“Young Soldiers, One Day We Will Change Taiwan”: Masculinity Politics in the Taiwan Rap Scene

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Gender ideologies in the male-dominated Taiwan rap scene are often expressed in terms of fidelity to the cultural norms of American hip-hop, as well as to the notion of "keeping it real," understood as an act of masculine agency characterized by unambiguous and sometimes confrontational expressions of pain, pleasure, anger, and sexual desire. Beyond citing the influence of American hip-hop, performers also rationalize Taiwan rap's gender practices in terms of a Confucian paradigm that posits women as reserved, refined, and introspective—qualities inimical to the ugliness that accompanies keeping it real. In light of these assumptions, Taiwan rap would not appear to advance a particularly progressive agenda vis-à-vis gender, as rappers have largely resisted the interpellation of both feminist and queer politics that gained traction on the island in the 1990s and 2000s. In this presentation, I examine Taiwan rap's gender politics with these considerations in mind, but I also advance an alternative perspective on the ways in which the music provides a durable outlet for expressions of male subjectivity. In the context of shifting gender roles driven by dramatic sociopolitical and economic change over the course of the past two and a half decades, I argue that rap creates critical new spaces for male sociality, avenues for male self-empowerment, and opportunities for the articulation of multiple and diverse masculine identities not otherwise audible in the island’s popular music.

Meredith Schweig is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities and Hyperstudio Fellow at MIT, where she is working on a book about Taiwan's hip-hop scene. She completed her MA (2009) and PhD (2013) in ethnomusicology at Harvard University, where she also received her BA (2003) in Music and East Asian Studies. Her research explores twentieth- and twenty-first-century musics of East Asia, with a particular emphasis on popular song, narrativity, and cultural politics in the Chinese-speaking world. Schweig has received fellowships and grants from the Asian Cultural Council, Whiting Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, and the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard University. She was the recipient of the Lise Waxer Graduate Student Paper Prize (2013) from the Popular Music Section of the Society for Ethnomusicology and the Barbara Barnard Smith Student Paper Prize (2011) from the Association for Chinese Music Research.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies

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Published: Monday, May 11, 2015