In studies of gender and sexuality in popular music, the concept of difference is often a crucial analytic used to detect social agency; however, the alternative analytic of ambiguity has never been systematically examined. While difference from heterosexual norms is taken to be the multivalent sign of resistance, oppression, and self-invention, it can lead to inflated claims of the degree and power of difference. This book offers critically-oriented case studies that examine the theory and politics of ambiguity. Ambiguity means that there are both positive and negative implications in any gender and sexuality practices, both sameness and difference from heteronormativity, and unfixed possibility in the diverse nature of discourse and practice (rather than just "difference" among fixed multiplicities). Contributors present a diverse array of approaches through music, sound, psyche, body, dance, performance, race, ethnicity, power, discourse, and history. A wide variety of popular music genres are broached, including gay circuit remixes, punk rock, Goth music, cross-dress performance, billboard 100 songs, global pop, and nineteenth-century minstrelsy. The authors examine the ambiguities of performance and reception, and address the vexed question of whether it is possible for genuinely new forms of gender and sexuality to emerge musically. This book makes a distinctive contribution to studies of gender and sexuality in popular music, and will be of interest to fields including Popular Music Studies, Musicology/Ethnomusicology, Cultural Studies, Queer Studies, and Media Studies.

chapter 1|11 pages


From difference to ambiguity

part I|55 pages

Ambiguity of action

chapter 2|19 pages

When the bearded lady sings

Ambiguity aesthetics, queer identity, and the gendering of the presentational voice

part II|59 pages

Ambiguity of reception

chapter 5|18 pages

Flower in the mirror and moon in the water

The ambiguity of gender, genre, and politics of Li Yugang

chapter 6|22 pages

What counts as “queer” in an historical context?

Cross dressing in nineteenth-century theater

chapter 7|17 pages

Funny girls and nowhere boys

Reversing the gaze in the popular music biopic

part III|55 pages

Ontological ambiguity

chapter 8|19 pages

“I’ma school that bitch”

Gay rappers defying binaries and expressing fierceness

chapter 9|18 pages

Queer desire is not gay, gender is a fantasy

Ways of loving Britney

chapter 10|16 pages

“Blackness in a white void”

Dissonance and ambiguity in Isaac Julien’s multi-screen film installations

chapter |5 pages


The world only spins forward