Whose Liberation? Iranian Popular Music and the Fetishisation of Resistance

22 January 2018, 17:30 - 18:30
Cambridge campus

Abstract picture of mans head with musical notes

Speaker: Dr Laudan Nooshin (City University)

Abstract: In November 2013, Pharrell Williams’ song ‘Happy’, originally written for the soundtrack to ‘Despicable Me 2’, was re-released as a single together with a music video billed as ‘the world’s first 24-hour music video’. Comprising images of people in Los Angeles dancing and miming along to the song, the video was posted on the website 24hoursofhappy.com. Soon after, tribute videos started appearing online and within a short period ‘Happy’ went viral with videos of happy, dancing people from all over the world.

Wanting to be part of this global phenomenon, in the spring of 2014 a group of young Tehranis made their own video and posted it on youtube. Many aspects of ‘Happy in Tehran’ - including the public expression of joy, dancing in public, and women without head covering - challenged local cultural and legal boundaries on behaviour in public space. The young people were arrested, prompting an outcry, both within Iran and internationally; they were released soon after and eventually received suspended sentences in September 2014.

This talk will focus on the case of ‘Happy in Tehran’ and what it reveals of the representation of Iranian popular music outside Iran, and specifically the somewhat romanticized discourses of ‘resistance’ and ‘freedom’ which have tended to characterise both journalistic and scholarly writings in this area. I consider the ways in which the ‘Happy in Tehran’ incident was reported in the media outside Iran and offer alternative readings of the video and its meanings. The paper considers how such reductionist views feed into wider regimes of orientalist representation and ultimately asks whose agenda such fetishisation of resistance serves.

Laudan Nooshin is a Reader in Ethnomusicology a City University, London. She gained her BA in Music from the University of Leeds and her MMus in Ethnomusicology from Goldsmiths' College (University of London). Her PhD (Goldsmiths' College, 1996) was a study of creative performance in Iranian classical music. Laudan is an active researcher and recent publications include the monograph Iranian Classical Music: The Discourses and Practice of Creativity (Ashgate Press, 2015). Laudan regularly writes feature articles and reviews CDs of Iranian music for Songlines: The World Music Magazine.

Event Details

22 January 2018, 17:30 - 18:30
Cambridge campus
Jerome Booth Music Therapy Centre. Young Street

No booking is required for this event.