avatar for Katherine St. Asaph

Katherine St. Asaph

Katherine St. Asaph is a writer and pop critic whose work has recently appeared in Pitchfork, Spin, Rolling Stone and NPR. She lives in New York and has the weirdest YouTube Recommended Videos sidebar of anybody she knows.

"I Don't See the Expression on My Face: The Uncanny Caricatures of Pop Stars in Memeland"
Pop music is refracted celebrity—particularly for women, the ever-surveilled, ever-public gender. And the Internet was built on women's images—literally; the first JPEG was a girl group, the canonical digital test image a Playboy model. As women disappear from charts and credits, they've tightened control over their images: favoring scripted autobiographical documentaries over live-thus-risky awards shows, withholding press interviews, threatening critical bloggers. But their images live on, contorted, in the Wild-West-meets-uncanny-valley of pop memes.
Memes mean business; they're often clickier than music alone, and enginereed virality has launched careers from Bauuer to Migos to PSY. For women, they're critical. Since 2014, the only solo women to reach No. 1 with a debut single have been Meghan Trainor, a viral video incarnate, and Cardi B, an Instagram/reality star. Courting memes is standard pop procedure: crafting tweetable lyrics, cutting videos at GIF speed, staging surreal Instagram videos. But where men can be as anonymous as they want—often as a marketing gimmick—women find their images writ, often, into misogynist caricature.
Britney Spears forever relives her 2007 breakdown; you can buy conservatorship-themed mugs, Blackout-ify your Facebook profile, or watch actors roleplay Britney as a barber shaving your head. There's a YouTube video for every Taylor Swift stereotype: mean (ASMR-ed Reputation tracks in sinister sotto voce), insufficiently fetishized (another roleplay video, of Taylor Swift trussing and kidnapping you), loud (“I Knew You Were Trouble,” plus screaming goat), vapid (a neural network, fed her lyrics, gabbing about David Guetta and Abbey Road). Pop abhors an image vacuum, and catfish have seized upon small fish like Sims vocalists to Jessica Simpson via fictional “Lucia Cole,” who landed interviews, dating rumors, iTunes, Spotify and Shaq's Twitter with lifted Simpson album tracks and karaoke videos. In this presentation, I explore these and other dispatches from memeland—and the women who subvert it.