Female pop stars: there’s the good girl, the temptress, the diva, the hot mess, the survivor… Professor Kristin Lieb shares her research on how pop stars influence and are influenced by culture, how a female pop star’s body is her core brand asset, and how female pop stars evolve through various archetypes over their lifecycle as an artist. Note this is the 2nd episode in a 2-part series on ARCHETYPES.
PRINTABLE SHOWNOTES: https://talkabouttalk.com/podcasts/#shownotes
- 3 Key Learnings – Archetypes & Female Pop Stars
- Andrea’s Introduction
- Interview Transcript
- Andrea’s Conclusion
3 Key Learnings – ARCHETYPES & FEMALE POP STARS
THE CULTURAL DIAMOND
Professor Kristin Lieb uses this framework in her book and her university classes. This helpful framework which was developed by sociologist Wendy Griswold, illustrates how pop stars both influence and are influenced by the three other points in the diamond:
- The Social World
- The Receivers (consumers, the audience)
- The Cultural Object (the female artist, the female pop star)
- The Creator (the music industry, the producers, the handlers)
Wendy Griswold’s Cultural Diamond, as presented in Kristin Lieb’s “Gender, Branding, and The Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars” (Routledge, 2018).
AVAILABILITY OF ARCHETYPES
Only a subset of archetypes are available in a given context – for a given time and place, as per the Cultural Diamond. Consider for example:
- Historically the HERO archetype was unavailable for female characters. Recently female on-screen heroes have started to emerge (e.g. Katniss in “The Hunger Games,” Rey in “Star Wars The Force Awakens,” and Carrie Matheson in “Homeland.”)
- As HBS Professor Jerry Zaltman highlights, the three archetypes most commonly available to women are the NURTURER, the WITCH and the PROSTITUTE. Cultural forces (including e.g the #METOO movement) may introduce other archetypes.
- Between 2013 and 2018 when Kristin Lieb published the second edition of her book (“Gender, Branding, and The Modern Music Industry”), a new archetype, the SURVIVOR appeared. This illustrates how as culture changes, so do the archetypes that are available to female pop stars – and other characters.
MULTIPLE ARCHETYPES & THE IMPORTANCE OF CONSISTENCY
Characters can credulously embody different archetypes over time or at one time across our various roles, as long as we maintain a consistent overarching theme. Consider three contexts:
FEMALE POP STARS – As Kristin said “you can’t remain either a good girl or a temptress forever. And that’s why you see female pop stars changing their images so often. You need to remain dynamic, but dynamic within the parameters of these different categories.”
- The reason we were able to track Madonna’s seemingly ever-evolving brand was that she had a consistent meta level brand theme.
IN OUR PERSONAL LIVES – We can credibly navigate different worlds, roles or archetypes in our lives:
- At any one time, for example as a scholar, a mother, an athlete, a wife, a friend, etc.
- Over time, as a carefree child, a student, a keen young worker, a new parent, etc.
FOR BRANDS – In her research, brand-guru Professor Susan Fournier demonstrates how brands can speak with many voices – “multivocality.” But again, to be credible in the marketplace, there needs to be a consistent overarching theme.
(See also the shownotes for episode “#54 – ARCHETYPES”)
- Web site: kristinjlieb.com
- Email: Kristin_lieb@emerson.edu
- Facebook: Kristin J. Lieb
- Twitter: @kristinjlieb
- LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristin-lieb-7849b915/
- Kristin Lieb, “Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars” Routledge 2018 – https://amzn.to/3eB2EGA
- TEDx Talk: “Pop culture is teaching the wrong “lessons” about gender & sexuality” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUN019leZUA
Professor Jerry Zaltman –
- “STORYTELLING” Talk About Talk podcast interview
- “Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers” (2008)
Professor Susan Fournier – https://www.bu.edu/questrom/profile/susan-fournier/
- Fournier, Susan, (1998) “Consumers and their Brands, Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research” Journal of Consumer Research
- Fournier, Susan & Yao, Julie L., (1997) “Reviving brand loyalty: A reconceptualization within the framework of consumer-brand relationships,” International Journal of Research in Marketing, vol.14, issue 5.
Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki
- ARCHETYPES episode #54 – talkabouttalk.com/54-archetypes
- Email – Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com
- Subscribe to the Podcast – https://talkabouttalk.com/podcasts/#subscribe
- Free Communication Coaching via the weekly Email Blog – https://talkabouttalk.com/blog/#newsletter-signup
- Website – https://talkabouttalk.com
Dr. Andrea’s Introduction – Archetypes & Female Pop Stars
Well, hello there. I’m your communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki. Please call me Andrea. Thanks for listening. Talk About Talk is where we improve our communication skills, so we can advance our careers and improve our relationships – whether we’re a girl-next door, a temptress, a whore, a provocateur, a hot mess, or a survivor.
Welcome to episode #55. This is the 2nd part of a two part series on archetypes. In the most recent episode, we defined and described archetypes. I challenged us to identify which of 12 common archetypes we personally identify with, and which archetype fits best for our brand or our firm. Why might we want to do this? Well, because archetypes are, by definition, UNIVERSAL PATTERNS that exist in our minds. That means they’re familiar. And that means they resonate.
Building on this foundation on archetypes, we’re now going to focus on a specific context. – female pop stars. In this episode, you’ll hear my interview with Professor Kristin Lieb, whose research focuses on the creation and consumption of popular music.
In this podcast, you’ll have the privilege, I think!, of learning how an academic used her disciplined research to examine something that we might otherwise dismiss as trivial – I mean it’s pop culture right? I respect Kristin very much as an academic who identifies significant insights in her rigorous methods. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.
After you’ve listened to this episode, you’ll have insights into the Cultural Diamond, a framework developed by sociologist Wendy Griswold and adopted by Kristin as a way to describe the ecosystem that pop stars both influence and are influenced by.
You’ll also understand, from an academic perspective, the lifecycle through which female pop stars can evolve. This is where archetypes come in.
Sprinkled throughout this interview (and also frankly the last episode, when I focused more generally on archetypes),, you’ll also hear an implicit theme focused on the differences between the career lifecycle trajectories available to female versus male musicians. Kristin mentioned to me verbally and she also directly states in her book that this is not the focus or intention of her book – to highlight these differences. But still, the differences are so stark.
First and most obviously, the archetypes themselves that’re available to females versus males are different. But there’s also:
- Kristin’s comment about how prolific, successful female musicians typically become labeled “a pop star,” rarely a “rock star.” The female indie star’s genre disappears.
- And how for female pop stars, sexual attractiveness trumps talent. As Kristin says, (quote) the pop stars’ body was her core asset. And it was her body’s extendibility into all these different entertainment realms that in large part predicted her success. (Notably, Kristin’s quick to point out that it’s NOT that the female pop stars aren’t talented musicians, but it IS their BODIES that enable them to grow their brand.)
- In her research and in her book, Kristin uses the terms the industry insiders use. Here’s a list of some of the categories or archetypes that industry insiders use to characterize their respective female pop stars: there’s the Indie star, the good girl or Girl-next-door, Temptress, the Whore, the Gay Icon, Provocateur, Exotic, Legend, the Redemption/Comeback, Diva, Hot Mess, Survivor. I bet you have an image in your mind for each of these categories, right? They’re universal patterns. But there’s no HERO here, the common archetype that we spent a lot of time talking about in the previous podcast episode. Furthermore, when Kristin asked each of the industry insiders whether there’s a difference between the way that men and women of the popular music star world are presented to the public, the answer? “Absof——ing lutely.” Again, comparing the carer trajectories of male vs female pop stars was not the objective of Kristin’s research. Still, the differences are – stark.
Let’s get into this. As always, you don’t need to take notes while you’re listening to this episode. I did that for you, and you can easily access them on the talk about talk.com website. If you click on “podcast” and then “shownotes” you be able to read or download a printable summary, links to many of the references we cover, and the full transcript.
Alright, before I introduce Kristin I want to thank our mutual friend Kerry Herman for suggesting this interview. I met both Kristin and Kerry when we were all research associates at Harvard Business School, writing cases for professors. Those really were the days. Good times! While I went on to earn my doctorate in business and marketing, Kristin Lieb went on to earn her PhD in Mass Communication. At the time, Kerry had already earned a PhD in Art history and cultural studies, and she’s now the Director of the Case Research & Writing Group at HBS. I miss you Kerry, and I want to thank you for re-connecting me and Kristin and for suggesting this fascinating topic for a podcast episode.
Let me re-introduce Kristin now. Kristin J. Lieb is an Associate Professor at Emerson College in Boston. Her interdisciplinary research, about the production and consumption of popular music, sits at the intersection of media studies, production studies, and gender and sexuality studies. Her writing often investigates how popular music stars are created, branded, popularized, credited, and received.
You’ll hear us in this interview frequently referencing her book, called “Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars” as well as her TEDx Talk, called “Pop culture is teaching the wrong “lessons” about gender & sexuality,” both of which I’ll leave links for in the shownotes. Here’s our conversation.
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you very much, Kristin for joining us here today to talk about female popstars.
Professor Kristin Lieb: You’re welcome. Thanks for inviting me.
AW: Let’s start with the Grammys. Recently, Billie Eilish was the second artist and the first woman in history to sweep all four categories of the Grammys. Of course, I looked it up and previously in 1981, it was Christopher Cross who did the same thing. But here’s my question. Why is Billie Eilish resonating so deeply right now?
KL: I think there are a number of reasons she’s resonating so deeply right now. First, she represents the girl who isn’t like the others, right? So that’s a position that people like Pink had held before her, you know, where usually we have the girl next door, you know, you could look at someone like Britney Spears or Taylor Swift or you know, any of those types of stars who rose up through the ranks. Every once in a while you get a tomboy next door (that’s old person language. I’m not quite sure what we’d call that now!) But that’s what you have in Billie Eilish. Like, she’s very clear about not wanting to play the game of making her artistry about her clothing and things like that. Right? She’s very actively saying, I want to conceal my body in different ways, because I don’t necessarily want people to comment on it.
KL: So this is something that is speaking back to a number of cultural tensions right now. So that makes her different. The fact that she is talking about very taboo subjects, I think also makes her resonate. We could think about her big hit “Bad Guy.” Well, she was 17 when that album came out, so she’ wa presumably younger than that when the album was made, and she’s talking about having bruises on both her knees for you, and being a might seduce your dad type. Right? So this is going to set alarm bells off, you know, for some people. Is she playing a role? Is she trying to be provocative because she’s suggesting a sophistication about sex when she’s not yet reached the age of consent? Or are we concerned that you know, maybe her collaboration with her older brother who’s 21 or 22 at the time? Is it his influence wanting to construct your image in this way for the delight of the male gaze or something like that? So there’s so much that’s so complicated, and you know, reasonable people can disagree about whether this is autobiography or a performance or perhaps a mixture of both. This is true for so many artists, but I think she’s pushing cultural buttons that make her very interesting. The other thing I should mention about her is if you watch her videos, right, if you watch her “Bury a friend” video, you know, there’s all kinds of imagery. I show this in my class. And my students take it to be like a horror film as you watch it. And they were commenting on all the images of gloved hands coming for her, syringes coming from her, images that evoke different thoughts. But then I asked, Did anybody listen to the lyrics? Because throughout that song, she’s saying, I want to end me, I want to end me, I want to end me. So if we pivot over to Demi Lovato for a minute, she performs at the Grammys. Same Grammys. That song called Anyone, and she’s literally crying as she performs. And she’s singing lines, like, you know, I told secrets till my, my throat was sore. And she keeps returning to this idea, but nobody’s listening to me and you dig back into that story and that was written right before or right after an overdose in 2018. Right. So what both of these artists are presenting to me is that we’ve culturally turned the corner from declaring young women who struggle with mental health or addiction problems in public as hot messes. And we’re now constructing them as more triumphant survivors. But you know, there are questions we can ask ourselves about whether being so personally vulnerable in public is something that’s sustainable for a young star.
AW: Wow, there’s so much to unpack there. I love your triumphant survivors comment, and it reminded me of a conversation that I had with Professor Jerry Zaltman. And he’s talking about the typical storyline of the hero’s journey, which is often associated with a male. Right? And here we are talking about female pop stars. So that’s interesting. And another one of my favorite things that you said was, is this autobiography or performance? I mean, wow, I definitely want to get into that. But before we do, let’s just back up – what is a pop star?
KL: Probably that definition has changed radically in recent years. So I look at someone who is at the absolute top of the music industry game. And so historically, that meant you know, record sales and awards and notoriety and so on. And now obviously, record sales are far less important than they used to be. But certainly streaming has come along so many measures of pop star success look at both sales and streams now. But for female pop stars, music has been a tertiary concern for so long, and I hate saying that. But that’s where all of my research has led me. When I was first doing this work as a dissertation prior to writing the first edition of my book, I was concluding through interviews with music industry professionals who make and popularize female pop stars that a dominant theme was that the popstars body was her core asset, right. And it was her body’s extendibility into all these different entertainment realms. So what I mean by that is, I think all these women are actually talented musicians. I think a lot of people like to take that away from them. But I think more than being a talented musician, you have to be talented across so many different entertainment realms in order to hit the mark of being a pop star, as opposed to say, an indie star who makes music and is known for her music, right? So, you know, she is someone who has to be interesting enough for all kinds of celebrity publications to want to cover her. She’s probably going to have some reality television show. She’s pretty probably going to have a fragrance line, she’s probably going to have a clothing line, if not multiple clothing lines, she’s probably going to be incredibly dominant and influential on social media, she might have her likeness, or her songs, included in games. She’s probably working with consumer brands, she’s probably working with music supervisors to some extent to get her songs into television programs and film. She’s probably talking with other stars about how to trade target markets for lack of a better way of saying it you know, let me let me court your fans while you court mine through this collaboration. Things like that, obviously, you know, sales and streaming are all part of it. But more than that, it’s cultural influence. At this point.
AW: I started listing all of the jobs that female pop star does, and then when you said that they’re a collaborator with others, I thought this is exactly like the job of a podcaster – with the exception of dancing and singing.
KL: Exactly, and you know, the dancing, it’s about being able to create a spectacle, right? Because that’s a huge part of it too, right?
AW: Can you share with us how you conducted the research for your book?
KL: I began with interviews with industry professionals who make and popularized pop stars, who make these people and I asked, what they think about as they make them and what are the, you know, consequences and outcomes and so on. And so I decided to identify and interview people who inhabited all different types of roles. So I was looking at journalists and publicists and artists, managers and people who worked at record labels and photographers and people like that, because I thought they all had something to do with the way we come to understand these figures.
AW: That is a beautiful segue into the Cultural Diamond. Here is a critical framework that you use in your book. Can you describe it?
KL: Sure. This is a framework created by a sociologist named Wendy Griswold and I thought it was incredibly useful and I think it is … in fact I use it every term in my classes as a starting point – as a way of understanding pop star influence and influences. And what I mean by that is at the top of the diamond, you have the social world. So if I look at – I’m just picking from random, but if I look at Christina Aguilera – so Christina Aguilera as a woman who lives in the United States culture in 2020, knows what she gets rewarded for and punished for, as a woman, right? So that’s without her being a pop star or anything that. Her just being a participant in the social world. So other points of the diamonds would be the producer or handler points on the diamond. And these are all of the people who influenced Christina Aguilera. People who might weigh-in about how she’s singing or how she’s dancing or themes she’s talking about, or, you know, she was on The Voice. So how she wanted to represent herself there, whether she wants to do a collaboration. It could be anyone who has any stake in her business or her brands. It could be influencers. Now obviously, these people are more influential when artists are younger and less established right? Once an artist gains her following, she’s able to call more of her shots. Then if you look at the other side of the diamonds, you have the audience and that’s us . We get trained to expect pop stars to look and act and sound a certain way. Which is why when you have Adele breaking into the market, she doesn’t look a pop star. And, you know, other people have spoken about that saying, well, when did it become that every popstar is supposed to look like Britney Spears? And you have people like Aretha Franklin saying, Hey, I was at my best singing weight when I was 188 pounds, right? So we get these cultural images of what pop stardom looks like. And then you know, we’re confused when someone seems to contradict that. So the audience also has some influence on what the cultural object, which is the fourth point on the diamond. That’s what the popstar ends up being. So as a cultural object, Christina Aguilera looks at all of these things that reinforce each other, but don’t cause each other. And she figures out what kind of popstar she’s going to be, right? Which gets to your question of agency a little bit that we talked about before. So, you know, what if a popstar wants to bring herself to market in a hyper-sexualized way? Do people get upset about objectification in the same way, if this is something that’s coming from her? And I think the Cultural Diamond‘s answer to that would be, it’s hard to really know what a person wants from the inside. When all of these forces, these external forces are shaping, how do you even build your image from the beginning? Does that make sense?
AW: Absolutely. So that was a beautiful depiction. And what I’m going to do is in the show notes, I’ll put a reference so that listeners who are interested can reference the cultural diamond. So we talked about the four points being the Social World, and then there’s the Creator, which is kind of the industry players, as you said. Then there’s the Receiver, which is the In this case, the music consumers, the listeners, the participants, I guess. And then the fourth point is the Cultural Object which is, in this case, the female artist, the female pop star herself. And you mentioned how as the female pop star becomes more established as they have more of a following, and I’m paraphrasing, I’m not using your exact words here, but you said, they may come to have some more power so that they can be more influential, I guess in their negotiations with the creators or the players. And it reminded me of we were talking before we press record here about your TEDx talk, which I will also leave a link to in the show notes. It’s a fantastic talk and you talk about power and objectification, it occurred to me that these are related. Those with less power may be objectified. Right, but then again, the artist may seek to be objectified, because maybe that’s how the players make them. So can you talk about a little bit about power and objectification?
KL: It’s so hard. And you know, ultimately, I obviously want women artists to be able to present themselves to the world in the way that feels, you know, real and comfortable to them, right? I think where I started getting bothered by the patterns was, if there’s only way one way to get to the top and succeed, then I think there’s a problem. And also, so many of these artists start so young. And I think what that makes me think about is the fact that you haven’t really established your own identity yet. And then you’re being coached toward these goals or toward these other types of artists positions, that may not be where you would have gotten yourself. If you had been given time to develop your identity on your own, you’re shaped into a mold and these molds look a lot alike, in a lot of cases, and really around center the body and costumes and dancing and, you know, these kind of things – more than some of those artists might like, right? So you know, it’s tricky. You can’t ever really say, well, this artist wanted this or this person told this artist to do this. I don’t think it’s that simple. I think it’s all those surrounding factors in the cultural diamond influencing what you think your best choice or your best move or your best personal presentation might be.
AW: so it’s like they’re mutually reinforcing they’re all the arrows are pointing in all directions to and from all of the points of the diamond.
KL: Absolutely. I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention things like early Britney Spears and Mandy Moore videos were directed by a literal porn director, Gregory Dark. So these influences – they’re not accidental. And so when that’s encoded in teenage popstar DNA, that matures in different ways, for lack of a better word.
AW: So let’s get into the maturity. I guess the lifecycle of female pop stars, which is one of the main contributions of your book, which I absolutely devoured. Can you describe the female pop star lifecycle?
KL: So I can tell you the intent of the lifecycle model for popular women music stars. The intent of it was to show that there were very enduring patterns of representation for women who were granted permission in various ways to be, or remain, at the top of the music industry, that there was a reason for me that most of my favorite artists never made it beyond the indie level, the indie star level. So there are plenty of men who I would argue had been successful and flipped over to be very, very popular musicians. But I was realizing that this didn’t really happen with women. I was trying to figure out whether it was a marketing problem. I started to realize that part of it was that the way they were packaged, courted a certain type of audience and maybe put off another kind of audience. So this was just my way of trying to say, I think this is the way the game is, you know, and I would like to record that. And I would like to talk about how we could possibly change and expand this over time. I think it has started to change and expand over time which is good. I can tell you where those things happen. Normally you start in a phase that I call the good girl and that is, you know, the girl next door or the girl you know people want to bring home to mom. She’s not objectionable. She’s hetero-normatively pretty and nobody is really concerned about her behavior or her aggressive views or anything like that. Think about someone like Meghan Trainor, right? She might be a good example. Now though most of the top stars that have gone through this in some variety or other over time. Then you segue into becoming a temptress, right? And so the good girl to temptress is probably most visible when somebody starts as an artist, you know, who becomes prominent when they’re 15 and then they reach the age of consent, right? And then they become the temptress because now it’s safe. Billie Eilish challenges that a little bit. She’s a little bit under the age of consent. That’s another thing that I think makes her differently provocative. Once you hit temptress, it’s the songs and the content … It seems like all these things become more about sexual availability and the body and sexual appeal and so on and so forth. Right? So you’re moving away from this unobjectionable girl next door into this sort of, you know, temptress type position, and then you get to the middle of the model. And obviously, you can’t remain either a good girl or a temptress forever. And that’s why you see a female popstars changing their images so often. You need to remain dynamic, but dynamic within the parameters of these different categories.
AW: the example that comes to mind for me is Madonna.
KL: Sure, right. People say Madonna completely reinvented herself every six months, but she had an overarching brand theme. Right? So you could say that her overarching brand theme was something like, you know, sexual playfulness and provocation or something like that. So the way that she communicated that changed many, many, many times. But I would say that the reason that we were able to track her brand was that she had a very meta level brand theme. Does that make sense?
AW: Yes. I think it’s brilliant marketing, is what I’d say.
KL: Absolutely. And we see that alive and well and beyond in plenty of other popstars as well. It’s a very successful strategy as long as you don’t sacrifice that overarching brand theme and confuse people, right? Or make people feel like you’ve betrayed the brand that they committed to, because these brands feel like relationships as our friend Susan Fournier has pointed out very eloquently in her research. So then you get to the middle of the lifecycle model, and you have some people who are like, Okay, my ego needs have been met, I’m going to change my focus, I’m not going to be a pop star anymore. I’m going to do something else. So some people go into advocacy work, some people make lateral moves into television or film, but people are just like, maybe I don’t like the terms of this game. And I have the talent to do other things. So I’m going to do that . Somebody like Queen Latifah, right, who goes on goes and becomes a film star and then also becomes a television talk show host and a CoverGirl spokesperson and so on, would be an example of that.
AW: So they’re going multimedia, basically.
KL: Sure, I would say becoming more of a general purpose celebrity than someone who is known as a popstar. Right. So then we have the diva, which is one of the coveted categories, right? This is where the way that I’m operationalizing people might be different than the way others think of the term. But I’m just saying you’re a best in class singer or musician. And what this entitles you to is to be covered more for your singing or musicianship, then your body, your boyfriend, your accessories, and your dresses and so on. So this is one of the rare moments in the pop star life cycle where we actually talk about the thing that you’re essentially meant to be doing as a musician, right, which is depressing, but at least good that this category exists. All of these terms are things that came out of my research. So in interviews of people, they were referring to talent in this way. These are the terms used to talk about human talent in the music industry, and I thought – I have a choice. I can either sanitize that language as an academic or I can show the industry as it is. And as I said earlier, I really wanted to show the industry as it is. So these terms that I’m using are not my terms. These are terms that arose in these interviews. This is what I heard, and that’s why I retain them. So the next category is called the whore. And this is operationalized in two different ways, again, coming out in the woods in the interviews. The first is that this person would do anything for money, and it shows in her performance. And the other is just that we take the temptress a little too far. And so everything is about sex, right? Your entire image is about sex. There’s another category called “exotic” which is meant to be enclosed in finger quotes. And this disgustingly means that we don’t quite know where you fit into our normal popstar template. And it often means that you’re not from the United States, it often means that you’re not white because we just don’t know what to do with you. So it’s like a catch-all category. Then we have the provocateur, and this is another coveted category because these are the people who just push our culture buttons, right? And then probably known more for that than for anything else. So certainly Beyoncé has done this. Certainly Miley Cyrus has done this at different points. They’re asking us to think about different things. They’re asking us to think about what it means to be a black woman in contemporary culture. It’s asking us to think about what it means to be pansexual and genderqueer at a time that people had no idea what those terms meant, right? So, you know, both of them obviously received a lot of attention, a lot of praise, and a lot of a lot of respect.
AW: Everybody’s going to say, by definition, if you’re a provocateur, you are probably polarizing. And that would increase your PR.
KL: Absolutely. And you know, but it becomes precarious in cancel-culture too, right? Because now, you know, we’re seeing all kinds of stars having things decontextualized and then cancelled. There’s not even a discussion around recovery. I’ve written about that elsewhere. Certainly, in the queer community.
AW: I read that in one of the papers that you wrote, it was Yes, they were rejected for not being queer enough. Or not doing it properly. As you said, wow.
KL: Yeah, and so if you’re going to be out there as a provocateur, there are a lot of forces wanting to cancel you, you know, some of it probably deserved in different ways. And some of it probably not at all deserved and fueled by hatred. Then we have this category called the hot mess, which is, you know, probably the worst of the name categories. But you know, if you think about when I started doing this work that so my dissertation, I finished it in 2007. And this was a word that everyone was tossing around. And so the hot mess was a category that captured the star out of control who was being covered more for her counter normative behavior than anything else, right. So think about Amy Winehouse, or somebody that. And I think we’ve become culturally a lot more sensitive to what women struggle with, in daily life now in 2020. But in 2007, we weren’t a savvy about that we didn’t have #MeToo, and #TimesUp and all these different things worked in this cultural conversation. So in 2007, it was still like, hey, why is this woman out of control? (Ha-ha) One of my respondents said I remember, when they act like clowns, people laugh. But you know, as I started to unpack that over time, I’m like, wow. But like, there’s a lot behind what’s making people act like that. And we have not yet reached the point where we could ask more empathetic questions about what might be driving that behavior. Is it a mental health issue? Is it an addiction problem? Is it somebody who’s experienced trauma? Is it all of these things maybe coming together and making somebody act out? Like, maybe we should be like, hey, let’s get her help. Let’s not laugh at her. So that has happened over time, right? So when the second edition of my book came out, I was able to write a lot about that. Because I think artists started owning these narratives and explaining what was going on. And then, you know, most reasonable human beings don’t want to laugh at someone when you’ve heard the backstory, right? And so people like Demi Lovato has taken those struggles and explained her journey through them and emerges triumphant. And I think at this cultural moment, that is a really powerful position that I think resonates with a lot of people who feel that way themselves.
AW: Yeah, and I just want to point out for the listeners, what you’re describing implicitly here goes back to the cultural diamond where at certain points in time there were certain templates, as you call them, or perhaps archetypes that would be fulfilled by these female pop stars. Sometimes there was no other terminology available for it, but then because of what they did, you could think about the influence that they then had on the social world or on society and maybe it’s probably because of them that some of these changes have happened.
KL: That’s right. And so literally between the first edition in 2013, and the second edition, I added this category called Survivor. People started this conversation about like, hey, that’s not nice. I mean, it’s even back to the Leave Britney Alone video kind of thing that predated this. More people got on that bus saying, hey, there’s a human behind this popstar facade. They build brands to protect themselves in different ways, which is actually smart. Would you want to be a completely vulnerable human self in public when people are looking to criticize from every possible dimension? But those people who showed too much of their human selves got really punished for it. So this is interesting reclamation of now, if you’re sharing your human self, you’re going to be celebrated it for it. Right? But there’s a tension between – is that sustainable? Is that ultimately healthy for a human to be so personally exposed in public? And so I think that’s our next question to answer. How do we manage identity publicly? Right? And like, what parts of ourselves do we share with audiences and what parts of ourselves should we keep private?
AW: So that that’s related to the next question that I wanted to ask you, which is how strategic are female pop stars, I guess and their handlers in terms of managing their way through the lifecycle. And this is given that they are all managing their quote unquote, brand, are they actually thinking about a longer term lifecycle or are they thinking here’s what the brand is?
KL: You know, I don’t even know that they’re thinking that’s what the brand is.
KL: I think you have people managing these careers in all different kinds of ways, I mean, a lot of people – this was fascinating – during the interviews so many people said, I loved having the time to actually think about what I do. I don’t think about what I do. I go on instinct. A lot of us are like that. You know, certainly many jobs don’t give us any time for introspection. You might look at past patterns of success to predict future patterns of success, which is flawed in many ways, right? But you do it. So you go like, Oh, this artist is kind of did this. So we’re going to bring her to market in this way. Right? So your instinct is around what succeeded before you. And I think you repeat those things unconsciously. So I really enjoyed the process of talking through that with these respondents. I selected them because I thought they were incredibly good at what they did. And also, I remember my dissertation advisor being like, My God, these people have like PhDs in the music industry, and that’s a great way to put it. They know the ins and outs of this, but they’re not academic and they’re not necessarily speaking in brand terms or communication terms or theoretical model terms. They’re doing their job.
AW: That is fascinating. But I have to ask you, have you had any direct feedback from anyone?
KL: Yeah, I’ve definitely had feedback from artists and artists’ managers in particular. Artists saying, My God, I knew something was f—-d up. But I didn’t realize it was this f—-d up, kind of thing. You know, thank you for writing that so that I can understand that it wasn’t just my experience. This is something that happens. And artists’ managers, I’ve had, say, I’m so happy to have your book because I don’t know how to explain this industry to my young female artists. And now I can just give your book to them. And that’s obviously amazing feedback. And I love it.
AW: I love that. That’s the ultimate compliment, I think, that the handlers are giving the book to their female pop stars. And I mean, ultimately, it’s not just that you’re influencing them, but you’re actually telling them to be more strategic and thinking longer term and harder and in a different way about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Right?
KL: Yeah, you know, it’s really up to them how to use the information, how they read it. And being not so self-congratulatory, they could just as easily use it to say, I need to learn how to adhere to one of these types of succeed, right? And that isn’t my intent. But like, let’s say that somebody changes their image 10% so that they can approximate one of these things and have a much wider audience than they would have otherwise, I guess it would be successful for her. Right?
AW: And/or if she was more authentic? It sounds like you’re advocating for authenticity. Is that true?
KL: Interesting. It’s almost like managed authenticity. I think there are things that are true about all of us in multiple contexts, right? So I might be one way as a professor, I might be another way with my family. I might be another way when I’m out with my oldest friends. And I might be another way when I’m at an academic conference, right? But there are some things about me that are going to be the same in all those contexts. And I think that when we talk about brands, what we want is that over-arching brand theme that is true about us or them in all contexts, and that way, they’re not caught in hypocritical tangles. They’re really their authentic selves. And we’re not catching them in contradictions because they’re being their authentic selves, but they’re not being their complete, vulnerable, authentic selves. Because I think for female pop star sustainability, I want them to have healthy lives with degrees of privacy and people taking care of the, People thinking about their well-being and not how much money they can make off of them before the windows slams shut on their career kind of thing. Does that make sense?
AW: Absolutely. As you’re saying that, I’m just thinking this is great advice for any of us. And your point about you being an academic and all the different circles that you navigate. I guess this is kind of the ultimate question in terms of communication and the way we represent ourselves. My question is, why do women seem to repeatedly get framed in the same way? I’m thinking about the temptress archetype in particular – again and again be it as you’ve very eloquently described with a female pop star or in our quote unquote real life.
KL: What’s been interesting is the conversations I’ve had with other scholars over the years about this, people whose work I really like. Yeah, they pointed out to me that your lifecycle model has mythological origins, religious origins, these patterns that you’re seeing these types grow out of vast sociological dysfunction with regard to the way we see and process women, right. So I don’t think this is a music industry problem so much. I mean, that’s what I’ve chosen to focus on. But I think it’s just a representation of cultural dysfunction, as it manifests in industry.
AW: Wow. It’s depressing, isn’t it?
KL: I mean, it is. And it’s so horrifying that I just wanted to tell other people what I found, because I want people to be horrified by it. And I want them to destroy my model so that I can never write another edition of my book. I really want this to change. And I think there are all kinds of indicators now that have changed – more I would argue in film and television than in popular music just yet, but there are definitely rays of hope. Even watching female pleasure as opposed to female performance for the sake of men. A move away from very strict male gaze terms to more empathetically creating and viewing women as they pursue their desires.
AW: Well, thank you for taking a topic that I think some people can dismiss, because it’s pop star, right? It’s pop culture, it’s so easily dismissed, but it’s actually really, really important. It’s a really important node in the cultural diamond. So I want to thank you. Is there anything else you want to add before we move on to the five rapid fire questions?
KL: One thing related to what you just said. I think you’re absolutely right. When a woman musician sells or streams or becomes culturally persuasive enough, we designate her a female pop star, right? Her genre disappears, right? This doesn’t happen to men. So one of the reasons culturally, she ends up a female pop star is that this disempowers her because it makes her sound frivolous or artificial or fleeting, right? Just what you said about pop culture. Like, we dismiss that, right? A rock star is different, but we don’t see many women rock stars at the top of the industry.
AW: Oh, gosh, my blood is boiling. Alright, let’s move on to the five rapid fire questions that I asked every guest. Are you ready?
KL: I think so.
AW: Number one, what are your pet peeves?
KL: My pet peeve is people who cut in line. I’m like, we’re all busy. We all have things to do. This cutting in line thing – that’s entitlement. It’s like, my time is more important than yours. I’m just going to get ahead of you. I hate that.
AW: I’m with you on that. Okay, second question. What type of learner are you?
KL: I think it depends on what I’m learning. I don’t know how to answer that question. I think I use all of this ways to learn.
AW: Well, most of us do. Yeah. Okay. Question number three, introvert or extrovert?
KL: Ambivert. I trained my introverted self to be an extrovert to do the things that I’ve wanted to do professionally,
AW: then you’ve done very well. I saw you on stage. In your TEDx talk,
KL: that was one of the most terrifying moments of my life.
AW: You’d never know. And again, I’m going to leave a link for that. Okay, question number four – communication preference for personal conversations?
KL: Depends on the context, right? Like, if I’m confirming a reservation? Text, we don’t need to talk about that. If we’re talking about something of substance, I would much rather see you or talk to you on the phone.
AW: Okay, last question. Is there a podcast, a blog or an email newsletter that you find yourself recommending the most?
KL: No. It’s rapid fire, right? I just I consume so much. I don’t necessarily go back to the same things again and again. I think I consume just in a different and more organic way.
AW: Got it. All right. Thank you so much for sharing all your research and your knowledge about female pop stars.
KL: Yeah, well, I really appreciate your interest in this work too. Thank you so much.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Dr. ANDREA’s CONCLUSION – Archetypes & Female Pop Stars
What a cool topic to study, right? Thanks so much to Kristin for sharing her expertise and for making us think about female pop stars and pop culture in a more disciplined way. Again if you want to read her book or watch her TEDx Talk, there are links to both of those in the shownotes.
Kristin made a comment at the beginning of the interview that really resonated with me. She said: “reasonable people can disagree about whether this is autobiography or a performance or perhaps a mixture of both.” Then later in a related comment, she highlighted that”
“If you’re sharing your human self, you’re going to be celebrated it for it. Right? But there’s a tension between – is that sustainable? Is that ultimately healthy for a human to be so personally exposed in public? And so I think that’s our next question to answer. How do we manage identity publicly – what parts of ourselves do we share with audiences and what parts of ourselves should we keep private?”
I think that’s a fascinating Q – not just for female pop stars. But for all of us.
Let me summarize with three takeaways:
- The Cultural Diamond,
- The observation that only a subset of archetypes that are available in a given context,
- That beings can credulously embody different archetypes over time or even at one time across our various roles, as long as we maintain a consistent overarching theme.
First, there’s the Cultural Diamond, the framework developed by sociologist Wendy Griswold. If you’re a visual learner like me, an illustration of a model like this helps immensely! If you check out the TalkAboutTalk shownotes, there’s a depiction of this framework there. But let me briefly describe the Cultural Diamond. There are 4 points or nodes in this framework – kind of like a baseball diamond:
- The social world – time and place, e.g. the U.S. in the year 2018, when Kristin published her most recent book
- A cultural object (in this case the female pop star, let’s say Billie Eilish)
- The creator (in this case the Billie Eilish’s producer or handler, and, as Kristin mentioned, possibly her older brother); and last, there’s
- The audience or receiver (that’s us, the consumers)
Each of these 4 nodes has arrows going two ways – to and from the 3 other nodes. Like the path going around a baseball diamond. Only the paths go in both directions. And the nodes can also run across the diamond – like to and from first and 3rd base and to and from 2nd base and home plate. Now can you picture it?
So all 4 of these entities are affecting and being affected by each other – the social world, the cultural object, the creator and the audience.
This Cultural Diamond is an effective way, a framework, to help us consider various entities in culture, be it a player in a particular industry, say Billie Eilish in the U.S. in 2020, or a brand in a particular marketplace.
In the context of this Cultural Diamond, then, the second key learning I want to highlight is that only certain archetypes are available for cultural objects to embody (e.g. as female pop stars or say young black men in America), given the state of the other three nodes – and particularly the social world – the time and place. In other words, of all of the archetypes that exist, there is a subset of these archetypes that are available in a given context .
- In the last episode we spent a lot of time focusing on the HERO archetype and going through the stages of the hero’s journey. I noted that it is tougher to think of female heroes than male heroes. That said, slowly more female heroes are making themselves known. Think of recent female on-screen heroes, including Katniss in the Hunger Games, Rey in Star Wars The Force Awakens, and Carrie Matheson in Homeland.
- As professor Jerry Zaltman highlighted in a previous podcast focused on Storytelling, the three archetypes that are most commonly or typically available to women are the nurturer, the witch and the prostitute. When I asked Jerry whether these archetypes might change as the status of women evolves, particularly the #METOO movement, he replied that the archetypes themselves don’t change, but that the specific archetypes available to female characters may change. This is exactly the point.
- And this is one of the transformations in the pop star industry that prompted Kristin Lieb to update her 2013 book called “Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry” just 5 short years later. It wasn’t just the people, the female pop stars who had changed. (The cover of the 2013 1st of the has pictures of Madonna & Lady Gaga on the front. Five years later for the 2nd ed it’s Beyoncé & Miley Cyrus). Of course the pop stars change rapidly – it’s pop music after all. But interestingly, between 2013 and 2018 when she published the second edition, a new archetype, namely the survivor appeared. Kristin highlights in her book how many female pop stars face all sorts of challenges and traumas – from addictions to sexual assault to losing loved ones to psychological breakdowns. Female pop stars such as Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato and many others have gone through these trials. The ones who openly share their trials with the public instead of sanitizing them with PR spin are the ones who come out as Survivors. But this Survivor archetype wasn’t as available previously, or in our past social world.
This transformation of an individual over time from one archetype to another leads us to the third key learning for this episode, which is that beings (be they pop stars or brands or each of us as an individual), can credulously inhabit or embody different archetypes over time (as in the lifecycle of the pop star) or even at one time across our various roles, as long as we maintain a consistent overarching theme.
As Kristin said “you can’t remain either a good girl or a temptress forever. And that’s why you see female pop stars changing their images so often. You need to remain dynamic, but dynamic within the parameters of these different categories.” We talked about Madonna doing this, but believably. Kristin said that the reason that we were able to track Madonna’s brand was that she had a consistent meta level brand theme.
This is beautifully articulated in the research of brand guru Professor Susan Fournier, whom Kristin mentioned and whom I had the great privilege of working for as her research associate. (I’ve included links to a few of Susan Fournier’s seminal papers in the Shownotes. Seminal as in cited almost 10,000 times!) Susan examines consumers’ relationships with brands, including how they may feel like they’ve been betrayed by brands they were most loyal to, when they perceive inconsistencies, such as a transgression committed by a brand that consumer considered as trusted friend or partner.
Susan Fournier’s brand research also covers multi-vocality, which is relevant to this last key learning. In her brand research, Susan demonstrates how brands can speak with many voices – multi-vocality, just like we as people can navigate different worlds, different roles or even archetypes in our lives as a scholar, a mother, an athlete, a wife, a friend, and so on. Again, we can credulously serve in all of these capacities with varying qualities, as long as there is a consistent, cohesive meta-level theme to connect them. This may be where authenticity comes in. Does that make sense?
So there you are, three of the key learnings from this episode, which again, you can find in the shownotes on the talkaboutalk.com website. There’s
- The Cultural Diamond,
- the observation that only a subset of archetypes that are available in a given context – for a given time and place,
- that beings can credulously embody different archetypes over time or even at one time across our various roles, as long as we maintain a consistent overarching theme.
I leave you with one last thought to sum up this two-episode mini-series on archetypes.
Kristin said that she received a common comment from the pop star industry insiders that she interviewed. IT was something like this:
“I loved having the time to actually think about what I do. I don’t think about what I do. I go on instinct. A lot of us are like that. You know, certainly many jobs don’t give us any time for introspection. You might look at past patterns of success to predict future patterns of success, which is flawed in many ways, right? But you do it.”
Did you catch that? Patterns of success. It’s about patterns. And archetypes are universal patterns. They are innate ways of thinking. We apply archetypes to people, to characters, and to stories without even thinking about it. That’s why archetypes resonate, and that’s why I hope you’re now better equipped to consciously consider how you can leverage archetypes in your business, in your brand-building, and even in how you manage your career.
Alright that’s it for this episode. But speaking of managing your career, I hope you’ll sign up for the weekly blog, if you’re not signed up already. When you sign up for the blog it’s like getting free communication skills coaching delivered every week, directly to your inbox. I want to help you become a more skilled communicator, to get noticed for the right reasons, and promoted!
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As always, I’d love to hear what you think about this episode, any ideas you have for future episodes, or anything else. You can email me anytime at Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com.
THANKS for listening – and READING!
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