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“Robo-Diva R&B”: Aesthetics, Politics, and Black Female Robots in Contemporary Popular Music

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From Beyonc√©'s Metropolis-suit at the 2007 BET Awards 1 to critic Tom Breihan's identification of a subgenre of “robo-diva” R&B performers (including Ciara and Rihanna), 2 there are a number of black female R&B singers who present themselves—intentionally or unintentionally—as non-“human.” What is at stake, politically and aesthetically, in black women presenting themselves as robots? There is more at work here, I think, than a simple reaction to the stereotype about black women and “nature.” Looking to Beyonc√©'s BET Awards performance and Rihanna's “Umbrella” video, I argue that the figure of the robo-diva: (1) evinces a tendency in white patriarchy to express its anxieties about technology in terms of black female sexuality, and vice versa; and (2) in critiquing the race–gender politics of mainstream Anglo-American popular music aesthetics, deconstructs many of its values (e.g., personal and cultural authenticity, expressivity, virtuosity).

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Publication date: December 1, 2008


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