Masquerade & Theatricality

Will the real Kate Bush please stand up?

 

Kate Bush is an artist who is notoriously private about her personal life. Her audience is left with her vast collection of personas, characters, and the theatrically amplified versions of herself that she creates through her art to identify with. This aspect of Bush’s work calls into question the very nature of identity, emphasizing its fluidity and instability. In a culture that seemingly has a compulsive need to categorize and compartmentalize female musicians (and women in general) into narrow caricatures of femininity (i.e. the slut, the virgin, the shrewish career woman, or the femme fatale), Kate Bush shatters the notion that femininity is one-dimensional with her transformative and shape-shifting style.

Bush’s particular way of subverting normative and narrow versions of femininity is achieved by opting out of the status quo altogether. She disregards any “rules” the patriarchal music industry may strive to enforce upon her. Bush asserts her body not as a passive site of male consumption, but rather uses her body as a prop, a theatrical vessel or canvas for her own artistic ideals. Dance is an integral element of her performances, and it allows her to divert the male gaze away from objectification, to a collaborative celebration of the female body between her and the audience. Dance has long been a means of sexual self-expression for women and girls (McCarthy 71) and can be a very powerful way of using the female body as a site of liberation and sensuality (though it can often simultaneously have the opposite effect). Kate Bush’s ability to continually transform herself and enact femininity in alternative way can be seen as creating female identities that are both achievable and habitable to fans.

Much can be said of Bush’s ability to reject any pressure from the music industry to make her music and image more congruent with mainstream aesthetics. In the article, “This Woman’s Work: Kate Bush, Female Fans and Practices of Distinction”, Laura Vroomen suggests that Bush’s audience is inspired by her work to pursue their own choices outside of conventional gender norms (42) and that women’s investment in popular music icons, such as Bush’s devoted cult following, can be potentially resistant and empowering, rather than corroborative of dominant culture.

Kate Bush rejects the socio-politically constructed position of female musicians as secondary to male musicians, as the marginalized other, through a “skillful placing of the female body and experience in her work that distinguishes her from many of her contemporaries” (143). She demonstrates a keen understanding of the role that femininity embodies in her work and plays with gender in interesting ways, never allowing the proverbial creative dust to settle by existing in a constant state of metamorphosis. In her videos and live performances, she creates numerous personae that, as Berkoz puts it, trace “women’s experiences through mythology, history, and literature, primarily to explore and reflect difference aspects of femininity” (149).

Bush’s representation of womanhood is never fixed and never pertains to make clear judgements on a correct way to enact femininity. This emphasizes the socially constructed nature of gender and allows for many different ways of being, acting, feeling, and looking feminine.

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