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Shaun Cullen

Shaun Cullen is an assistant professor in the department of English at Middle Tennessee State University, where he teaches U.S. literature and popular culture, film, and music. His essays on Taylor Swift, Black Flag, and Kanye West have appeared in the Journal of Popular Music and Society and Criticism. He is currently finishing a book on the links between the CBGB scene and the avant-garde art world within the context of deindustrialization and the neoliberal politics of the 1970s.

"How Do You Spell Luv?" 
Girl Group Pop and the Politics of Punk Appropriation
Girl group pop of the 1960s has been an essential though underacknowledged influence on U.S. punk since it first emerged as a genre in New York City in the 1970s. From the New York Dolls’ drag act, to Debbie Harry’s pre-Blondie band the Stilletos, to the Ramones’ cover of the Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You,” the early New York punks not only emulated girl group bands, but also, in a sense, tried to become them. They worked with producers like Phil Spector, Shadow Morton, and Richard Gottehrer, the architects of the girl group sound, and Harry, who had already crossed the thirtysomething threshold when Blondie debuted on record in 1976, adopted a distinctively “girlish” persona (as did Joey Ramone), at the height of second-wave feminism, in a scene that, for the most part, was a boys club. Beyond New York, the girl group influence on punk runs like a red thread, connecting performers (to name only a handful) as disparate as Kira Roessler from Black Flag and the Go-Go’s, in the 1980s; Courtney Love, Bikini Kill, and the Breeders in the 1990s; and the members of the post-punk girl group revival today, like the Gossip or Vivian Girls.  

In this presentation, punk appropriations of girl group pop are read as proto-feminist touchstones within scenes that are often woefully misogynistic. What new genealogies of punk participation and performance are suggested, say, when Iggy Pop and William Burroughs are replaced, as punk godfathers, with the Shangri-La’s and Ronnie Spector, as godmothers; when the Go-Go’s are the apotheosis of the L.A. scene, as opposed to Darby Crash or Henry Rollins; or when Kurt Cobain is a basketcase and Courtney Love a healing salve, in the tradition of Stevie Nicks, to a traumatized generation? Suddenly, punk is more pink, but it might also be even more white, and the way in which the punk appropriation of girl group material also functions as an erasure of girl group pop’s emergence out of cross-ethnic collaboration will also be addressed.