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AADS Speaker Series: Soft Rock, Soft Power

Event poster
Friday, March 04, 2022
3:30 pm - 4:45 pm
Karen Tongson
AADS Speaker Series

This talk explores the enduring popularity of soft and yacht rock in the Asia Pacific region, notably in the Philippines. Soft, yacht, and what Mike Pace has recently dubbed "Spago rock" are all backdated categories that carry within them a structure of willful deracination, one that predictably obfuscates the Black sources for their sonic appropriations. Why then, in the listening practices of these genres in the Philippines and within the Filipino diaspora, has a sense of its "sonic color line" (as Jennifer Stoever has described it) been far more porous? This talk animates the histories of these soft popular genres as historically concomitant with the late-to-post Cold War diplomatic project of soft power. The presentation speculates on why this music especially seduced listeners in sites of island/archipelagic tourism like the Philippines. Why and how, in other words, do white, demi-acoustic melancholic expressions of reconstructed masculinity from the 1970s and 1980s stir affinities in groups of people who are distinctly not of their privileged, presumptively yacht-owning ilk?

Karen Tongson is the author of Why Karen Carpenter Matters (named one of Pitchfork's best music books in 2020), and Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries. In 2019, she received Lambda Literary's Jeanne Córdova Award for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction for her body of writing. She is Chair of gender & sexuality studies, and Professor of gender & sexuality studies, English and American studies & ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is also co-editor of the award-winning book series, Postmillennial Pop with Henry Jenkins at NYU Press. Tongson is currently finishing a book called, NORMPORN: Television and the Spectacle of Normalcy (NYU Press). She is the director of the Consortium for Gender, Sexuality, Race & Public Culture at USC Dornsife.

Pre-registration is required:

If you need a disability-related accommodation, contact: Asian American and Diaspora Studies ( by April 25, 2022.

Contact: Maira Uzair