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Performing Political Affect: Alter Egos and Black Feminism in Popular Music

Irizarry, Larissa (2022) Performing Political Affect: Alter Egos and Black Feminism in Popular Music. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the intellectual labor and political visionary work of Black women in popular music when performing through their alter egos. With Janelle Monáe, Nicki Minaj, and Beyoncé as three distinct case studies, I apply Black feminist theory to a creative process I call alter egoing. I theorize that by performing through their alter egos these artists act as critical interpreters of political culture. With the concept of alter egoing, I aim to identify and celebrate a Black feminist strategy that responds to mainstream discourses of hope and nostalgia circulating within contemporary electoral politics in the US.
Drawing on the work of Lauren Berlant (2011) and Sara Ahmed (2004), I understand affect as social feeling or bodily intensity. Thus, as I theorize how alter egoing engages in affective formation, I argue that these alter egos are indicative of shared, social feelings that are shaped by specific political events and socio-political environments (Ahmed 121). Additionally, I explore how the aesthetic evolution of these three artists builds on an Afrofuturist tradition specific to Black women that is propelled by contrasting ideological affects. Mindful of the historical emergence of alter egoing in the Obama era, I consider such experimental modes of representation as, in part, a response to American anti-Black populisms propelled by rhetorics of white nostalgia that emerged after 2002.
In my analysis of alter egoing, I illuminate the essential analytical work that Black feminist theory does for musical analysis by cross-examining music videos, visual albums, records and interviews in which alter egos are elicited (Monáe’s Metropolis Suites [2007, 2010, 2012] and Dirty Computer [2018]; Minaj’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded [2012], The Pinkprint [2014], Queen [2018]; Beyonce’s I am… Sasha Fierce [2008], Lemonade [2016], Black Is King [2020]). Ultimately, I argue how the critical creative process of alter egoing not only responds to contemporary US political culture, but simultaneously imagines futures that are explicitly Black, female, and queer


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Irizarry, Larissalai11@pitt.edulai11
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBloechl,
Committee MemberGlazener,
Committee MemberWang,
Committee MemberJohnson,
Date: 16 June 2022
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 March 2022
Approval Date: 16 June 2022
Submission Date: 25 April 2022
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 154
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Janelle Monáe, disidentification, black feminist theory, music videos, visual albums
Date Deposited: 16 Jun 2022 18:04
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2022 18:04


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