I’m reading at the EMP Pop Conference today (5:30 Seattle time – come on out!!). Here’s a link to my paper and the opening paragraphs.
Safe Sex, Pay Checks, and Cracked Voices: Rae Sremmurd’s Disappearing Club
Rae Sremmurd party. Hard. Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi write songs about throwing money at strippers, the parameters of where one may or may not flex, buying shots for the bar, and setting swags free. But in these seemingly frivolous and heteronormative performances, Rae Sremmurd sound a party that is very much aware of the dangers of being young and black in the United States. Here, I listen to Rae Sremmurd in the context of postwork futurity, where partying opens up the possibility of a future without work as we currently know it. Thinking with LH Stallings, Robin James, and Lee Edelman especially, I hear in Rae Sremmurd’s use of trap aesthetics a queer performance–”transitional bodies in transitional spaces”–that vibrates outside of neoliberal imperatives to produce and reproduce for the benefit of whiteness (Stallings 135-6). My analysis unfolds in three parts: 1). Partying as postwork 2). Trap aesthetics and the queer club, and 3). Rae Sremmurd’s queer club performances in “Throw Sum Mo” and “Safe Sex Pay Checks.” The composite is a postwork futurity of productive and reproductive failure that siphons money from the mainstream even as it remains largely illegible as such.
Postwork, like any “post” term, can mean a number of things, depending on who’s using it and what their conception of the original term–in this case, work–is. Read the July/August 2015 Atlantic article on postwork, and you’ll come away with the sense that postwork is the death of human work, the automation and roboticization of jobs. In this formula, “work” becomes something to be protected, yearned for. Stanley Aronowitz et al’s 1998 “Post-Work Manifesto,” on the other hand, revolves around the notion that work hasn’t given us All the Shiny Things we’re entitled to, so it’s time to work less and leisure more. “Work,” in this formulation, is something to tame. Kathi Weeks, in The Problem with Work (2011), frames a more complex futurity with her concept of postwork. Here, work is necessary to function in the neoliberal present, but “utopian demands” for shorter work weeks and guaranteed basic incomes open the possibility for radically reconfiguring what we imagine work to be and, in so doing, hint at a future without work as we know it.
Weeks’s use of the term “postwork society” “to hold the space of a different future open with the term ‘post’ [rather than] to presume to be able to name [that future]” is the one I want to work with here, with Rae Sremmurd and broader Dirty South party politics (see what I did there?) bringing a much-needed black and queer dimension to Weeks’s postwork project (30). The fundamental problem with Weeks’s utopian vision is that it works best for white heteronormativity, which, duh, is part of the problem to begin with. Weeks’s postwork future is premised on heternormative logic, so that guaranteed basic incomes, for instance, are “not for the common production of value, but the common reproduction of life…income to sustain the social worlds necessary for, among other things, production” (230). I suspect Weeks wants to use “reproduction” metaphorically, which might be fine [read this with some incredulous uptalk], but when the result of it is the sustenance of existing social worlds, then the heteronormative reproduction metaphor becomes incredibly tone deaf, a double down on white supremacist patriarchy that, like the social worlds she wants to preserve, continues to push queer and black populations further from resources and power. If Weeks offers an antiproductive but pro-reproductive utopian demand, as she claims, I think listening to Rae Sremmurd can expand this to a queerly antireproductive futurity. I want to start in the Dirty South club to consider how black sonic aesthetics map antiproductivity and queerness, then listen closer to Swae Lee’s and Slimm Jxmmi’s voices to hear how their queer postwork, um, works.