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Jessica Pruett

Jessica Pruett is a doctoral student in the Culture and Theory program at UC Irvine. Her research examines lesbian relationships to mass culture in the United States, focusing on the impact of lesbian feminism on contemporary depictions of lesbianism in popular music and television. Her work on lesbian fandom of the boy band One Direction is forthcoming in A Tumblr Book.

"'You Treat Me Like Your Boyfriend': Tegan and Sara’s Bid for Lesbian Pop Stardom"
In her lukewarm review of Tegan and Sara’s seminal 2007 album The Con, the highest compliment that Pitchfork contributor Jessica Suarez can muster is, “Tegan and Sara should no longer be mistaken for tampon rock.” It’s a comment that hasn’t aged well, a sexist and homophobic reference to the Ani DiFranco-influenced sound of the band’s first album. As a stand-in for the group’s connection to lesbian musical subcultures, the phrase “tampon rock” is meant to index Tegan and Sara’s shift away from a lesbian folk music wasteland, toward a more pop-tinged sound. Though this was a popular interpretation of the group’s changing musical aesthetic as it’s captured in The Con and its predecessor, 2004’s So Jealous, the sisters Quin have always been inseparable from the lesbian feminist musical influences that they’ve long cited as major points of inspiration. Nowhere has this association been more evident than in the band’s shift into making full-fledged pop records, of which 2016’s Love You to Death is the most recent example. The band’s interviews during this album cycle chronicle the sisters’ awareness of the extent to which, ten years after The Con’s release, the phrase “lesbian pop music” remains an oxymoron.
The women’s music movement of the 70’s and 80’s continues to shape assumptions about the genre of music appropriate to lesbian performers, particularly in the United States. This paper explores the afterlife of that movement, and its effect on contemporary popular understandings of what it means to make lesbian music. I read Tegan and Sara’s two most recent pop albums, along with the press, promotional tours, and merchandise surrounding them, as an attempt to grapple with the complicated legacy of women’s music for lesbian and other queer identified performers.