Skinny blues: Karen Carpenter, anorexia nervosa and popular music

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Abstract

This article discusses an extraordinary body in popular music, that belonging to the person with anorexia which is also usually a gendered body – female – and that of the singer or frontperson. I explore the relation between the anorexic body and popular music, which is more than simply look- ing at constructions of anorexia in pop. It involves contextually thinking about the (medical) history and the critical reception and representation, the place of anorexia across the creative industries more widely, and a particular moment when pop played a role in the public awareness of anorexia. Following such context the article looks in more detail at a small number of popular music artists who had experience of anorexia, their stage and media presentations (of it), and how they did or apparently did not explore their experience of it in their own work and public appearances. This close discussion is framed within thinking about the popular music industry’s capacity for carelessness, its schedule of pressure and practice of destruction on its own stars, particularly in this instance its female artists. This is an article about a condition and an industry. At its heart is the American singer and drummer Karen Carpenter (1950–1983), a major international pop star in the 1970s, in the Carpenters duo with her brother Richard; the other figures discussed are Scottish child pop star Lena Zavaroni (1963–1999), and the Welsh rock lyricist, stylist and erstwhile guitarist of the Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards (1967–1995 missing/2008 officially presumed dead).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalPopular Music
Volume37
Issue number1
Early online date8 Dec 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

Keywords

  • popular music
  • anorexia nervosa
  • karen carpenter
  • 1970s music
  • eating disorder
  • cultural studies
  • Body
  • arts and health
  • Gender Studies
  • music industry
  • disability

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