Radical Bodies in Music Video: Feminism, Queerness, and Subversive Performance of Gender

Donnelly, Ryann. 2017. Radical Bodies in Music Video: Feminism, Queerness, and Subversive Performance of Gender. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

It is the objective of this research to establish how categories of sex and gender have been
subverted through queer and feminist performance in music video since the launch of MTV
in 1981. It was at this point that music video entered domestic space, and became a fixture of
the music industry. The medium’s cultural ubiquity, and its continually provocative aesthetic
experimentation since MTV's inception reinforce this period as an arena of study. This
project is approached in critical and practical ways, which respond to the following research
questions: How is gender performed to subversive effect in music video? How have methods
of performative subversion in music video participated in, or been affected by significant
social and technological shifts since 1981?

In its critical approach, this thesis considers music videos in dialogue with queer, feminist,
and dramatic theory as a means of locating queer and feminist agency in subversive
performance. Chapters of the text have been organised in consideration of significant cultural
conjunctures, which further contextualise subversive strategies of performance in the work.
The first chapter examines music videos whose aesthetics and themes participated in the
project of AIDS awareness between the late 1980s and early 1990s. The second chapter
explores the proliferation of gender identities in the contemporary landscape of music video.
It considers how this has been accommodated by changing modes of production, distribution,
and regulation after the internet, and shifting norms of gender and sexuality, evidenced by the
legalisation of same sex marriage in the United States and the United Kingdom. The final
chapter examines the intersection of sexual and racial identity in work by black artists since
the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2012.

The practical methodology of this thesis culminates in video projections whose incorporation
in live pop music performance creates music videos in real time. This work operates within
the post-internet expansion of the medium’s visual economy—its form, regulation,
distribution, and borders—and draws on first-hand manipulation of the actions and images
which define gender norms. These works expand visual themes of feminism and queerness in
a live setting through modes of subversive gender performance, comparable to those
explored in the objects of study. In this research, text, video, and performance function
together. The critical identification and interpretation of subversive performance both relies
on, and informs its practical production.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Gender, Gender Performance, Music Video, Queer, Feminism, Popular Music, Video, Performance, Representation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


31 October 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

20 Nov 2017 15:54

Last Modified:

23 Jun 2023 01:26



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