Skip to the content

Wednesday, September 9, 10:30am - 11:00am 

The Platforms of Youth: Meme-ing, Marketing & Streaming - Live Discussion of Asynchronous Presentations

  • Teens, Memeing, and Trolling: “Old Town Road” and the Disruptive Power of the Popular Song as a Meme, Alexandria Arrietta (USC) 
  • Music Machine: How Christian Kids’ Musicals Powered the Early CCM Industry, Josh Langhoff (writer, musician)
  • Altering One’s Aspect to the Sun’: Feminist Perspectives on Aging in the Industry, Paula Propst (Consciously Studio)
  • The Musical (Metadata) Hooks of TikTok, Paula Harper (Washington U)
  • “Hot Girl Summer,” VSCO Girl Playlists, and the Political Economy of Youth, Robin James (UNC Charlotte and Northeastern University)
  • The Streams of Youth, glenn mcdonald  (Spotify)

Presentation Descriptions

Teens, Memeing, and Trolling: “Old Town Road” and the Disruptive Power of the Popular Song as a Meme, Alexandria Arrietta (USC) 

Last year, the success of Lil Nas X’s single “Old Town Road” prompted significant dialogue about racial gatekeeping in the country music industry. While much of the discourse surrounding “Old Town Road” focused on the Billboard controversy and whether the song should qualify as country music based on its instrumentation, one of the less examined aspects of the song’s story is how memes and TikTok videos created by teenage music listeners and Lil Nas X himself propelled the song’s meteoric rise. In fact, the cultural logics of Internet “memeing” and “trolling” influence “Old Town Road” in multiple facets: from its truncated song structure to the way the song was distributed in a series of remixes that drew on meme intertextuality. Through a masterful usage of social media platforms, Lil Nas X not only achieved a viral hit, but drew from the cultural capital of teenage music listeners in defining what country music is and what it can be in order to disrupt the racial politics of genre categorization and gatekeeping. The song is an important case study in how Internet memes are changing the compositional and functional characteristics of popular songs, a pattern that has been in play since early music memes, like “Rickrolling,” emerged from subcultural online spaces such as 4chan in the mid 2000s. This phenomenon took on new legal and commercial ramifications last October when Lizzo gave songwriting credits on her single “Truth Hurts” to the creator of a tweet that she included in the song’s lyrics. Focusing on “Old Town Road” and other significant examples, this presentation will examine how young music creators and listeners are using memes to not only alter the popular song as a cultural product but also disrupt long-standing racial borders in the music industry.


Music Machine: How Christian Kids’ Musicals Powered the Early CCM Industry, Josh Langhoff (writer, musician)

In 1974, the radical evangelists’ commune Agape Force started incorporating children’s songs into its traveling ministry. Inspired by Harry Nilsson’s acid musical The Point!, songwriters Dee and Jim Patton concocted a loose narrative structure to link the songs they and their colleagues were writing. Agapeland, the resulting self-released concept album, sold surprisingly well and got the attention of nascent Christian label Sparrow Records. Smelling both an evangelical tool and a hit, Sparrow ponied up money accordingly. Agape Force’s better-produced follow-up, The Music Machine, isn’t as weird as The Point!, but still: Two bewildered children find themselves in Agapeland, in thrall to the elaborately mustachioed Conductor and his crazy contraption, the Music Machine, which spits out tunes about St. Paul’s fruit of the spirit. (The Pattons contributed the “Joy” song, a sort-of calypso with a sick keyboard intro.)

Music Machine was a phenomenon. An annual best-seller, it was arguably the first contemporary Christian album certified Gold by the RIAA, and it spawned a mini-industry. Agape Force expanded with Bullfrogs & Butterflies, featuring Barry McGuire and produced by Wrecking Crew alum Mike Deasy, the mastermind behind 1967’s Friar Tuck and His Psychedelic Guitar. California’s Maranatha! label jumped in with The Kids Praise Album!, narrated by a giant blue songbook named Psalty, a Kool-Aid Man type re-created in countless terrifying parish productions. Throughout the early ‘80s, Christian kids’ albums scored regular Grammy nominations and crossed denominational lines, using evangelical rhetoric to attract mainline Protestant listeners. But by trading street evangelism for financial success, Music Machine cut unbridgeable rifts within Agape Force.

Children’s musicals proved CCM could sell, and they also exposed conflicts that remain endemic in the industry. Using sound clips, lavishly illustrated album sleeves, and new interviews with original participants, this presentation explores an understudied chapter in the Jesus Movement and early CCM.


Altering One’s Aspect to the Sun’: Feminist Perspectives on Aging in the Industry, Paula Propst (Consciously Studio)

“If Brittany can make it through 2007, I can make it through this day,” were words emblazoned on a popular meme made around 2007-2009. A paparazzi picture of Brittany Spears’ growling face and freshly-shaven head captured the older teenage pop princess in one of the darkest periods of her life. Many people would say, “What happened?!” However, most women could respond, “I get it.” For someone like Spears, a child star still in the spotlight at the time, media responses are most certainly brutal. These responses, however, are thrown at most women in popular music. Others face similar backlash to changes in their behavior and their bodies – whether that be through mental instability, body weight fluctuations, gender presentation and/or identity, or simply the natural process of aging such as grey hair and wrinkles. However, the acceptable gender presentation of women, girls, and queer individuals, especially those identifying and/or presenting as feminine, are traditionally so strict that many performers eventually react, sometimes in similar ways to Spears. This paper examines the strict cultural codes of behavior and body image forced onto femme/feminine bodies and how these codes overlap with musical performance through an analytical lens of youth culture, gerontology, and intersectional feminism. Are women or girls young enough? Cute enough? Thin enough? Sexy enough? 'Feminine' enough? Body politics play a major role in the acceptance of feminine presentation or performance in the music industry due to these strict measures of marketability, and some performers may fear “ageing out.” Further, this paper explores contemporary shifts in these cultural codes and the changing marketing strategies that now fit into the current social justice-oriented society.


The Musical (Metadata) Hooks of TikTok, Paula Harper (Washington U)

In recent years, the video-sharing platform TikTok has become a site for the promotion and dramatic elevation of otherwise unknown music--with Lil Nas X's genre-challenging, record-breaking "Old Town Road" being the most formidable example. Lip synching and dance challenges that heavily populate the site have been responsible for launching particular pieces of music, choreography - and, of course, a small number of persistent and lucky content creators - to massive popular renown through digital repetition.

In this paper, I demonstrate how music and sound function as fundamental components of contagion and spread across the platform. Crucially, each video's sound file is made visible as a metadata hyperlink; when clicked, the file assembles an archive of all other videos using the same sound--and the viewer can easily tap a button within that archive to contribute to it, making a video accompaniment of their own. With music as an architectural platform feature designed to condense participation around sound files as hooks, performing along with a popular sound functions as a gateway to visibility, affording guaranteed inclusion in a potentially-viral archive. Across videos, sound and music thus serve as sites for both sink and sync, ensnaring user attention and behavior as they construct digital communities of shared affect and practice.

I situate this centering of the microsoundtrack as a culmination of longer histories of digital virality, in which sound and music have been widely instrumentalized to render surveillance, advertising, and the mechanics of digital platform capitalism more palatable.


“Hot Girl Summer,” VSCO Girl Playlists, and the Political Economy of Youth, Robin James (UNC Charlotte and Northeastern University)

In the Fordist/Keynesian culture industry of the 1950s and 60s, white youth culture became synonymous with counterculture. More than 50 years past May 68 and Woodstock, the figure of ‘youth’ appears as central rather than oppositional to the neoliberal status quo. French anti-capitalist collective Tiquun and gender studies scholar Michelle Murphy have argued that “The Girl,” whether white or non-white, Western or from the global south, has become the ideal subject of neoliberal human capital. Positive representations such as “The Girl” mask the intensified subjection experienced by actual kids, teens, and young adults as educational activities and social services are increasingly designed to extract free work from them.

How are pop musicians and audiences responding to these changes and tensions in the political economy of youth? Building on L.H. Stallings’s analysis of anti-work imaginaries in hip hop, I show how Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer” uses “sonic ratchet” to craft femininties and femme performances that playfully refuse the work-as-respectability discourses that define “The Girl” figure. Pivioting to austerity’s rankings-and-ratings culture and its impact on youth countercultural practices, I study the musical dimensions of the VSCO Girl trend and its purported disregard for social media metrics (VSCO is a social media platform without likes). Music soundtracking YouTube tutorials on VSCO Girl style and the 150+ “VSCO Girl” playlists on Spotify treat VSCO Girl aesthetics as a mood. Whereas streaming platforms use mood-based playlists to manipulate us into being more productive, feel better about the brands they advertise, and link status-laden musical properties to status-laden people, VSCO girls use their normcore/chill mood to do the same sorts of resistant things girls have traditionally done with mass-market pop, like relating to one another in ways unconcerned with the male gaze.


The Streams of Youth, glenn mcdonald  (Spotify)

This presentation is not only asynchronous, but interactive! It's a web app for exploring the music that defines, unites and distinguishes kids around the world. Go to: