Sociological (musicological) images

17Jun10

There’s a talented American pop/R&B singer named Janelle Monae. This is what she looks like. She adopts flamboyant, traditionally male clothing and hair. Nobody really cares; if anything, she’s praised for her style.

There’s a talented Japanese guitarist named Bou (born Kazuhiro Saitou), star of the visual kei rock band An(tic) Cafe. This is what he looks like. He adopts flamboyant, traditionally female clothing and hair. Nobody really cares; if anything, he’s praised for his style.

I don’t know how Japanese cultist fans of R&B treat gender (although I’ll guess they exist and are probably the children of Haruki Murakami’s jazz-loving protagonists.) I could hazard a guess that American fans of visual kei, who are overwhelmingly young and female, have a stronger tendency to fetishize and objectify people like Bou than the Japanese audience does. But I’m prepared to assert only this: neither artist could have become a mainstream success if born and raised in the other’s country. Their performative gender roles, while acceptable to most in their home countries, would each be considered a bit too far out of bounds in the other country.

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