Welcome to The International Association for the Study of Popular Music UK and Ireland Branch

IASPM Journal 7/2 (2017) Pop Life – The Popular Music Biopic

Posted: August 22nd, 2016 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »


Popular music biopics are becoming ubiquitous. Marshall and Kongsgaard (2012) list 28 for the years 1980-2010 and recent years have seen films on NWA, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Brian Wilson, Bessie Smith and Whitney Houston. Increasingly common also are films about managers, record company owners and fans, who are not even musical performers. Is the biopic trend-driven by an ageing audience for popular music? Does it represent another attempt by the music industry to cash in on its back catalogue, or is it part of a canonisation process by which yesterday’s popular culture becomes today’s “art”? Is the lack of critical attention paid to the biopic because it falls between film and music, history and fiction, product and art?

The music biopic is not a recent phenomenon, as Custen (1992) establishes in his historic genre survey. He observes that more classic Hollywood biopics are more about artists, including singers and musicians, than any other social group, raising questions, still relevant today, about biographical realism and entertainment values and about how authenticity is interpreted in film as well as in popular music. Is “stardom” (Dyer 1998) an adequate framework for understanding the music biopic? How do discourses of stardom, entertainment and rock and popular music intersect, combine or conflict?

The popular music biopic has a mixed parentage, drawing from classic biopics, rock and roll exploitation films, documentaries, musicals, fictional films about musicians and music videos. So why does the genre so often repeat a romantic narrative of rebellion against circumstances, leading to success, excess, burn out and death or rehab? What alternative narratives and subject positions are possible? Identity is, therefore, a key area for investigation. Bingham (2010: 10), for example, argues that biopics about male or female musicians are “essentially different genres”. To what degree, then, do biopics reproduce, negotiate or challenge heteronormative and monocultural discourses of popular music stardom?

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • The popular music biopic in relation to contemporary popular music culture
  • The history of the popular music biopic in relation to developments in popular music
  • The role of music in popular music biopics
  • The popular music biopic as canonism
  • The popular music biopic, nostalgia and aging
  • Identity construction in popular music biopics
  • The popular music biopic as remediation
  • The popular music biopic and intertextuality
  • The development of the popular music biopic as a genre and its relatives – documentary, exploitation films, music videos, musicals, youth films
  • The popular music biopic’s narrative conventions
  • The popular music biopic in relation to other biographical texts
  • The popular music biopic, parodies and mockumentaries

Authors are encouraged to submit a 300-word abstract including working title and references, showing engagement with existing literature in both popular music studies and the study of biopics, by 6 October 2016, to the Guest Editor for this issue, Matthew Bannister: [email protected]

The submission deadline for articles is 26 January 2017.

Please register and submit online, ensuring you are a current member of IASPM.

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