Date of Award

12-1999

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Music Criticism

Supervisor

Susan Fast

Abstract

This thesis aims to account for the marginalization of the British rock band Queen by the press and in scholarly writing, despite their enormous popular appeal and commercial success. Why have they not been critically acclaimed as part of "mainstream" rock? This thesis proposes that gender issues lie at the center of the band's marginalization. Lead singer Freddie Mercury's stage persona, the types of music on which Queen drew, and Brian May's guitar playing all serve to "feminize" the band and, as such, provoked their critical dismissal.

Chapter One surveys American and British journalistic writing spanning Queen's twenty year career, revealing a consistently negative reception of the band by the press, despite Queen's acceptance by audiences worldwide. This lack of critical acclaim may in part account for Queen's continued absence from the rock canon as it is currently being constructed in historical surveys of rock and in scholarly writings. Chapters Two and Three investigate Queen's challenge to accepted gender conventions in rock music. An analysis of Mercury's costumes, physical gestures, and demeanor in performance, and of the classical music appropriations in the bands' music which, it is argued, worked to feminize their sound, will reveal how Queen resisted the common codes of masculinity that dominate hard rock music. In so doing, they challenged the foundations of rock which privilege masculine constructions, resulting in their marginalization.

This exploration of Queen's marginalization hinges on the larger issue of what is and is not accepted as mainstream in popular music culture. This is a dubious labeling process, as it devalues the listening experiences of many musical subcultures, situating them as Other in relation to the mainstream. Given that this process can be viewed as an initial step towards the construction of a popular music canon, it becomes vital to scrutinize the ideologies upon which exclusion from the mainstream is being based.

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