Women who perform popular music are also performing gender. This is both because gender can be understood as performance and because musical conventions and styles carry with them assumptions about femininity and masculinity. This thesis concerns three female popular music artists; Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Tori Amos and Gillian Welch, and their performances of femininity. As these artists have been presented as or have presented themselves as in some way "authentic", my readings of these artists include considerations of whether or not they perform femininity in ways that are likely to be interpreted as "authentic". The thesis is divided into one theoretical chapter where central concepts are discussed, three case studies - one of each artist - and a concluding chapter. In the case studies I am particularly concerned with the artists' vocal techniques, stylistic musical choices and visual representations.
Kim Gordon's performances are marked by a stylized take on femininity - and indeed masculinity. Sonic Youth's music has a self-reflexive relationship with the history of rock, and Gordon likewise seems to have a self-reflexive relationship with femininity. Gordon confronts certain clichés and stereotypes, musical and visual, and uses them to appear as both girl and woman, and yet somehow neither. The song "Quest for the Cup" (1994) is a short yet interesting example of how Gordon uses her voice to invoke feminine personae and themes while remaining in the safe position as cool and detached anti-rock star.
In the song "Professional Widow" (1996), Tori Amos explores a classic feminine type of the darker kind, the femme fatale. Using the harpsichord in a pseudo heavy rock style as well as the conventions of nightclub and piano bar music, Amos stays within a seemingly strategic use of popular music conventions before finally breaking out of the pop song format in the intense coda, symbolising a quest for freedom within the female situation, represented by the female voice. Amos's femme fatale tries to attain masculine power and grandeur through a glorification of femininity, but in a way she seems to remain a little envious of men.
Country music is a performative kind of genre that is particularly reliant on traditions, both musically and image-wise. Gillian Welch's performances are both limited and liberated by country music tropes. With her old-fashioned dresses and serious dedication to the style and instrumentation of old-time country music, Welch often casts herself as the typical good and virtuous woman of country music culture. On the other hand, Welch also draws upon her own biography to present herself as a female version of the homeless "rambler". Moreover, as her songs often are written as stories, Welch sometimes sings as a male character but in such cases, for example the song "Red Clay Halo" (2001), her vocal technique relies more on notions of class than notions of gender. Welch thus gains freedom to move between gender identities by staying within the performance conventions of a certain kind of music.