That’s the wonder of Geffen’s book, their first. It’s not a straightforward history of music, but a path that turns and dives, arguing that music from decades ago still resonates across today’s pop landscape, even as new musicians continue to break ground ... History is too restrictive a word for the book anyway; Geffen blends biography, theory, and memoir in an account that goes deep instead of wide ... Once you start reading it, you’ll hear the world through new ears. You’ll devour Glitter Up the Dark with eyes wide and mind racing, drawing connections to whatever music you listen to. It’s exciting. And if you’re a queer or trans listener, it’s validating reading about how generations of us have found a haven in music ... It can feel like they’re telling you secrets, but really, Geffen is just showing you how to hear what’s been there all along, and still is today.
The book speaks to pop music’s effect on future generations of norm-breaking artists, but also on public perceptions of gender and its engagement with race and class politics ... Part of the joy of reading Glitter Up the Dark lies in Geffen’s sheer depth of research ... Identity has never been a fixed idea—instead, it’s always been a conduit for grand expressions of selfhood. Geffen seamlessly imparts this idea into a patchwork of music history ... offers a musical roadmap for such an activation, one paved with countless examples of gender as a device for personal metamorphosis. It’s an essential contribution to the modern music-book canon, made all the more intimate in Sasha Geffen’s hands.
... incisive ... It is seldom now, fifty years after the Beatles’ breakup, that one encounters new ideas about the most written-up band of all time—but, I have to say, I’d never quite heard that one before. Such is the subversive thrill of Geffen’s wide-ranging book, which takes a brisk tour of the last century or so of pop music to ask a number of provocative questions ... Their lucid prose is frequently enlivened by small, passing insights into music I’ve encountered a million times but will now forever hear refracted through their imagery and words ... also converses with the more academic strains of queer theory (without getting overwhelmed by them) ... Geffen’s perspective is refreshing, and sometimes able to draw welcome attention to other critics’ blind spots ... In both its approach to criticism and in the sounds of the forward-looking young artists described in its later chapters, Glitter Up the Dark subtly captures a generational shift ... What I found most valuable about Glitter Up the Dark was the lens through which it looks back and invites us to notice how such seeming 'subversions' have always been present beneath the surface of even the most popular music ... Reading this book often gave me the sensation that I was looking at a familiar scene through a kaleidoscope, suddenly seeing smeared borders and tiny, winking rainbows everywhere.
... intended as the start, rather than the end point, for an investigation of the gender spectrum in music. Geffen takes on some heady ideas about music and gender performance, but they approach the subject with a nimble writing style. This book will be accessible to fans up for a challenge as well as to academics. That said, reading some chapters of the book left me wanting more. Geffen touches on the influence of queer Black artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Little Richard, but apart from (for example) writing about artists like Prince on a continuum with Little Richard and James Brown, they don’t put the gender-creative work of artists like Prince or Janelle Monae into a more intersectional context. The absence of cult figures like Jackie Shane is disappointing, but understandable, but I was surprised that the influence of music videos only receives a glancing mention in chapters on bands that rose to fame in the ’80s. Also, it is puzzling that pop metal bands — who wore makeup, teased their hair, and wrote and performed crass, sexist songs — aren’t in the book at all ... Overall, Glitter Up the Dark helps readers understand and contextualize gender performance in popular music. It might change the way you listen to and engage with your favorite records.
... ambitious ... Geffen unwinds the currents of sexism, racism, and heteronormativity in the music industry, and brings the receipts when it comes to acts of appropriation ... It’s surprising a work that centers non-binary performers would omit the extravagant queer flame of Jobriath, and Mercury prize winner (as Antony, lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons) Ahnoni. Also left unexamined are the gender provocations of the New York Dolls and Madonna, the latter as much for her gender subverting presentation as her appropriation of ballroom culture. That said, with Geffen’s boundless love for music, deep listening skills, and expansive knowledge, they have queered the map of pop in language as accessible as a yellow brick road. Although one might consider how pop simultaneously enforces the binary, Geffen makes an affirmative case that 'music shelters gender rebellion.'
... a sprawling, star-studded tour ... Geffen’s clear love and deep knowledge of the subject, along with insightful historical and critical arguments about the intertwining of gender and music, make this a deliciously necessary read for anyone interested in either pop culture or gender studies.
Geffen capably describes musicians' strategies for breaking free of gender expectations up through the present day ... Some readers may quibble with the author’s selections—seven pages on arty provocateur Genesis P-Orridge but only two for Morrissey—and there are glaring omissions: The London Suede and Owen Pallett leap to mind. Nonetheless, Geffen's genuine enthusiasm for transgressive pop music is clear and infectious, and the chapters on punk and glam rock are true standouts. The book is full of insightful observations ... A helpful guided tour that shows how music is the perfect art form in which to 'dance between genders.'