Friday, June 01, 2012

Some thoughts on Leslie Feist

As I prepare for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (Canadian branch) conference in a couple of weeks in Wolfville, I am (naturally) thinking about Leslie Feist (and what I have to write about). What comes to mind immediately, and I think what one of the problems with my analysis of dear Leslie, is this: what does it mean to be Canadian? At a recent conference (PCAC in Niagara Falls in May), I attended an excellent panel on the Polaris Prize, for Canadian music. In that panel presentation, and in the discussion that followed, there was the question as to how one defines what "Canadian" actually means. This is not a new question, and it seems that it has yet to be answered in a satisfactory manner.

What came from the discussion reminded me of something I had come across while preparing a class on popular music history. Strange as it might be, I think it might be helpful to look at the definition of the subcultural music called Contempory Christian Music. Some define it as “bad songs written about God by white people,” or as a simple euphemism for rock music (at least, the "contemporary" part of the title does this). As for "Christian," it could be the content, or the author which defines the genre as Christian (both of these are problematic, by the way).

So, a better definition is as follows: "Contemporary Christian Music is music that appeals to self-identified fans of contemporary Christian music on account of a perceived connection to what they regard as Christianity." In other words, it is self-defining; it is what it is. Much of this comes from Mark Allen Powell's introduction to his excellent Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002).

I can't help to think, though, that Canadian music suffers from the difficulties in genre definition as CCM. In other words, the MAPL system might help (2 of the 4 criteria: music, artist, production, lyric), but it isn't perfect. But perhaps Canadian music is simply what we say it is.

Is Feist (as a musical entity, including all she sings and all she is, in terms of celebrity) Canadian? No (at least, that's what I'll be arguing, that she is something else). But yes, she is because we (most of us) say so. Consider Powell's definition now bastardized for your academic pleasure: "Canadian Music is music that appeals to self-identified fans of Canadian music on account of a perceived connection to what they regard as being Canadian."

Now, what would Barthes say about that? Wait for it. It's bound to be exciting.

Or something.

1 comment:

Michael Gilmour said...

Nicely done Nicholas.