Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Communication Studies

Department

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Scott Kushner

Abstract

The following thesis is an analysis of the political messaging used by pop singer-songwriters Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift to construct their careers. Specifically, it focuses on how these two artists use their experiences of gender, race, and social class to actively effect change and empower themselves, and what expectations audiences have for them to do so and why. Grande and Swift experience sexism as women in a patriarchy, but both use their positions as subjugated members of society to create a profit and satisfy the public’s demand that they take socially progressive political stances, which earns them financial and cultural capital. Grande fails to be actively anti-sexist, anti-racist, and anti-classist in her work because she fails to give credit to groups from which she takes both material and nonmaterial resources. She is empowered by the cultures of people of color by directly taking lyrics, melodies, and images, and she is empowered by women who do not adhere to normative standards of beauty and sexuality by claiming to be empowered by the things they lack. While she does not actively oppress these groups, she does little to liberate them. The major flaw of Swift’s attempts is that in trying to maintain her position as an autobiographical pop songwriter, she centers her own experiences as a wealthy white woman in songs that could be more nuanced and more potentially empowering to members of the marginalized groups to which she is an ally if she were to step out of the narrative entirely. I argue that it is unfair to dismiss celebrities as self-serving opportunists because they live and work within a neoliberal state that revolves around self-serving capitalist interests that oppress women, people of color, and working class people. The lack of assistance from the state is what requires celebrities to release political statements and songs. Audiences expect individual artists to release progressive political messages because the United States government, in the era of postfeminism, refuses to do so.

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