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Melodious Melodrama: Finding Camp Moments In Music

Monday, April 22, 2013

J. Bryan Lowder finds this moment in Annie Lennox's "No More I Love You's" video to be camp. (YouTube)

The term "campy" is one generally connoted with films or visual performances that are rooted in gay culture -- "Rocky Horror Picture Show," or John Waters' "Hairspray" are just two examples. As J. Bryan Lowder, Slate editorial assistant for culture, tells us on Soundcheck, it's "things that are sort of exaggerated, over the top, 'so-bad-it's good.'" 

But, as Lowder explains throughout his recent "Postcards from Camp" series for, he defines the term "camp" somewhat differently. "[It's] a way of approaching art. It's about paying attention to nuance over the big picture." We talk with Lowder about "camp" as he defines it and examples of it in music -- from Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" to Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.

Lowder, on an example of something that is "camp":

"I would say that the beginning of Annie Lennox's video "No More I Love You's," where her eyes get really big -- it's a very specific moment -- again, we're talking about nuances here. Very small, particular things that you fixate on... and you can't get those things out of your head."

On whether music can be camp:

"It's about how you pay attention to it. If you have a song in mind -- I'm thinking of 'Fancy' by Reba McEntire -- a moment in the music of that song -- in a lyric, specifically -- she says her mother 'drew a ragged breath.' And something about the way that she pronounces 'ragged breath' is camp to me. That moment makes that entire song work for me."

On camp and it's place in gay culture post-Stonewall Riots:

"The moment of Stonewall seems to be a bit of a turning point where once everyone's out of the closet and we're sort of moving into an era of civil rights activism... camp is seen as being less necessary and some people even want to get rid of it, because they see it as a throwback, as a relic of the closet. And I find that disappointing."


J. Bryan Lowder

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