Research Networking Day: The Politics of Pop

Kunstquartier Studio 1, Mariannenplatz 2, 10997 Berlin Map
Tickets: Free entrance


12:00 13:30

Opening with Dahlia Borsche
Talks by Max Alt, LJ Müller, Maurice Stenzel, and Olivia Scott
Hosted by Dahlia Borsche

The Research Networking Day provides a platform to exchange ideas and experiences for students and researchers from different European graduate and postgraduate programmes traversing the fields of audio, arts, media, design and related theoretical disciplines. A yearly initiative co-organised with Humboldt University’s Department of Musicology, the RND sought submissions from students, junior researchers and persons pursuing higher levels of research and studies to present projects and findings connected to the CTM 2018 Turmoil Theme.

Research Networking Day Welcome and Opening

The first module within the 2018 Research Networking Day is hosted by Dahlia Borsche, who is Research Associate at the Department of Musicology at Humboldt University Berlin. Her research interests focus on contemporary and transcultural music processes, thereby expanding traditional discipline boundaries to the fields of sound, urban and cultural studies.

The New Right is Pop. The Impact of Right-wing Populism on German Pop Music

Max Alt (Humboldt University, DE)

In 2016 the patriotic and nationalistic rock band, Frei.Wild, received one of the highest prizes in the German music industry due to their sales and pop cultural relevance. Frei.Wild call themselves patriots, blisteringly criticizing Germany’s immigration policy, globalization, and the upper class. It is not by chance that in recent years a patriotic rock band became accepted and significant in German pop culture; musicians with a pronounced nationalistic and right-wing populist attitude are the symptom of a bigger socio-political shift in German society. The New Right has made its way into the center of politics, society, and pop music.Acts such as Frei.Wild and Xavier Naidoo are just the polarizing and provocative tip of the iceberg, pointing towards a much more complex question. What does it mean to make German pop music in times of a conspicuous socio-political and socio-cultural swing to the right? As Herbert Marcuse states, pop music has the power to negate conventions of culture and, in that sense, to negate culture in general. Patriotic and nationalistic musicians start to make use of the power of pop music to shape an understanding of individuality, identity, and social structure, which is based on nationality and ethnicity. In my research, I point to how the New Right has become part of German pop music culture and cannot be argued away. As a consequence, a strong urge to negotiate what it means to be German has fallen into the realm of popular music and culture.

Max Alt is currently writing a Masters thesis in Musicology at Humboldt University Berlin. During his studies in Musicology and Cultural Science he focused on popular music studies with a strong approach towards Cultural Studies, Media Studies, and Sociology. Besides popular music studies, his research interests include cultural theory, cultural critique, and questions of identity and subjectification.

Hearing Inequality in Current Mainstream Pop: The Sound of White Femininity in Taylor Swift’s Reputation

L.J. Müller (Humboldt University, DE)

In her new album, Reputation, Taylor Swift presents herself as a self-assured and fierce version of new femininity. Her electrified voice(s) combined with beats that reverberate strongly in the listening body (or at least in mine) produce an image of female self-centered agency that (surely was in the making over the last ten years, but) is quite a new feature in mainstream pop. I am tempted to celebrate this as feminist empowerment, but questions arise as to how this new sonic self is fueled. Isn’t it transporting the ideal values of an hedonistic neoliberal post-feminist (James, McRobbie)? Isn’t her active position based on an already privileged middle-/upper class and probably white womanhood? How exactly is this power increase achieved in the music? Are there some costs and if yes, who is paying the bill?

I’d like to discuss this on the basis of the album’s sonic material (not interviews, images or visuals) using tools for music analysis that I developed in my recent research on sexism in pop. And finally, to share my inner turmoil, I’d like to add one last question: Is it still OK to enjoy this music?

L.J. Müller studied musicology and cultural studies at Humboldt University (Berlin) with a focus on popular music and gender. She was awarded the Maria Hanáček Prize for young researchers by the German speaking branch of IASPM in 2016. Currently she is working on a PhD on gender/sexism in sound while also taking care of a baby. She is about to publish her first book, named Sound und Sexismus (Marta-Press, Hamburg).

La Rapublique en Rage! Racism and Postcolonial Politics in Contemporary French Rap Music

Maurice Stenzel (MuBiTec/University of Erfurt, DE)

Emmanuel Macron’s electoral victory with his newly-founded movement, ”La République
En Marche“, on May 7th 2017 signified a fundamental shift in the French political landscape. In a meeting during his campaign on April 1st, Marcon cited ”Nés sous la même étoile“ (born under the same star), a single by Marseille’s renowned rap group IAM, during a speech to emphasize his political avowal to the republican ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Unfortunately, the song means exactly the opposite, stressing the fact that exclusion, racism, and the lack of perspectives remain a brutal reality for French youth and adolescents with a migrant background. In Elams’ song, “Macron”, the highly controversial rapper however takes up these issues by questioning the chances for change in the Cités in France under President Macron.

It’s no coincidence that political activism is articulated through rap music in France and on the globe, as rap has been deeply intertwined with politics since its advent. Being demonised by politicians for inciting turmoil and riots, French rap music proclaims lasting issues around migration, racism, and identity, which are missing in Macron’s agenda, thus reinforcing the genre’s importance today.

Maurice Stenzel studied Musicology and Cultural History and Theory (B.A.) and Musicology (M.A.) at Humboldt University Berlin from 2011 to 2017. He is an active member of the student research group “Forschungsgruppe Populäre Musik” at Forschungzentrum Populäre Musik, and the chair of theory and history of popular music at Humboldt University. As of February 2018, he will be working as a research assistant in the subproject “MuBITec – musical education with mobile digital technologies” at Erfurt University, which is part of the network project “Digitalization in cultural education”. His PhD programme will be related to this project.

Transcendence in Revolt: Sketching the Radical Potentials of a Politically Engaged New Age Music

Olivia Scott (independent researcher, AU/DE)

The production and consumption of music today is structured by multiplicitous, fragmented networks of exchange that have come to shape the form of music communities and music itself. Far from the cyber-feminist dream of an anti-phallic lateral reconfiguration of power that emancipates creativity and cultural exchange, music remains entrenched in the toxic dynamics of late capitalism. Music’s radical potential is stunted by the scattering and fracturing of its communities, and aesthetics confined to Sisyphean compulsions of endless inter-referentiality or static techno-positivity that struggle to reach beyond the capitalist imaginary.

The New Age music that emerged in North America in the 1970s proposed a different purpose for music and listening practices. Rather than attempting to engage with the culture and politics of postmodern society, New Age Music instead aspired to create a personal space for the listener’s spiritual transformation. However, as a genre largely produced and consumed by white middle class liberals, the music’s transformative potential never developed beyond the goal of the transcendence of the liberal subject. This research paper will trace the roots and intentions of classic New Age music and its contemporary transmutations in an attempt to explore how a more socially and politically conscious New Age music could engender a new practice of listening at once spiritual and political, thereby facilitating the ‘biological’ changes Marcuse deemed necessary for the radical transformation of society.

Olivia Scott is a Marxist scholar of critical theory currently based in Berlin. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Queensland and now works as an independent researcher, writer and music producer, contemplating and investigating the political and philosophical potentials of underground music.


Dahlia Borsche[DE]

Dahlia Borsche is musicologist and curator. In 2019 she took on the position of Head of Music at the DAAD Artist-In-Berlin programme.

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