Why do non-white rock bands get lower evaluations?

Why do bands with non-white musicians generally receive lower evaluations than bands with only white artists? And why does it differ whether a professional or a consumer reviewer (let’s say, on writes the review? And even when racial difference does not seem to matter in the grade that an album receives, how does it matter in the review itself?

These questions and more formed the basis of our most recent publication on the topic of whiteness and rock music. It was published in Popular Communication and can be read here or here. Or e-mail us, also for questions!


Music Talks #1: Is music (still) a man’s, man’s world?

On the 9th of September we organized the first event of a series of four which is highly similar to the “Elvis has finally left the building?”-symposium we organized in November 2014. Under the moniker of Music Talks: Where music meets academia, the series will consist of debates in combination with (performing) arts and music.

In this first edition – which was packed to the max – we discussed how female artists are often judged more on their appearance rather than their actual skills, and that hence it is (still) easier for male artists to reach artistic acclaim than for their female counterparts. After an introduction by co-organizer Pauwke Berkers, first year IBACS student Sam Sleight was invited to discuss how gender is a social construction that is ‘done’ (as in: ‘doing gender’) rather than is an actual reality. He stressed the importance of discussing gender even though it is not a very popular to talk about it anymore these days, as persistent neo-liberalism causes us to expect that women are  autonomous neo-liberal subjects, responsible for their individual success, and to ignore group characteristics, like gender. This underlined the importance of this discussion.

To discuss the perspective of the artist, we invited popular music scholar Marion Leonard (University of Liverpool) and Cindy van der Heijden, vocalist of Rotterdam hardcore band All for Nothing. Especially Cindy’s experiences underlined how a male norm in music culture causes uncomfortable moments in the tour van: Cindy’s band mates asking if it’s okay to watch some porn, for example. After this, Rotterdam rock musician Elle Bandita was invited on stage to share her experiences during a Q&A session with Julian Schaap. While Elle Bandita used to align strongly to Riot Grrrl and was an active advocate of feminism, she has decided to decrease her activities on these matters since they started to wear her out. In the very honest interview, she discussed how she feels better leaving these things behind, although she will always remain an artist that is seen to fight gender inequality in music. This caused a discussion on how musicians, fans and industry can actually counter the pendulum without becoming bitter and cynical. Elle’s advice? Just be yourself.

From there onwards the media and industry perspectives were discussed under the guiding light of media scholar Liesbet van Zoonen (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Yolanda Ulger of PIAS recordings. The media play a vital role in the framing of female artists. For example, when we imagine how male musicians would be described when taken through the gendered filter of how female musicians are usually described: “Known to all as Taylor Swift’s best friend and Laura Sheeran’s younger cousin, Ed Sheeran has had a busy year. The flame-haired singer has a habit of writing heartbroken songs about his ex-girlfriends – including Ellie Goulding, who allegedly cheated on him with One Direction’s blond bombshell Niall Horan – while maintaining a happy-go-lucky, clean cut image in the press. Who’s next on his list to break his heart? Ladies, watch out. He’ll take that heartache and will make a hit song out of you.” This shows how the masculine norms in music criticism might undermine good criticism on female artists and that maybe there should be more female critics to change the everyday reality of reviewing. In a very honest revelation by Yolanda Ulger, it turned out that spotters working for labels actually make active use of gender in the promotion of their artists. For instance, labels send out female promoters on purpose because it is easier to attract attention.

You can (re-)watch the entire debate here. The next Music Talks will be about creativity in the city and will take place on 10 November 2015. Admission free!


Pictures by Tessa Smit!


Fulbright scholarship!

Julian Schaap has received the Fulbright Scholarship on May 27th for the research project “Has Elvis finally left the building? Boundary work, whiteness and the reception of rock music in comparative perspective.” With this scholarship, he will be taking his research to the Emory University, Atlanta (USA) in the summer of 2016 to further research race, ethnicity and rock music in the local music scene of Atlanta. Each year, around 4,000 international graduates/young professionals receive Fulbright Scholarships to do research in the United States. The scholarship was awarded to Julian Schaap by US Ambassador Timothy Broas.

Julian Schaap receiving a Fulbright grant from US Ambassador Timothy Broas

Julian Schaap receiving a Fulbright grant from US Ambassador Timothy Broas

Meet our PhD-candidates interview series

The Erasmus Graduate School of the Social Sciences and the Humanities (EGS3H) has published an interview with Julian, the main researcher of the project. Julian is one of the PhD-candidates attached to EGS3H, and in this series of interviews you can get acquainted with this group of young researchers. You can read the entire interview by clicking here. Be sure to read the other interviews as well!

Julian Schaap


Public debate on race, ethnicity and popular music in Rotterdam

On 5 November 2014 we organized the public symposium “Elvis has finally left? Bridging ethno-racial boundaries in popular music in Rotterdam and beyond”. On this well-visited evening we invited everyone to join in on the discussion that lies at the core of this research project.

10685439_678856708877207_6127988928456308931_nIs your taste in music racist? Unless you spend your days listening to Nazi punk while strapping the white laces of your Dr. Martins, you probably don’t think so! Music brings people together, as the common saying goes. In reality however, our taste in music is actually less innocent than we would expect at first glance. While attending a rock show for instance, you might notice that the audiences there (and the bands as well) are predominantly white (and male). Rap concerts on the other hand seem to attract a crowd which is more multicultural and diverse. Unlike some of our racial physical aspects, our taste isn’t given to us by birth, so what exactly makes music and race-ethnicity stick together in such a way? And since Elvis Presley “whitewashed” rock music in the 1950s, what has changed? Is there still much inequality in music scenes or has Elvis finally leaving the building?

The department of Arts and Culture Studies, SG Erasmus and WORM Rotterdam have organized an interactive debate-evening regarding this relevant and interesting theme. A panel discussed – together with a packed room of participants – the issue of race/ethnicity in pop music, using visual and audio fragments. We invited experts from the fields: Patrick “Rudeboy” Tilon (ex-Urban Dance Squad, ex-Junkie XL, Battles of 1977 and many more), Conchitta Bottse (Rotterdam Beats), Ilias Boudellah (Marock&Roll) and Miriam Leah Brenner (Kokako Music). International scholars: Prof.dr. Karl Spracklen (Leeds Beckett University), Dr. Jo Haynes (University of Bristol) and Linde Murugan, MA (Northwestern University). The event was be moderated by Julian Schaap (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Pauwke Berkers (Erasmus University Rotterdam). At the end, we had live music by Tabanka, a Rotterdam based group that plays Cape Verdean funaná style music and made people dance like nobody was watching.

You can re-watch the entire event here. Pictures by Lisa Diederik.