From Gord Downie to Tanya Tagaq, contemporary Canadian musicians are using live performances and digital exchanges to produce new affective relations with audiences that range from elation to mourning, recognition to reconciliation. My doctoral research project analyzes live recorded Canadian pop music performances and their physical and digital distributions within Canada to explore the affective engagements between musicians and their audiences. Culturally, this project responds to anxieties expressed in the headlines over the “death” or decline of the music industry and rise of digital music since the early 2000s (The Atlantic; Huffington Post; Rolling Stone) by asserting its liveliness in performances and digital recordings. Critically, it responds to Paul Gilroy’s lament over a loss of pop “music that was mostly made and heard in real time” and engages Gilroy’s concept of live pop music as “politically infused forms of pleasure”. It joins critical discussions of Canadian music performances and cultures, particularly Erin Hurley’s theorizations of performance-nation relations developed from her study of Celine Dion and Will Straw’s examination of the cultural spaces of Canadian alternative “music scenes” in the 1980s. By focusing on digital engagements, my doctoral project makes new observations on the processes of affective connection and identification between Canadian musical artists and audiences.
My research extends from two interconnected questions, which will allow me to examine how Canadian pop music performances work as politically infused acts of pleasure. First, do the sonic or textual elements of pop music incite and circulate the emotions of a politically infused act of pleasure? Second, is the affectivity of music performances situated in live bodies experiencing music in real time and shared physical space? Or, do digital and radio technologies distribute the liveliness of musical performances across the nation, thereby expanding the affective currency of musical performances? I aim to apply these questions to examinations of race, gender, illness, settler-Indigenous relationships, and Indigeneity in Canadian pop music performances to demonstrate how the “affective economies” (Ahmed) of such performances create, interrupt, and deconstruct discourses of the individual, community, and/or nation.
My project will be organized around diverse affective events: a series of musical covers distributed online; a single performance event broadcast nationally; collective musical performances of mourning in a single space; a petition in the form of a musical performance; and live and recorded performances of traditional and electronic Indigenous music. It will contribute to knowledge of the relationships between pop music and affect and add a specifically Canadian and Indigenous set of performances to this growing field. My focus on the nation in this context will contribute to the study of national mythologies, performances and subversions in communications, media studies, cultural studies, and gender and sexuality studies. As well, this project joins the conversation about the role of popular culture in settler-Indigenous relationships and explores how Canadian and Indigenous musicians engage with audiences and mobilize collectives for political interventions.