Story and photo by William Green / Contributing Writer
NPR music critic Ann Powers highlighted the unique connection between popular music and eroticism in America in a talk Monday afternoon at the MTSU Center for Popular Music.
In her latest book, “Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music,” Powers documents how sexuality in music has crossed previously strict racial lines and continuously evolved in tandem with changing social norms about sex in America.
With a playlist of erotic music spanning the full range of 20th and 21st century sexual expression in music, Powers took her audience on a historical journey from the blues of the ‘30s all the way up to present day with “Lemonade” by Beyoncé.
While the girl groups of the ‘60s had to find a way to express their sexuality within the confines of the taboos of the time, Powers explained, Beyoncé faced almost none of the same struggle and traversed genre just as easily as she did transgress the norms of the past.
With its Spanish, European and African slave influences, Powers singled out New Orleans as emblematic of the cultural melting pot of American music, the foundation of which, she said, was African-American music.
While the book was ostensibly about music and sex, Powers said, it was truly about “American dreaming, American violence, pleasure, hunger, lies and love.”
To Powers, eroticism is a complex and fluid feeling that expresses itself in a variety of ways. Paraphrasing one of the inspirations for the book, leading feminist cultural critic Audre Lorde, Powers said eroticism was really about “that kernel within ourselves that reaches for pleasure, that reaches for joy and connection with others and that can never be extinguished,” no matter how oppressed or marginalized we are.
“I gained my rebel attitude from punk, my joy from disco, my openness from singer-songwriters (and) my seriousness from soul,” Powers recounted.
A music critic for over 20 years, Powers has previously worked for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Blender and a host of other publications.
More information on “Good Booty” can be found at Harper-Collins’ website.
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