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Turn and Face the Change: a Pop Convergence on Music and Flux (2021)

The 2021 Conference theme was “Turn and Face the Change: A Pop Convergence On Music and Flux,” an acknowledgement of the unique circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s reshaping the social world around us. 

The conference/convergence brought together the world’s leading pop scholars, journalists, writers, and musicians for four days of virtual events exploring pop music’s role in mirroring and shaping one of the most disruptive moments in modern global history, from April 22 to 25 2021. The conference was hosted by NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Tisch School of the Arts, and was free and open to the public.

Things kicked-off Thursday, April 22 at 6 p.m. ET with a keynote conversation featuring musical polymath Devonté Hynes (aka Blood Orange), singer-songwriter and producer Róisín Murphy, musician and record producer Rostam (a founding member of the band Vampire Weekend), and singer-songwriter and producer Tamara Lindeman (of The Weather Station). The keynote address, “Fluxed: Making Popular Music in the Midst of Change and Transition,” brought together artists thriving within the highly volatile environment of contemporary popular music to discuss how the spirit and realities of change challenge and inspire them. The keynote was moderated by NPR Music critic and author Ann Powers.

Friday, April 23rd featured 10 daytime sessions and 3 evening events. The daytime sessions included “The Quarantine Boogie: Music In the Times of Pandemics” and the roundtable, “South Gotta Change: Southern Music in a Moment of Transformation.” There was also the roundtable, “Black Critics Matter” which brought together journalists and culture critics Wesley Morris (New York Times), Danyel Smith (ESPN), and Greg Tate (founding member of the Black Rock Coalition) to discuss the central role that African American cultural critics have played in shaping narratives about popular music.  

Friday programming continued into the evening, beginning at 8:15pm ET with a special appearance by the crew of Flower Bomb who normally host a popular Friday night party on the Clubhouse platform where they invite people to share short testimonials about favorite songs by a featured artist. For the Pop Convergence, Flower Bomb joined us on our platform for an hour dedicated to the sound-shaping career of Stevie Wonder. After that, there was a conversation between Jason King, Chair of NYU’s Clive Davis Institute and co-producer of Pop Conference 2021, and DJ, rapper and producer Derrick “D-Nice” Jones, marking the first collaboration between the Pop Conference and the Kennedy Center’s Hip Hop Culture Council. We ended Friday with the “Flaming? Midnight Musical,” curated by Pop Conference programmer Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones, that included at least half a dozen performers drawn from the gospel community.  

Saturday, April 24th, marked another full day of sessions including “Pop Musicking and Survivance in Native North Pacific Communities” and “Listening Queerly: Sounds of the Asian/American Diaspora in Flux”. The day ended with one of our featured roundtables, “Going, Going, Gone: The Future After Marvin’s Masterpiece,” which looked at the 50 year legacy of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, led by Dr. Shana Redmond and featuring Black music scholars Lynnée Denise, Mark Anthony Neal, Guthrie Ramsey, and Natalie Hopkinson. 

Sunday, April 25th was dedicated solely to an expansive set of seven mentorship sessions. Six were focused on specific topics for aspiring arts, music and culture writers including how to pitch a story, how to launch a book, how academics can engage in forms of public writing, etc. These sessions were open to a select number of direct participants and most were available to general audience members through a webinar format. The mentorship sessions culminated with the public webinar, “Finding Your Voice: A Writing Workshop with Joan Morgan and NYU Students of The Collective Blive Recorded Music Chapter” (a club for rising Black multidisciplinary artists at NYU). 

*** The 2021 programming committee included Oliver Wang (Chair, CSU Long Beach), Timothy Anne Burnside (Smithsonian), Martha Gonzalez (Quetzal/Scripps College), Alisha Lola Jones (Indiana University), Jason King (New York University’s Clive Davis Institute), Michelle Habel-Pallan (Univ. of Washington), RJ Smith (Writer), Brittany Spanos (Rolling Stone), and Melissa A. Weber (Loyola University New Orleans, WWOZ FM).

The 2021 Pop Conference was supported by Critical Minded, a granting and learning initiative cofounded by The Nathan Cummings Foundation and The Ford Foundation to support cultural critics of color in the United States, where they are underrepresented in the coverage of all artistic disciplines.

Full schedule:

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