Festival season might have just kicked off in the Californian desert, but there's another major musical gathering going on this weekend – the fourteenth annual EMP Pop Conference. This year's conference is titled Get Ur Freak On: Music, Weirdness, and Transgression, and across the numerous roundtables, presentations, and panels, a wide range of critics, academics, and scholars will parse out how music has and continues to break down constructs and preconceptions in everything from gender to genre. As always, the Pop Conference will tackle these topics through the lenses of all kinds of music, not just pop, and to help you sort through all of the discussions going on at the EMP this weekend, we've picked out five events that are sure to be some of the most engaging, humorous, and and just plain out there reflections on music you'll hear all year. Like last year, conference attendance is free, but as space is limited, registration is mandatory. Thursday, April 16th – 7:00 p.m. – Can Pop Really Be Transgressive? Poptimism and Its Discontents
Kelefa Sanneh's massively influential (and still contentious) article coining the term "poptimism" is still brought up in discussions over a decade later, not least as the topic of the opening and keynote panel at this year's Pop Conference. Moderators Ann Powers (NPR) and Eric Weisbard (University of Alabama) and panelists including Jody Rosen, Julianne Escobedo Shepard, and Maura Johnston will put poptimism under the knife, dissecting its ideological origins and limits, its political and identity functionality, and its future. For fans of talking about genre Let's Talk About Love by Carl Wilson (who is also on the panel), this is a can't miss.
Friday 11:15 – Work It: A Missy Elliott Roundtable
Although she's kept a fairly low profile for the past decade, the legacy of Missy Elliott is more apparent than ever. Her eye-popping visual aesthetic and commanding presence as an MC broke barriers in a male-dominated genre upon her emergence, and as a new generation of female artists cite the influence of her rebellious sound, there's plenty to be said about the hip-hop pioneer.
Saturday, 10:45 a.m. The Worst Song Roundtable
If there really is a "Worst Song in the World", it's going to be found on Saturday afternoon. Considering dubiously nominated songs from the conference presenters, the panel will make criticisms and defense of each tune while sorting through what exactly makes people think that a certain song can be so terrible. (As a bonus, there will be a degree of audience participation, so now's your chance to make your case for your personal least favorite tune.)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. – New Wave Invasions and Evasions
A trio of presentations will explore how haircuts and synthesizers changed music forever in the Eighties. Evie Nagy will discuss how Devo started a "Geek Rock Revolution", Alfred Soto will explore queer presentation in Eighties England through the work of Jimmy Somerville and the Pet Shop Boys, and Seattle's own Sean Nelson will give a presentation on all of the things Morrissey hinted at but never quite disclosed.
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – New Millennial Protest Roundtable
Hot off the release of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and D'Angelo's Black Messiah – two of the most striking musical expositions on dissatisfaction with the status quo of race, class, and identity in recent memory – Daphne Brooks, Adrienne Brown, and Guthrie Ramsey will dig through the famously dense material of the two LPs and explore how the two artists voice their own expressions of their journey to resolve that dissatisfaction.
Special performances: TacocaT, Chastity Belt, S, and Childbirth on Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Damon and Naomi present "Fortune" on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
Augmenting the weekend's discussions are a pair of performances that highlight the progressive work of a venerable act and a new wave of Seattle artists who are embracing pop's transgressive qualities. On Friday night, Tacocat, Chastity Belt, S, and Childbirth, four of Seattle's most beloved local staples will light up the Sky Church with their individual brands of incisive, pop-influenced guitar rock. The following afternoon, Damon and Naomi will perform a live soundtrack of their latest collection of songs set to the latter's "silent film". The Boston stalwarts' latest album, this year's Fortune, is partnered with Naomi Yang's "silent film" of the same name, which was shot and cut without music, and this unique performance in the Sky Church is sure to be a fascinating intersection of visual and musical mediums.
This year’s PopCon returns again from April 26-29, centering on the theme “What Difference Does It Make? Music and Gender.”
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