Queering Country Music: Conceptualising LGBTQIA+ Voices in a Contested Genre
Thursday 25th April 2024, 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM (London Time)
Country music is a genre that is sometimes assumed to lack LGBTQIA+ participation. Over the past 30 years, scholarship (Rich, 1992; Dickinson, 1999; Hubbs, 2014; Goldin-Perschbacher, 2022; Royster, 2022) has begun to challenge these assumptions and shone a spotlight on the long history of LGBTQIA+ people’s engagement with the genre, as both artists and audiences. This course builds on this emerging field of research to consider the way LGBTQIA+ artists use country as a storytelling medium with potential to represent a broader range of experiences and narratives than the country music industry has historically recognised.
Country music has a self-referential conceptualisation of itself as a genre that is heavily invested in notions of authenticity. On the one hand, this holds potential for the expression of LGBTQIA+ voices. On the other, authenticity is heavily policed by the country music industry who wields this notion to construct and enforce exclusionary ideas of who country music is, marginalising women, people of colour and LGBTQIA+ people, erasing these histories of participation in the genre (Bishop and Watson, 2022; Goldin-Perschbacher, 2022; Moss, 2022; Pecknold, 2013; Royster, 2022; Watson, 2019). At the same time as this discriminatory industry context, LGBTQIA+ people continue to engage with country music and push the genre forward.
This course considers the way songs by LGBTQIA+ artists navigate country music aesthetics and definitions of genre, looking at the voice as a medium for articulating and reworking ideas of authenticity and genre identity. The presentation explores particular songs in depth covering the period from the 1970s until the present day, featuring artists such as Lavender Country, Chely Wright, Namoli Brennet, Indigo Girls, Jake Blount, and Allison Russell.
There will be a consideration of how each song navigates the genre, which has both potential and risks for LGBTQIA+ artists, dedicating particular attention to the way trans artists engage with precarious notions of authenticity. Through paying close attention to these songs, this course aims to showcase LGBTQIA+ voices in country music and to suggest ways that these artists challenge our understand of who and what country music is.
James Barker (he/they) is a PhD candidate in Music and Media at Newcastle University, UK. His PhD research explores the potential of queer reading as a strategy to assert LGBTQIA+ belonging in country music, using Dolly Parton as a case study.