3- “Who even are you guys anymore?”: Affective Alliances and Tegan and Sara’s Queer Aesthetics - Kiersten van Vliet, McGill University
Over their twenty-year career, Canadian indie band Tegan and Sara have undergone several self-conscious stylistic overhauls. While their formative musical idiom received comparisons to queer acoustic singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, the duo developed a confessional indie folk-pop sound in So Jealous (2004) and The Con (2007), and by 2013 broke into the top-40s market with the synthpop of Heartthrob. Unlike many of the lesbian artists active at the turn of the millennium such as k.d. lang, Tegan and Sara Quinn have been open about their sexualities since the band’s formation. This forged a connection between their queer identities and music, which resonated with a queer youth subculture. Many of Tegan and Sara’s followers, who came of age to their earlier albums, met close friends and partners through fandom activities, and identified with their music, lyrics and stage personas, felt alienated and betrayed by the band’s mainstream transformation.
An evaluation of Tegan and Sara’s play with various signifiers of queerness—from their earlier subcultural to their more recent mainstream musical practices—reveals both the socio-political and musico-aesthetic shifts that allowed marked queerness status in mainstream culture. Drawing on Lawrence Grossberg’s idea of affective alliances in popular music—temporary identity states “that celebrate their own instability and superficiality”—I analyze Tegan and Sara’s mutable queer aesthetics in their song-writing and production process, song structure, and instrumentation in relation to their career-long interplay with queer fandom and engagement with feminist and LGBTQ+ activism.