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The singer-songwriter on stage: Reconciling the artist and the performer

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The singer-songwriter is a ubiquitous figure within popular music. Although the name may appear to simply refer to an artist who writes and performs his or her own material, it also signifies a web of assumptions around what constitutes quality and value within popular music. In the context of the European genres of the chanson française and the canzone d’autore, the singer-songwriter is conceptualized as a legend of his or her respective song form and a paradigmatic example of quality songwriting. Yet it is often the notion of the singer-songwriter as artist that remains the focus of analyses of these figures. As a result, an important element of what it means to be a singer-songwriter can be overlooked: that is, the place of performance, the necessity for a singer-songwriter to appear live on stage and play and sing his or her songs in front of an audience. This article explores some of the apparent tensions inherent to this artist-performer paradox, by critically analysing examples of the singer-songwriters’ performance styles in the context of the genre discourse which depicts them primarily as artists. It thus challenges the appropriateness of such conceptualizations when applied to the singer-songwriter on stage
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Keywords: Fabrizio De André; Georges Brassens; Giorgio Gaber; Jacques Brel; canzone d’autore; chanson française; performance; singer-songwriter

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Hull

Publication date: 01 April 2013

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  • The Journal of European Popular Culture investigates the creative cultures of Europe, present and past. Exploring European popular imagery, media, new media, film, music, art and design, architecture, drama and dance, fine art, literature and the writing arts, and more, the journal is also of interest to those considering the influence of European creativity and European creative artefacts worldwide.
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