Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s Unplugged


If I were to describe Kurt Cobain and Nirvana to someone who hadn’t heard of them, I’d start with terms like “grunge, rock, hard, and agressive,” but they were much more than that.  I agree with the assertion made in the video “kurt cobain and the female grotesque” by Linnea Zeiner.  Kurt Cobain was an active feminist, but not in the normal sense of the world.  He was radical and chaotic, but with good intentions.  He purposefully dressed in ways that confused the two accepted genders and embraced his feminine side, which he identified more with.  He tried to show that as time is progressing and humanity is evolving women should be given a better share of the world and should be able to protect and provide for themselves without relying on Men.

I do also believe that “Unplugged,” a show on MTV, was culturally significant because it brought many popular artists into a more wholesome and contained world to play their music, usually their hit songs.  This gave a new layer to each band that appeared on the show, and focused more on their connection with the small audience.  Unlike Nirvana’s performance on “Unplugged,” most artists simply played their biggest hits on acoustic.  Even with this simple formula, “Unplugged” was able to show that while some bands change their sound to appeal to the mainstream, they can still put on a personal show at a small location.


Zeiner, Linnea. “kurt cobain and the female grotesque.”


Kraftwerk’s Elements


Kraftwerk’s music is more electronic than industrial because of their focus on synthesizers, and lack of focus on anti-music.  Bret Woods, in his article “Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of an Underground Genre” defines four “core fundamentals of what makes industrial music a standalone genre,” two of which are “the use of synthesizers and anti-music” (41).  Kraftwerk is however more electronic than industrial because it does not feature many elements of anti-music.  For example, there aren’t many random and non-electronic or non-vocal sounds in the music of kraftwerk.  They do constantly have a stream of music coming from synthesizers to keep the beat of the song, making the music electronic.  The group Kraftwerk did display shock tactics as seen in the above image and in their public dress.  While they weren’t as abominable or shocking as some other bands and artists, their actions were noticed and purposeful.  They were decidedly independent from popular music and made sure to be seen that way.  One element of anti-music is completely absent from Kraftwerk music that I listened to– industrial sounds and purposeful silence.  There are some strange synthesizer sounds in kraftwerk music, but they don’t seem to go against the trend of popular music to the extend that those sounds do.


Woods, Bret. “Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of an         Underground Genre.” 2007. Florida State University.

Cultural Appropriation of Drag Balls


Madonna, in her music video for her song “Vogue” very obviously steals the looks and actions from drag balls, but does so with respect.  The above image is from the movie, “Paris is Burning,” and shows the extravagance and eloquence of the balls.  Voguing, the syle of dance that was created by these balls is heavily incorporated in Madonna’s music video.  It features expert voguers dressed in similar attire (although arguably toned down in some cases) to what would be worn at the balls.  While this is obviously taken right from the drag ball culture, I do not see any evidence that it was done with mal intent or disrespect.  The dancers and drag performers in the video are given center attention and often seem to be the object of envy.  There is also no racial bias as covered in Tim Lawrence’s article “A history of drag balls, houses, and the culture of voguing.”  Performers and dancers of different races are shown side by side or one after another with no obvious preference in Madonna’s music video.  I would argue that the music itself also takes from the drag culture in its grandiloquence and over-the-top nature.  Madonna obviously did this for an effect and likely used all the appropriations from the drag ball culture because it inspired her to create the song.


Lawrence, Tim. “A History of Drag Balls, Houses, and the Culture of Voguing.”

Livingston, Jennie, et al. Paris Is Burning. Prestige, 1990.

Madonna. I’m Breathless. Vogue. Sire Records, 1990.

Bob Marley vs NWA Activism


Bob Marley and the rap group NWA had similar political goals, but attempted to accomplish them in different ways.  Bryan John McCann, in his dissertation “Contesting the Mark of Criminality: Resistance and Ideology in Gangsta Rap, 1988-1997” provides a link between reggae and rap with his statement that “The nationalist politics at the heart of Jamaican cultural traditions, as well as the residue of the Black Power movement still
occupying the streets of New York and other urban centers, gave early rap music a
decidedly nationalist character (124).  Marley and NWA both encouraged Black nationalism and wanted everyone of African descent to be proud of where they came from.  Marley took strides, even outside of his music, to encourage peace as well as Black nationalism.  According to JTMP, there was even one concert where he was able to get “the two political candidates running for office in the violent and deadly 1970s Jamaican politics to hold hands and call for peace” in the middle of his concert (JTMP).  This is one main difference between Marley and NWA as general peace was not a main political focus of NWA.  Much of NWA’s focus surrounded the Black Power Movement with the goal of giving African Americans a solid foundation and a way out of poverty through legal means.  Much of Bob Marley’s influence was worldwide and NWA was limited just to the US, which was another key difference.  NWA makes many more references to US culture and locations, such as Compton, which allows the group to focus more on American sociopolitical issues.  Marley’s music emphasizes peace talks and bringing together of separate parties, while NWA’s music encourages the political mobilization of African Americans, pushing them to become more politically involved and conscious of their “Black Power.”  The style of music is also very different between the two artists.  Rap was founded based in part of influences from Reggae, but Reggae is usually much slower and in many places more instrumental than rap.  Regardless of the differences, both artists were crucial in the formation of a national Black identity in the late 20th century.


McCann, Bryan John. “Contesting the Mark of Criminality: Resistance and Ideology in Gangsta Rap, 1988-1997”. The University of Texas at Austin. August 2009

JTMP. “The Greatest Activist Musician in History: Bob Marley.” Justice Through Music, http://www.jtmp.org/2013/12/02/691/.

Tupac’s Political Activism


Tupac, while being a famous rapper, also made several calls for political reform and social change in his song lyrics.  According to Gwendolyn Pough in her article “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential of Hip-Hop,” rap is similar to the Black Panther movement and other Black political groups “in the Black rhetorical qualities they share,” which also includes some Black Panther sayings referenced in raps (285).  Tupac, in his song “Panther Power” also makes references to the Black Panther movement, which his mother was involved in.  In this song, he states ” There ain’t no liberty to you and me we all ain’t free yet/Panther power,” revealing his desire for actual freedom from the restraints placed on him and other African Americans.  He goes on to say “lady liberty is a hypocrite she lied to me,” illustrating the illusion of the American dream.  Tupac believes that that dream is not available to many African Americans because of current racism and wealth disparity.  He believes that it’s wrong to tell people that the American dream is available to everyone because that’s simply incorrect.  He thinks it should be attainable for everyone, but society isn’t at that point yet.  Tupac in this song and many others outlines problems in society and shows the urgency of the situation.  He wants his listeners to push for a truly equal and free society where everyone is give the same opportunities.  Tupac’s songs have reached many people and should be noted for their political activism.  While his songs were in fact just songs, they did have significant influence on his listeners and brought many delicate topics about social justice and inequality to the table.


Pough D. Gwendolyn, “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential of Hip-Hop”

Shakur, Tupac. “Panther Power” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFrIl2yPRSo





The Appeal of “Reality”


Reality shows are popular because people enjoy seeing only the exciting parts of fantasized versions of actual life.  They like to see the exciting events on shows and compare it to the much more watered-down drama occurring in their lives.  The article “MTV, Reality Television and the Commodification of Female Sexuality in The Real World” by Danielle Stern interviews a small sample group of female viewers of the show “The Real World.”  One such woman, Kelly, makes the statement “who wants to see the real world, like real life?” showing that nobody watches reality shows because they’re actually about reality (Stern, 5).  They watch it because it is an exaggerated, but still believable version of reality.  Most people have an innate desire to gossip and reality shows feed off this desire.  They give viewers something to follow, something that is exciting and changing every week.  Viewers can talk to their friends and loved ones about all the changes and excitement in the show, which gets them more involved and watch more of the show.  May of the peers interviewed for this article did not care too much about the commodification of female sexuality, believing that the actions of the females on the show did not apply to them.  They loved following the show for its excitement and thrills, but didn’t think it had any applications to real life. They seemed to believe that the show was using its poetic license to exaggerate real life to entertain viewers, and they were okay with that.


Stern, Danielle. “MTV, Reality Television and theCommodification of Female Sexuality in The Real World” Media Report to Women; Spring 2005; 33, 2; ProQuest

The Death of New York Punk


The death of the New York Punk scene was inevitable.  Punk bands playing in clubs like CBGB could only last for so long before audiences got too violent and unreliable, throwing bottles at performers and worse (Kvaran, 103).  As the punk scene got more popular, more bands began to acquire commercial success, signing autographs and records deal.  When this happened, a new “class system” emerged within many bands, separating the performers from the crews and creating divides in many groups (104).  The essence of punk is anti-establishment and this didn’t fit well with commercial success.  When the sex pistols imploded after their one and only tour, it became apparent that punk bands were not a good investment for companies as they weren’t likely to last long.  The combination of growing conflict within the bands and less interest from those with money made it harder for bands to survive and for the clubs that hosted them to survive as well.  The interests of the public are always shifting and the appearance of boy bands shifted interest away from the punk scene as well.  All of these different variables combined to ultimately kill off the New York punk scene, although it did manage to take root in other cities, such as Los Angeles.


Kvaran, Kara. “Gendered Underground: Men, Women, and American Punk Rock, 1965-1995.” Purdue University. August 2011.