We, my colleague Michael Westphal and I, have already worked together on examining Rihanna’s multivocal pop performances. In the course of our research, we got more and more interested in the audience’s reactions towards such performances. We also broadened our perspective in taking another pop persona with Caribbean roots into account: Nicki Minaj. How do these two immensely popular artists, Rihanna and Minaj, construct their Caribbeanness? And how does the audience perceive their performances? We conducted a small scale analysis of their singing styles, visual representation in music videos, and the audience’s perception looking at YouTube comments. At the 7th Biennial International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English we presented our results. Please find our respective abstract below:
Pop music surpasses national and linguistic boundaries (Pennycook 2007). It creates a marketplace of various linguistic resources that artists use in their music performances to create their pop personae (Trudgill 1983, Coupland 2007: 146-176). Performers are mobile, transnational linguistic agents. They do not only physically travel worldwide and spread their multivocality, but their products are distributed and consumed internationally via a multitude of media channels. They transport mobile standard and non-standard varieties into new spaces and make them accessible to a broad audience. Rihanna and Nicki Minaj are globally successful artists with Caribbean roots who combine different musical styles (R’n’B, hip-hop, reggae, pop) and the performance codes associated with that genres (African American English, Jamaican Creole, Standard American English). Rihanna’s recent single Work was praised for reflecting her Barbadian heritage, others dismissed it as lyrical gibberish. Minaj’s Jamaican Creole performances are mostly accepted as authentic although she is originally from Trinidad. These contradicting reactions give insight into language-ideological perspectives and stimulate the need for a thorough linguistic analysis. Which performance codes are used and why? Do they co-occur with specific parts of a song or musical styles? Which features are used to index different varieties?
A morpho-syntactic and accent analysis of Rihanna’s and Minaj’s work reveals that certain parts within a song pattern with the choice of a specific variety. For instance, American English seems to be reserved for sung, not spoken or rapped, parts. The analysis also shows that both artists use Jamaican Creole to perform their Caribbean identity but only command a truncated repertoire (Blommaert 2010: 102-136). The performance is mainly restricted to stereotypical features. The study also scrutinizes different music videos and demonstrates that the Caribbeanness of the music performances is reinforced through visual modalities in an exoticizing and commodifying way. Results show that both artists are transporters of standard and non-standard English varieties. Rihanna’s and Minaj’s playful mix of features within their genres is not only a display of their multifaceted and multivocal identity, but it gives insight into language-ideological processes within the dynamics of global Englishes.
Coupland, N. (2007). Style: Language variation and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Blommaert, J. (2010). The sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pennycook, A. (2006). Global Englishes and transcultural flows. London: Routledge.
Trudgill, P. (1983). Acts of conflicting identity: The sociolinguistics of British pop-song performance. In P. Trudgill (ed.), On dialect: Social and geographical perspectives, 141-160. Oxford: Blackwell.