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Scholarly Communication

Popular music, identity and musical agency in U.S. youth films

Mcnelis, Timothy (2010) Popular music, identity and musical agency in U.S. youth films. Doctoral thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Popular music is immensely important to the construction of identity and regulation of agency for teenagers in films and in the real world. Throughout this thesis, I shall argue that music, specifically pre-existing songs, constructs identity in a manner that is complex, fluid, and unfixed. This is especially true for teenagers, who are in such a transitional period of their lives. Film music draws on ideas circulating in popular culture to construct identity, and connotations connected with discourse around certain genres of music are of particular importance. Throughout three case study chapters, I shall discuss the cultural context of various songs and genres to suggest possible elements of identity that are available for perceivers to understand. I will be grouping films together in case study chapters based on three narrative threads: teenage girls who play guitars, white characters who use African American music to express identity and improve agency, and non-white characters whose ethnic identity is musically constructed in contradictory ways. Identity and agency are tightly entwined in filmic narratives, and music plays a key role in the construction of both. Musical agency is related to narrative agency, but it also involves characters’ access to musical performance, as well as their musical representation through source music, source score, and dramatic score. The characters with the most musical agency are those who use music to their own benefit or benefit from music in the soundtrack. Finally, I shall argue that musical agency is affected by a film’s internal contradictions – by which I mean the areas of tension between music, identity, and storyline. Characters tend to have the greatest musical agency in films where musical connotations align with other elements of character identity and the character’s treatment in the storyline. Thus, musical agency tends to be less when there are contradictions between characters’ musical performance, the music they listen to, music on the soundtrack (source music, source score, or dramatic score) that they do not choose, other elements of their identity, and their narrative behaviour unrelated to music.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects:M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments, Research Centres and Related Units:Academic Faculties, Institutes and Research Centres > Faculty of Arts > School of Music
ID Code:1491
Deposited On:28 Oct 2011 16:48
Last Modified:28 Oct 2011 16:48

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