Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary

Sasha Geffen (Author)


From the Beatles to Prince to Perfume Genius, Glitter Up the Dark takes a historical look at the voices that transcended gender and the ways music has subverted the gender binary.

Why has music so often served as an accomplice to transcendent expressions of gender? Why did the query "is he musical?" become code, in the twentieth century, for "is he gay?" Why is music so inherently queer? For Sasha Geffen, the answers lie, in part, in music's intrinsic quality of subliminal expression, which, through paradox and contradiction, allows rigid gender roles to fall away in a sensual and ambiguous exchange between performer and listener. Glitter Up the Dark traces the history of this gender fluidity in pop music from the early twentieth century to the present day.

Starting with early blues and the Beatles and continuing with performers such as David Bowie, Prince, Missy Elliot, and Frank Ocean, Geffen explores how artists have used music, fashion, language, and technology to break out of the confines mandated by gender essentialism and establish the voice as the primary expression of gender transgression. From glam rock and punk to disco, techno, and hip-hop, music helped set the stage for today's conversations about trans rights and recognition of nonbinary and third-gender identities. Glitter Up the Dark takes a long look back at the path that led here.

Product Details

$18.95  $17.43
University of Texas Press
Publish Date
April 07, 2020
5.6 X 0.7 X 8.5 inches | 0.7 pounds
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About the Author

Sasha Geffen is a writer based in Colorado. Their work focuses on the intersections between pop culture and gender and has appeared in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Artforum, The Nation, and The New Inquiry, among others.


"[Glitter Up the Dark] is a unique examination of gender fluidity and queerness across genres of popular music; a must-read for music lovers."--Ms. Magazine (01/01/2020)
"[Glitter Up the Dark] doesn't just discuss various subversions of typical masculine and feminine gender roles--it discusses how we came to accept the full gender spectrum with non-binary and third gender identities. Geffen chronicles gender fluidity in music from the 20th century to the present, discussing everyone from early blues artists and David Bowie to Missy Elliot and riot grrrl bands."-- (02/19/2020)
"From Little Richard and Elvis to David Bowie and Prince, Glitter Up The Dark shows how artists have used music and its accompanying fashion and technology to subvert traditionally accepted forms of sexual identity--including what Geffen calls "audio drag," wherein musicians inhabit shifting personas through vocal manipulation. While Geffen is more than comfortable digging into headier gender theory, the book remains accessible and well-crafted."-- (04/01/2020)