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Hawkins and the British Pop Dandy

In the past, Stan Hawkins has produced worthwhile work for researchers in popular music interested in gender, masculinities and the singing voice, particularly in the form of his book, Settling the Pop Score: Pop Texts and Identity Politics (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002). This newer book, entitled The British Pop Dandy: Masculinity, Popular Music and Culture, is part of the same Ashgate series as the earlier title, and seems to be an expansion of some of the thoughts and ideas in the earlier volume.

Hawkins begins his book by providing a list of “dandies,” even prior to defining what a dandy actually is. In his list, which he notes is not comprehensive, are singers like Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, Robbie Williams, David Bowie and Steven Morrissey. The last two are particularly interesting to me, since my graduate work revolved around their artistic output and celebrity image.
Hawkins does well to attempt to work through the definition of “dandy,” suggesting its gradual transformation “from a term of abuse to one of resentful respect,” describing those employing “displays of tame eccentricity, dry wit, vulgarity, comic excess and most ‘troublesome’ behaviour.” (2, 3) Hawkins is concerned with the British (English) pop musician as dandy, the conflation of Britishness and masculinity, and he locates identity, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class as sites of dandyism.

Hawkins suggests that, central to his study is “the positioning of the body and its presence in recorded form,” and our imaginative responses to music performances: “In multimedia settings, then, music mediates desire by instructing us to imagine what we see.” (7-8) In a way, I agree, though in my work on Morrissey, I suggest that we construct the image of the celebrity from fragments, and over time (perhaps using our imaginations, as Hawkins suggests). Our desire comes from wanting a complete picture of those celebrities, working through their enigmatic star images for wholeness. If only I would have had Hawkins’ book a few years ago during the writing of my doctoral dissertation; Morrissey is “signifying difference through musical practice,” a particularly elegant way of expressing the singer’s transgressing of conventions. Hawkins also calls this a kind of “dissident masculinity.” (35)

In his discussion of Morrissey’s music video for “You Have Killed Me,” from 2006, Hawkins suggests that this performance is “one of the countless examples of how pop maximizes hyperbole as an emotional crutch.” (72) Here is where some of Hawkins’ analyses are both elegant and thorough, but seemingly surface as well. He briefly speaks of the lyrics which reference Italian culture: the director Pasolini and his film Accatone, as well as Morrissey’s “introduction in Italian by a compère.” (71) There is no mention of how this problematizes Morrissey’s own Britishness, perhaps imbuing him with a cosmopolitan sensibility; it is quite possible that such a reading would correspond with Hawkins’, but he seems to simply glance over an important characteristic of both this video and this period of Morrissey’s career.

What Hawkins does provide is an elegant, and much needed, analysis of the singing voice in popular music. In particular, Hawkins provides a brief but deft discussion of tremolo and “glottal shakes” in Morrissey’s voice (drawing from Lomax), something sorely needed in studies about the singing voice in general. Much further study can come from Hawkins’ work here. Hawkins suggests, though, that exaggeration is the most common trait of Morrissey’s vocality, which songs like “Seasick, yet Still Docked,” or “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning” (both which show Morrissey’s vocal constraint) seem to contradict. (128-129)

Hawkins’ analyses here are particularly heartening to me in that he works to unify ideas regarding meaning in the singing voice; his discussion of how Morrissey’s persona is “filtered” through his singing style is particularly useful, not only in discussions of Morrissey, but also in greater discussions about meaning in the singing voice. Of interest is Hawkins’ argument that “sound is no less camp than the imagery we associate with the artist: for to be camp in pop is to sound camp.” (151)

In relation to this concept, Hawkins explores the idea of camp as “mask.” He assumes that music is about the intersection between what we as consumers of music hear and what we see; his concern is with popular music as mediated through recording, both sound and video. For Hawkins, “to mask something is to place weight on that which is not there,” but that which seemingly makes itself known at the conflation of the heard and the seen in mediated popular music performance. (154) In this study, then, Hawkins promotes analyses taking into account the “complete picture” of the mediated performer, focusing on the whole consumed cultural object engaged by fans.

This book follows and builds from Stan Hawkins’ earlier work in the area of masculinities and performance and, as such, is highly recommended for scholars interested in popular music, and the singing voice in popular music. Those researching masculinities in pop music performance might find it particularly useful.