For music fans, the post-election silver lining was a hopeful resurgence of trenchant, biting artistry. As one data point floating around the Internet reminded us, the Reagan ’80s gave us Minor Threat and Public Enemy. The Clinton ’90s gave us Third Eye Blind and Hootie & the Blowfish.
Now music scholars will have the chance to formally weigh in at Seattle’s annual Holy Grail of music nerdery, the Pop Conference. From April 20–23, academics, journalists, and musicians themselves will give talks at the newly rechristened Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP).
This year’s theme, “Sign O’ the Times: Music and Politics,” is particularly poignant, but will tackle the question of music in the Trump era from the oblique angles that the ivory tower does best. For example, a panel on protest music will start from way back—the Biblical Song of Solomon—before winding up at Jay-Z’s “Anthem.”
A lot of the scholarly soul-searching will also address Trump’s most recent historical antecedent: Ronald Reagan. The panel “Black Politics in the Reagan Era” will range from critical reflections on Bad Brains by UC-Riverside’s Jayna Brown to the racial politics of house music and HIV/AIDS courtesy of DJ Lynée Denise. And Alfred Soto, who teaches at Florida International University, will present the searingly titled “Mourning in America: How Ronald Reagan Smiled on a Low and Dishonest Decade.”
At the same time, there will be first cracks at assessing the musical legacy of the Obama era. The panel “Soul and the Voice of (Obama’s) America” will take as its point of departure our ex-president singing Al Green at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, prompting online sales of “Let’s Stay Together” to surge 500 percent. With soul music in a 21st-century resurgence thanks to singers like D’Angelo and Solange, what is the genre’s relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement, mindful of soul’s role as the soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement?
Finally, for the fangirls and fanboys out there, David Byrne will give the keynote on the occasion of his political pop opera, Here Lies Love, now playing at Seattle Repertory Theatre. And if you’re looking to get a book autographed, dust off Michaelangelo Matos’ The Underground Is Massive, dream hampton’s ghostwritten Jay-Z autobiography The Black Book, or anything in rock critic Robert Christgau’s oeuvre. They’ll all be there. The Pop Conference, MoPOP, 325 Fifth Ave. N., mopop.org/programs. $20. All ages. Thurs., April 20–Sat., April 23.