One of the ironies of popular music studies is that the music that is the most popular, in terms of contemporary chart success, is rarely discussed by academics writing in the field. In this article I want to suggest that this is because some forms of ‘mainstream’ chart pop music, and the discourse of the magazines that promote this type of music, pose a threat to the certainties of both gender and genre that underpin ‘serious’ popular music. The music I am concerned with here is that provided by ‘boy bands’ like Boyzone, Westlife or Five, and ‘girl groups’ like The Spice Girls, Atomic Kitten or Precious, as well as mixed-sex groups such as Steps, SClub7 and Hear'Say, and singers such as Britney Spears and Billie – music that is the mainstay of magazines such as the UK publications Smash Hits, Top of the Pops and Live and Kicking. I shall argue that this music, and the way of enjoying music promoted by the magazines that support it, can best be understood in terms of a carnivalesque disruption that challenges all stable ideas about what makes music good, and what popular music should be about. Furthermore, I shall argue that, just as this music is perhaps the only form of popular music to have a predominantly female audience, the threat that it poses is the threat of the feminine, and of female encroachment into what is still predominantly a male, and masculine, world.
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