Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

John Gennari


This thesis has two goals. The first is to extend Andrew Brooks’ concept of “a queer listening practice” which he conceptualizes as a way of tuning “into the sound of relations” and “thinking through relations of power; it is a mode of listening attuned to the production, transmission, and mutation of the affective tonalities of dominant neoliberal capitalist cultures.” Brooks focuses his research on experimental music; I wish to complicate his scholarship by adapting his theory to a popular music space long overlooked in scholarship: sad girl pop. The second aim is explaining how queer listening can be used to understand and appreciate the beauty of sad girl pop and more specifically its affective and cultural resonance with listeners of two of contemporary music’s most prescient and alluring figures: Lana Del Rey and Ethel Cain.I argue that sad girl pop is built on subversion, complicating notions of genre and gender within the discursive domain of performance and beyond. It is music that embodies liminality, both sonically and affectively. By foregrounding case studies of Lana Del Rey and Ethel Cain, I assert that the figure of the sad girl challenges the “girlboss” pop that proliferated in the noughties and 2010s. Because of its divergence from convention, I argue that sad girl pop demands a different kind of listening pedagogy than mainstream pop - i.e. queer listening. In Chapter One, I posit that queer listening is a teachable, heuristic tool that helps the listener move beyond normative structures of time, space, gender, and genre. In this moving beyond, the queer listener becomes acquainted with the unknown, which is synonymous with the emotional experience of beauty per Thomas Armstrong and Brian Detweiler-Bedell’s theory. I draw on Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion to examine the role of affect in concretizing identity. Moving into Chapter Two, I place the work of Lana Del Rey and Ethel Cain in conversation through the framework of queer listening. I posit that these artists are themselves glitches, rupturing the notions of genre and gender through their respective personas and music catalogs. Brooks uses the word “glitch” to primarily describe auditory anomalies. My application of the term stretches beyond describing sound and takes up Legacy Russell’s definition which imagines the glitch as something productive, generative, and liberating. I also draw on Anton Blackburn’s concept of the voice as an identity, arguing that the sad girl persona is delivered through a voice that is notably lower, breathier, and darker than that which defines mainstream girlboss pop. Finally, in Chapter Three, I explore the ubiquity of sad girl pop in contemporary culture, paying mind to questions regarding late-stage capitalism and post-feminism. Here, I argue that the girlboss and the sad girl are both manifestations of neoliberalism in the sense that they reflect the impossibility of stability and happiness in a normative world. In doing so, I articulate the importance of queer listening in deconstructing the limitations set by normative structures and reiterate the necessity of beauty in catalyzing a richer understanding of the self and more broadly, our changing world.



Number of Pages

92 p.

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