And they’ll call him "Teresa": Homosexuality-related discourse in Italian pop songs.

Attolino, Paola

University of Salerno, Italy


Pop songs have often addressed questions of collective interest while expressing an individual image of the world very close to the universal voice of poetry (Groves and McBain 1972). As lyrics may have a strong power of suggestion, their analysis can offer helpful insights into the cultural values and the social attitudes of a given historical period (Frith 1988). Numerous studies in the sociology of music (Frith 1988; Bennett et al. 1993; Longhurst 1995; Starr and Waterman 2003) demonstrate that, like any form of art, music cannot be considered independent from everyday social relations.

The reflexive nature of songs – mirroring, echoing and amplifying ferments of social unrest and clumps of acquiescence – proves particularly revealing when dealing with such delicate issues and often taboo subjects as homosexuality. In this perspective, popular music’s considerable potential for social insights can be conveniently exploited in an attempt to trace the evolution of homosexuality-related discourse across years.

The present paper aims at analysing the way the issue of homosexuality is represented (or misrepresented) in a corpus of Italian pop songs composed in the last decades, in order to investigate to what extent changes in discourse, style and lexicon mirror the changes occurred in Italian society, and vice versa, in particular the gradual passage from a “don’t ask – don’t tell” climate to the still ongoing debate about gay rights, legislation and society.

The pragmatic analysis, which is also reliant on a language software application, aims to highlight how the use of rhetorical strategies, modals, lexical choices and personal pronouns, combined with the mode of narration oscillating between objectivity and subjectivity, can create narrative slots meant to problematise the issue involving emotively the recipients and contributing to a gradual conceptualization of homosexuality as an identity rather than a “deviant behaviour”.

Session: Paper session
Gender 3 (Identity)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 16