1- A queer orientation to pop: Song form in the music of Laura Nyro - Rachel Avery, McGill University

11:30 AM, Sunday 26 May 2019 (2 hours)

The question of how music relates to sexual subjectivity has been significant in feminist and lesbian/gay musicology, but the extension of this question into the emerging field of queer aesthetics in music has barely begun. Building upon theorisations of gender and sexuality in music, including those by McClary, Brett, and Rycenga, I take up this conversation by identifying a queer orientation to form in songwriter-performer Laura Nyro’s music. Nyro’s songs of the late 1960s invited both chart success and descriptors including “eccentric,” “overdramatic,” and “cluttered,” signalling a tension between pop sensibility and artistic experimentation. Indeed, she maintains strong connections to popular forms even as she transforms them. Formal roles such as verse, chorus, and bridge appear in her songs, but are frequently disrupted or deployed in an atypical manner. Nyro may place a bridge at the end of a song, push a chorus to the point of collapse into unfamiliar, directionless material, concatenate distinct sections that vary in style, tempo, metre, and even key area, or abandon formal roles altogether. Nonetheless, these songs retain the familiar appeal of the pop styles she invokes. Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s notion of queer as a slant-wise orientation that sometimes passes through but does not follow the straight line of heterosexuality, I propose that the points of attachment and divergence in Nyro’s unconventional treatment of familiar models can be understood as a queer orientation to song form, as I will illustrate with selections from her second and third albums.

McGill University
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