Man,' Geffen makes clear that performers and their listeners have always been engaged in a lively, flirtatious exchange, constructing vibrant, expressive, and more fluid worlds in the space between each reverberating sound wave.”
Nylon

“An essential contribution to the modern music-book canon, made all the more intimate in Sasha Geffen’s hands.”
Pitchfork

“This slim yet sprawling volume...overturns traditional approaches to pop-music history by revisiting popular stars, songs and genres through a gender-expansive, queer lens”
Westword

“[Glitter Up the Dark] tells the story of queer artists and fans carving out space for their self-expression in an industry that capitalizes on pieces of the queer aesthetic, while simultaneously writing off those artists who are deemed too subversive or political.”
Jezebel

“Fortunately, there are progressive art objects. There are transgressive art objects. But every now and then, we get revolutionary art objects that change how we talk, read, and think. Sasha Geffen's Glitter Up the Dark changed the way I hear music and the convenient way I understand gender and performance in and outside of music. One will not hear or reproduce traditional understandings of gender ever again after experiencing this boldly brilliant book.”
Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

“Sasha Geffen follows the glamour and the glitter across a musical universe of queer and trans performances. Not looking simply at particular stars nor following a musical movement like punk from its roots to its demise, Glitter Up the Dark travels the multiple lanes of a trans-musical express. With riffs on the trans voice, careful attention to histories of performance, reception, and fashion, and theories of queer time and space, this book sparkles and glows. Read it, listen to it, love it.”
Jack Halberstam, author of Gaga Feminism

“With simply brilliant writing and joyfully queer insights, Sasha Geffen dives deep into rock’s gendersmashing history, reminding us of the ecstatic potential when art and transgression collide.”
Michelle Tea, author of Against Memoir and creator of the Drag Queen Story Hour

“How does music make gender audible in all of its rich, expressive, shifting forms, far beyond binary definitions? How have artists as ubiquitous as the Beatles and as cult-yet-crucial as Poly Styrene and Wendy Carlos helped us hear and understand the truths of bodies who, as the author writes, demand to choose their own shapes? This scintillating and deeply considered account of pop's queer and trans history answers these questions with inspiring stories of rebellion and community, bratty punks and androgynous poets, studio inventors and prophets of the dance floor. An absolutely necessary account of what has always been at the heart of popular music: transformation.”
Ann Powers, author of Good Booty