My book project, Sonic Femmeness: Black Sounds, Felt History, and Vibrational Identity, explores how black pop stars, activists, and intellectuals in the 1980s and 2010s used femmeness to navigate their historical moments of protest and pandemic. By closely listening to the songs of two different groups of black pop stars from the 1980s (Janet Jackson, Grace Jones, and Prince) and the 2010s (Blood Orange, FKA twigs, and Janelle Monáe), I use popular music as an affective lens into their surrounding historical context. Mobilizing vibration as an analytic, I utilize sound’s feltness, or affective charge, to trace aesthetic and historical connections between the 1980s and the 2010s. Through proposing that femmeness is a sonic, affective, and vibrational configuration, Sonic Femmeness seeks to expand on work in gender & sexuality and black studies that describes femme identity in terms of visuality. Writing reflectively from our historical moment, I additionally make connections between the assaults on black people (and people of color more broadly), women and femmes, and queer and trans people during the Reagan administration’s willful neglect of the AIDS epidemic in the early to mid-1980s and the Trump administration’s mishandling of the COVID pandemic and ongoing targeting of black life. In the process, I posit that lingering with vibration’s oscillations might move us to organize in solidarity across lines of race, gender, and sexuality in the political and cultural uncertainties of 2020s America.
As an Andrew W. Mellon Engaged Scholar Initiative Fellow, I am organizing the Synth Sounds of the Texas Triangle symposium, which will take place at the University of Texas at Austin in April 2021. As a series of performances at the statue bases where the confederate statues were removed in the middle of the night from the UT-Austin campus in August 2017, these performances by electronic music artists from Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio will accentuate how anti-black racism and white supremacy more broadly continue in both Texas and America even after monuments come down. In a similar vein, the Synth Sounds Summer 2020 Series will explore how music can be a space for anti-racism and solidarity building across lines of race, gender, and sexuality. You can watch the performances here and here.