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.
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, The Nation, and The New Inquiry, among others.
Table of 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
What People are Saying About This
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."