IASPM International Conferences - Proceedings, Situating Popular Musics

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Happy campers: The Topp Twins, queerness and New Zealand identity
Matthew Bannister

Last modified: 2013-01-22


Vanessa Knights and Tony Biddle write that conceptualisations of the national have been somewhat sidelined in a world increasingly dominated by the processes of globalisation, deterritorialisation, transmigration and forms of cultural hybridity. As a multicultural postcolonial settler society, Aotearoa/New Zealand has a troubled relationship with national identity. In relation to local popular music, Tony Mitchell argues for homologies with landscape, using a psycho-geographical approach, while Nabeel Zuberi suggests that the emphasis on local identity is too prescriptive, especially given the ways it functions in public and institutional discourse. And clearly multiculturalism in New Zealand problematises any representation of unitary identity; rather it becomes a question of mapping multiple identifications. Cultural production, in this case popular entertainment, is ambivalently placed in relation to national discourses, both forming and responding to them. Popular entertainers may identify with minority groups that are excluded from the national hegemonic. Arguably performers identifying with minority positions are particularly aware of the performativity of identity. The Topp Twins, two lesbian singers, entertainers, cowgirls and good blokes to boot are a cultural institution in New Zealand. The paper explores how the Topp Twins negotiate identifications around the national in their performances, especially in terms of gender and ethnicity, for example in the recent documentary Untouchable Girls, and how reading the Topp Twins feeds back into the New Zealand musical identity debate.

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