Archives, ambiguity and death: rethinking disruption in PJ Harvey’s music video performances

Gardner, Abigail S ORCID: 0000-0003-2994-741X (2010) Archives, ambiguity and death: rethinking disruption in PJ Harvey’s music video performances. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire.

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This thesis takes a qualitative approach to interrogating a selection of PJHarvey's music video performances via the textual analysis of seven videos from 1993 – 2004. Its theoretical position is broadly feminist. This is because it follows debates emerging from feminist popular music studies that are concerned with the ways in which women within the popular music industry might be said to challenge or 'disrupt' certain expected codes and conventions (Whiteley, 1997, 2000; Burns and Lafrance, 2002). It takes these debates across to Harvey‟s music video performances and starts to address how this move requires a rethinking of the ways in which such challenges have been formulated. The theoretical underpinnings for this thesis sit at the intersections of feminist popular music theory, music video theory and diva theory. The literature review situates this work within a context of previous work in these fields and here gaps are identified that are developed more fully in the analyses chapters. The first claim is that most, if not all of the critical approaches under review have produced work that has mapped out the 'disruptive' feminine by drawing on the psychoanalytical work of the mid to late twentieth century of Rivière ([1929]1986), Irigaray (1977,1985) and Butler (1990,1993). Perhaps inevitably, theorists in popular music and music video theory have engaged with the resulting debate that is couched within the binary of resistance verses recuperation that this thesis argues is unhelpful to a reading of Harvey's performance of the masquerade (Walser,1993). Whilst its methodological thrust is propelled by existing routes of enquiry from within music video studies, it also asks for a reconsideration of the nature of the 'text' in relation to music video, reviewing the security of a 'textual account' to consider how reframing music video as a moving archive impacts on methods and access. This organic reaction to a rapidly developing media environment within which the videos have been accessed has seen the analyses chapters reflect and reframe concepts related to challenge that articulate both dissatisfaction with those debates in relation to Harvey's videos and a fresh way of approaching music video performance. First it argues that because Harvey's performances of the masquerade are invested in the past, she is an archivist. It therefore puts forward the concept of the 'memory-ade' which is a rethinking of the masquerade that allies it cultural memory (Van Dijck, 2007; Grainge, 2002; Pentzold, 2009). This takes into account the weight of the masquerade and the investment that Harvey has in it. Continuing on with the concern that a binary model of resistance and recuperation does not allow for a flexible reading of Harvey's video work, it then argues that her video performances are ambiguous. They foreground a mimetic and wicked sense of humour that allows her to subvert and challenge dominant tropes of femininity, by 'miming and displacing' them (Butler, 1992:3), whilst also continuing to hold such archetypes in affection. In relation to this sense of humour, it formulates the concept of 'serious camp' a development of the term (Robertson, 1996; Michasiw, 1997) that takes account of the independent rock genre within which Harvey operates. The third strand is concerned with Harvey's performances of the diva and how they offer something different to extant debates on this subject by positioning her as a 'deathly' diva, one whose performances foreground loss or death, specifically in relation to domesticity and desire (Leonard, 2007; Bradshaw 2007; O'Neill, 2007). These three ways of looking at Harvey's performances remain premised on the core contention that she is somehow causing 'trouble' (Butler, 1990; Doty, 2007). But it is just how this trouble can be theorised within the shifting contexts of music video and what it means for a development of the ways we might re-conceptualise "disruption" that lies at the heart of this thesis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Published as Gardner, Abigail S (2015) PJ Harvey and Music Video Performance. Ashgate. ISBN 978-1-4724-2418-1. The Ebook is available to current University of Gloucestershire students and employees via the organisation link, login required.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Music video performance, female musicians, popular music industry, feminist popular music theory, music video as archive
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Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2015 12:44
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2022 11:51

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