Each spring experts from across the music industry gather at MoPOP to usher in the latest edition of the annual Pop Conference (aka PopCon). From music journalists and radio DJs to record label representatives and college professors, the conference offers up a veritable “meeting of the minds” to geek out over music and have thought-provoking discussions on issues and topics in modern music via panels and roundtable discussions. This year’s PopCon returns again from April 26-29, centering on the theme “What Difference Does It Make? Music and Gender.”
This year’s topic lends itself to an array of what will surely be fascinating discussions looking at how gender is perceived in popular music, for better or for worse. It promises to be an inclusive discussion as well, covering everything from gender fluidity and assumptions to putting a critical eye on what was once considered “traditional” gender norms. Panelists will dig deep into their record archives to look for historical precedence, as well as highlighting current artists who are shifting the paradigm. To get you ready for the conference, KEXP’s content team has picked some of the panels and discussions they’re most excited for.
Hip-Hop For and By Women - Thursday, 2 p.m.
In a depressingly wide amount of music obsessive circles, hip-hop has been miscast as a "man's sport" for years. Perhaps from my nine months of listening to hip-hop from the womb, for as long as I can remember, I've been very much interested in the perspective of women exploring the genre from both an artist and fan's point of view. A few of my earliest memories were soundtracked by artists like Roxanne Shanté and Salt-N-Pepa (and a solid number of ballads by LL Cool J) on mainstream radio, so Amy Coddington's piece on Top 40 radio rap programming geared toward women will surely be an intriguing look at the business and social politics behind the songs I listened to on neighborhood boomboxes. Jean Grae has for a very long time been an utterly singular MC and to this day remains so -- Everything's Fine, her 2018 collaboration with the insanely talented Quelle Chris, is highly recommended -- so it will be a pleasure to bear witness to the presentation by Nate Patrin (on a very short list of my favorite rap critics of the past decade), which delves into her career and her art. - Martin Douglas
Black Male Interiority - Thursday, 3:45pm
This one's pretty much a no-brainer for me; I feel as though I could write a 700-page book of memoirs revolving around the subjects to be broached on this panel. Chance the Rapper as an avatar for black men as it pertains to masculinity, Christianity, and the marketability and politics of being considered a "safe black man" in the media? A deep dive into the extended metaphor of "Lucy" on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and its often complex themes regarding the relationship between a thoughtful black man and the cultural and personal allusions to black women? Jay-Z's 4:44 and the widespread stereotypes regarding emotional intimacy and vulnerability and the stigmas of each when it comes to how black men present themselves and how we are viewed? All are things I've spent a great deal of time thinking about not only in relation to these artists, but also in black culture and deep within myself. - MD
Streams and Downloads – Friday, 9:00 .am.
With the reformatting of the music industry and music listening to become playlist-generator happy, what are the consequences? Beyond the loss of the personal touch and the joy of music discovery via digging and searching, with all of Spotify's seemingly on-the-nose algorithms, is there a possibility that there's hidden misogyny lurking behind it? Not sure but I'm interested to find out! - Jasmine Albertson
Surprising Encounters - Friday, 11:15am
Though John Rockwell's "Cross-Dressing in Opera: Trouser Roles" looks to be very intriguing, and Greil Marcus' contemplation of "Take on Me" sounds like a real hoot, I'm most intrigued by Amalia Millard's "The Laugh of Black Medusa," a look at recordings featuring black women laughing through the gaze of patriarchy, white feminism, and musical history. It may even spark a revival of the #laughingwhileblack Twitter hashtag. - MD
Punk, Indie, Alt — Saturday, 9:00 AM
Saturday morning starts with the panel "Punk, Indie, Alt," and while that doesn’t give much insight into the theme of the next two hours, it’ll feature pieces from some of my favorite writers, and that alone will help propel me out of band on a weekend morning. (9:00 AM start time? Are y’all for real?) Jenn Pelly, Contributing Editor at Pitchfork, will read her paper "In the Sea of Possibility: Feminine Punk After Patti” and one-time Pop-Con keynote speaker Robert Christgau will present "Enduring Love and Tonic Counterpoint in Three American Alt-Rock Bands”, but the papers I’m most excited about come from Franklin Bruno and Grace Elizabeth Hale. Hale’s piece is titled "Playing Like a Girl: Gender and Amateurism in the Athens, Georgia Music Scene”, and as soon as I saw that, a list of names ran through my head: Vanessa Briscoe Hay of Pylon, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson of the B-52s, Lynda Stipe (yes, Michael’s sister) and Linda Hopper of Oh OK, and more. Hale will explore the relationship between amateurism and gender, and whether that lack of technical skill invited sexism. And Bruno will read his paper "Salem 66 Didn’t Suck, and Neither Did Tsunami: A Counter-Memoir”, and as I agree fervently with both those sentiments, I will be there, front and center. (I should note, Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thompson of Tsunami also ran the label Simple Machines who released Bruno’s debut solo album back in 1995, and it’s as lyrically sharp and entertaining as you would expect from him.) — Janice Headley
Critical Karaoke, Sex and the Singles Girl Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Putting a lens up to the music we consume every day is a vital practice. That’s the basis of this roundtable discussion where each panelist will be choosing a pop song to examine, particularly from a femme and queer experience. The idea is to put to test the hypothesis of uneven gender dynamics being at the core of pop music and how it feeds into this long-standing cultural narrative. I couldn’t imagine a better group for this exercise, with Ann Powers, Jenn Pelly, Jessica Hopper and six other esteemed panelists who’ve long been exploring these topics in their own work. I’m guessing this is going to be a really eye-opening experiment – challenging ourselves as listeners and consumers to pay attention to the perspectives and ideologies we’re consuming through songs. - Dusty Henry
Women at the Foundations of Rock Writing — Sunday, 9:00 AM
Hey, I’m a woman! And I write about the rock music! Actually, looking at the titles of papers being read on Sunday morning (9:00 AM again?!), it seems like there will be a focus on music discovery through print, and as a woman whose musical tastes were influenced by Sassy Magazine, that’s a topic that compels me greatly. (Hey, Pop-Con 2019, I’ve got my pitch for a paper right there.) Norma Coates, Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the Don Wright Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, will read “What’s So Bad About Groovy? Teen Magazines of the mid-1960s as Proto-Rolling Stone.” Apparently, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, female editors of teen magazines like 16, Tiger Beat, Rave, and Hullabaloo, helped pave the way for things like Rolling Stone. Yet, as Coates points out, "Rarely are they or the magazines they wrote for acknowledged for their contribution to music journalism and rock music culture.” Both David R. Shumway and Sean Latham will tell the story of the female music journalists who played a significant role in the early days of Bob Dylan’s career. And, Kevin Dettmar will present “Born of the Gossip Pages: Jane Scott, Lillian Roxon, and Rock Writing in/on the Margins”, looking specifically at the women who turned “tawdry” assignments like working for a gossip column into writing that demands a second look over 50 years later. — JH
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