Fever Theory

Šum#10.1 (Nov 2018)

Originally published in Slovene

ABSTRACT: In the early 2000s, motifs in popular music began to shift from the sweet addictiveness, introduced and made prevalent by the “Teen Pop” genre of the 1990s, to the unbearable agonic invasion into the teen-pop subjectivity („Overprotected” (Spears), “Can’t Get You Out of My Head“ (Minogue), breakups, and breakdowns). The artcle considers the sonority of the pop scene in its complex integration into the mechanisms of control, which the soundscapes not only support but also inadvertently produce.

Translated excerpt:

By the end of the millennium, record labels were already establishing a globalised market, selling a record amount of albums (with ever lower costs of production mostly due to the emergence of new recording technology, namely the CD), and thus gaining momentum at driving emotional and attentional investments of their consumers with a handful of intricately formulated strategies of sonic construction. The challenges of the internet and the emergence of digitally compressed audio files (MP3) coupled with new internet technologies of dissemination of such files (such as Napster, Gnutella, Freenet etc.) may have somewhat hindered the growth of the industry, but not without also considerably expanding the dissemination of its products (and with it their influence and reach).

It is in this climate, specifically in 2001, that the Australian pop sensation Kylie Minogue released her 8th studio album and with it the single “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” that ended up defining the pop scene of the decade. The album and the single could have been met by a similar destiny as that of the 8th studio album by Mariah Carey — the success of which was hindered by its unfortunate release on September 11th 2001 —, if it were not for its gradual international release (on September 8th 2001 in Australia, on September 17th in Great Britain and only on February 18th 2002 in the USA).

Domen Ograjenšek, Untitled, 2018, photo: Luigi Cazzaniga.

This contributed not only to the success of the album (and its leading single) but also to the successful transmission of the paradigm of ‘sweet addictiveness’ (introduced and made prevalent by the “Teen Pop” genre of the 1990s) into the world of “post-9/11”. So if the narrative shifts between various Britney Spears’ singles from that time still give an impression of a transition from absolute devotion to the cult of pop consumerism (for instance “I’m A Slave 4 You”, performed for the first time at the MTV Video Music Awards only five days before the terrorist attack) to resistance to the society of control, the all entrancing power of the music industry, and to the media’s (over-)watchful eye (for instance “Overprotected”, released three months after the attack) – that is, a transition more in line with “oppositional culture” than with “pop patriotism” (characteristic for the “post-9/11” pop cultural scene) – the transitional “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, by directly linking the sweet allure of a fresh crush with the unbearable agonic invasion into teen-pop subjectivity, reaffirms them (i.e. the narrative shifts) as a continuation (rather than a transition and discontinuation) of the same “pop addictiveness” and devotion that served as the inner working of the American pop culture in the world before “9/11”. This becomes even more apparent with the music video of Minogue’s single, where the choreographed agony and the inability of though and function (1) are accompanied only by a tranquility and liveliness of an early spring day.

Domen Ograjenšek, Untitled, 2018, screenshots, source: LOPEZ, Jennifer, “Jennifer Lopez — If You Had My Love (Official Video)”, Youtube, 2009; EMIMUSIC, “Kylie Minogue — Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, Youtube, 2009.

It is therefore not unusual that “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” receives a mention in the essay “Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore” by Marc Couroux. The overlapping of these seemingly contrary notions of “sweet addictiveness” and an ‘agonic invasion” is the central point, around which the idea of “acoustic control”, the idea that supposedly replaces the paradigm of the “ocular control” (as conceived with Bentham and popularised by Foucault), is established. Couroux’ text expands upon the mechanisms of the “technosonic control society” in the service of “phonoegregore” – “an occult, corporate cabal seeking control over a given population through the use of schizophonic magick.” Popular music is in this case only one of the many fields for application and dissemination of such means, and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” only a handy example of it, for it mirrors the inner working of its sonic construction directly on the surface. What Couroux understands as the “earworm” – an intricate mechanism, that can be best understood as a biologistic analogon to the “apparatus” of Deleuze and Guattari –, is present in the title, the chorus as well as in the music video of the single. It is a loop that seems to cross the distinction between the implicit and explicit, and by that arrogantly boasts against all attempts of exposing something, since causing something to be seen or apparent falls more in line with the domain of the ocular, whereas the conception or conceptualisation of “acoustic control” functions beyond such sensory limitations.


(1) The exception being the protagonist’s ability to drive a sports car – although taking into consideration the futuristic setting of the video, the roadster might as well be a self-driving vehicle, or due to the peculiar nature of the drive (the isolated, decontextualised drive on an empty abstract computer generated bridge) a metaphor for a Baudrillardian virtual world, making it a “computer-modem roadster” in which the computer screen replaces the windscreen” and “the driver and the car become a cybernetic unit, an informing network-vehicle” (Mark Nunes, “Jean Baudrillard in Cyberspace: Internet, Virtuality, and Postmodernity”, p. 315—317). In this case, the driving is not so much an ability of the protagonist, but rather a mode of “navigation” and “exploration” pertaining to the (wind-)screen itself — the depthless surface that the protagonist calmly observes while lip-syncing to her song.

Author: Domen Ograjenšek

Writer, art critic, curator

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