Sarah Boak

Music PhD Researcher

Sarah Boak's Photo

I am a Teaching Fellow in 20th century music at the University of Southampton. I am currently writing up my PhD thesis on the relationship between bodies, voices and gender in the work of Tori Amos, Björk and PJ Harvey. My research interests are gender, voice, sexuality and embodiment in popular music. My forthcoming publications include a chapter on female singer-songwriters in the 1990s for the Cambridge Companion to the Singer-Songwriter, and a chapter on Björk for an edited collection on Icelandic music. My article on maternal bodies in the work of Tori Amos will be published in the journal Popular Music during 2015.

I am completing my PhD under the supervision of Professor Laurie Stras. I trained in jazz and pop vocals at Chichester College and Goldsmiths College, and have worked semi-professionally as a jazz vocalist across the South East, including at the Brighton Festival, Sussex Arts Club and Joogleberry Playhouse. I  specialises in latin jazz – particularly the work of Antonio Carlos Jobim – vocalese and vocal harmony. I also currently sing and play trumpet in a skiffle band.

My new article looks at how the pregnant or maternal body is conspicuously absent within popular music. The dominant representation of female bodies – sonically, visually and spatially conceived – is that of a sexualised body, available to men and existing under the male gaze. The figure of the pregnant, maternal or motherly body is marked as Other – not desirable and therefore not marketable. Looking at the work of Tori Amos, I demonstrate how she makes the maternal body both audible and visible through a number of musical and extra-musical strategies. Theorising the maternal body in a series of overlapping stages – from the pregnant body to the maternal body, through liminal stages such as miscarriage and birthing – I highlight how Amos uses the figure of the maternal body not only to challenge dominant tropes of sexuality, but to create an embodied space where normative conceptions of ‘mother’ and ‘mothering’ can be troubled.

Read the article abstract here


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