Wills Glasspiegel

Wills Glasspiegel is a graduate student in Media, Culture and Communications at NYU. He also manages Shangaan Electro and produces public radio documentaries about music.



"Beyoncé's Afro-Future: Power and Play in 'Run the World (Girls)'"

Metropolitan musical practice in the United States today is increasingly marked by complex networks of interlaced and overlapping cultural repertories of sound, music and image. These networks are variously mediated by recording, print, celluloid, screens, and the like. It is as if accelerating flows of data, capital, commodities, and information – aided by advanced communication technologies – have issued new modes of cultural mixing and remixing that increasingly reach into the most remote regions of the globe.

This paper reflects on Beyoncé’s 2011 hit “Run the World (Girls)” as a kind of metropolitan nexus of tropes and traces of African sonic (and visual) culture, appropriated and re-purposed for mainstream modern consumption. First, by examining the Jamaican-inflected instrumental track that undergirds “Run the World”, the paper situates Beyoncé in the frame of traditional dancehall “versioning” practices that trace back to the origins of global remix culture in the dub studios of 1970s Kingston. Second, the paper examines the song as it represents what’s variously been called “Global Bass” music or “World Music 2.0”. Third, in conversation with “Pantsula” dancers in South Africa, the paper describes the way an African dance style is deployed in the context of a Jamaican-Brazilian hybrid beat, which curiously grounds the song’s feminized Afro-futurist televisual aesthetic. Within this networked global flow, the paper assesses how power relations differentiate those who are artistically present and those who are not, which cultural references are thematized and which ones are obscured, who gets compensated and who does not, and why.

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