The record store employee has a dilemma. Where to put Tina Turner? She’s black, so one option is “Soul/R&B”, but then again, she’s a woman, which makes her “Pop”. It’s unlikely that we would file her under “Rock”, although in strict musicology, that’s exactly where she belongs. Tina Turner is a through-and-through rocker of so high a caliber that Robert Plant dreams he could consider the vague possibility of aspiring to be an echo of Turner on the worst day of her life.

Popular music categories are so transparently sociological rather than musicological that it’s a joke. “The genre”, it seems, is deployed as a method for pop-culture segregation. “R&B” is the catch-all category for black artists (male and female), “Rock” is the catch-all category for white men, and “Pop” is the catch-all for women (black and white). Obviously this isn’t true 100% of the time, but the general contours reveal this strange racial/gender categorization through musical identity to hold. These categories are further underscored in the identity of their audience. Regardless of the physical identity of the artist, the buying public of “Pop” is feminized. “Rock” audiences are masculinzed and “R&B” audiences are racialized.

And it matters. I firmly believe that (circa/post 20th c.) American identity is constructed through popular music moreso than any other cultural or political medium. Rock ‘n’ roll especially is the glory of our nation, and the fact that its black, often feminized roots are subsumed under a white male banner, the former parceled out into (what is often thought of as) “less than” genres sends the message that culturally, white men matter in a way that black men and women and white women don’t. The American identity itself is at stake in the seemingly innocent advent of the musical genre.

Consider (then) Mrs. Turner. You want to see what a real “rocker” looks and sounds like? Eat it up:

My gawd. Talk about Dionysian earth cult…

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