A sweeping history of popular music in the United States examining how popular music shapes fundamental American ideas and beliefs, allowing us to communicate difficult emotions and truths about our most fraught social issues, most notably sex and race.
Powers unveils the ways social norms, androgyny, sexual fluidity and queer identity have factored into America's hot-and-heavy love affair with popular music ... in her loving, sweeping look at gospel's storied past, she uncovers the way sacred hymns and secular songs merged, as far back as the early 1800s, to set the tone for American music's soulful sensuality ... Through the stories of Elvis, Broadnax and myriad others, Good Booty pieces together a composite sketch of sexuality in American music history ... At times, Good Booty's scope is overwhelming. Everything from feminism to technology to David Bowie to AIDS appears in the book, and some of these angles fly by too quickly to take hold as deeply as they should. Mostly, though, Powers superbly balances smart criticism and theory with the primal humanity behind the thump and grind of America's homemade soundtrack. 'The real reason American popular music is all about sex,' she states, 'is that we, as a nation, only truly and openly acknowledge sexuality's power through music.' It's a strong claim, but Good Booty backs it up with purpose and passion.
...an indispensable guide to American pop music and a damned fine read ... every page of Good Booty is a reminder that it takes countless heavenly bodies to make a galaxy ... Good Booty is nothing if not comprehensive. It’s all here, from gospel and swing to soul, punk, grunge and rap. On the surface, the common denominator might seem to be sex, the search for the anatomical Holy Grail of the book’s title...Really, though, this is a book about play. It’s about nonsense, about how this music 'contained all the ugly and problematic things about sex as well as its pleasures, demonstrating how yearning and sensual release could reduce a person to gibberish' ... The best thing about “Good Booty” is that it reminds us that the right song shows us how to be somebody in a way that’s not possible with any other art form.
Powers does spend time with obscure artists like Florence Mills and Jobriath, and fruitfully explores the colorful, gender-fluid world of early gospel music. However, her story hews to a broadly conventional narrative — the intersection of African-American expression, white curiosity and appropriation, and the dialogue between the spiritual and the secular — that begins in Congo Square ring shouts and leads with inexorable circularity back to the New Orleans of Beyoncé’s 'Lemonade' ... the centrality of eroticism in Powers’s narrative necessitates a de-emphasis on canonical artists without an obvious erotic component to their personas (Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan), and inconclusive glosses on others (Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson) whose sexual and racial stories are more complicated ... Music has been central to the ritualized sexuality of fertility, circumcision, puberty and wedding ceremonies cross-culturally and from time immemorial. The ultimate novelty in American music is not eros and race-mixing, but technology, capital and global distribution ... Music is, indeed, a slippery and complicated force — especially for the optimistic narrative of the pop critic.