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Marissa Lorusso

Marissa Lorusso is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. She works at NPR Music, where she writes about rock and pop, edits the Turning the Tables series, and manages the Tiny Desk Contest. She has also appeared on NPR podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour and All Songs Considered. Her academic background in gender theory and interculturalism influences her interest in writing about the places where the radical and the practical intersect. She also makes music and zines under the name Keeper.

"Pop Personae and Fashioned Bodies: An Analysis of Pop Star Styles and Soft Masculinities" 
In many ways, male pop singers are expected to embody normative masculinity -- their public personas, performances, lyrics, and styles of dress provide a model against which non-celebrity young men can absorb gendered expectations. Yet they also provide space to test the limits of normativity, to make space to embody multiple types of masculinity -- what researcher Sarah Gee calls “flexible masculinities.” For contemporary male musicians, this has recently meant engaging with a type of “soft masculinity:” that is to say, a masculinity that borrows from traditionally feminine tropes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the embrace of feminine high fashion by pop musicians. From Harry Styles’ floral blouses to Matty Healy’s painted nails to the Young Thug’s No, My Name Is Jeffry gown, young male musicians are using fashion to contest certain modes of masculine expression in favor of presenting a type of soft masculinity.

This paper will interrogate the fashion presentation of particular male singers and performers who engage with supposedly-feminine high fashion, asking: How do these sartorial choices help us understand contemporary changing expressions of maleness, masculinity, and gender? What relationship do these extra-musical elements have to the musical elements of pop musicians’ gendered personae, and what role do they play in dismantling or sustaining these gendered personae?

This presentation will draw on Gee’s framework of flexible masculinities, which argues that men who are particularly privileged within consumerist capitalism (celebrity men chief among them) are able to engage in an identity practice that accommodates a range of dominant male stereotypes, even conflicting male stereotypes, to negotiate changing gender relations. This presentation will also take into account both the role of consumer capitalism in creating and sustaining flexible or “soft” masculinities, and the role of race in perceptions of and engagements with soft masculinities. It will also analyze these contemporary pop musicians in relation to older generations of musicians with gender-bending presentations (from David Bowie to Prince to hair metal, from as far back as the pansy craze to contemporary drag culture) and ask how contemporary musicians both draw on and contest these legacies. This analysis will help to theorize where fashion-as-alternate-masculinity functions to sustain consumer capitalism and uphold gender hegemony, and when and where it can provide access to liberation.