This article argues that more scholarly attention should be paid to women’s contributions to the practice of “theme singing,” or the textual and industrial practices of using vocalists as sonic proxies for television characters by articulating programs’ thematic concerns and embodying their tonal dimension in television shows’ credit sequences and soundtracks. Though vulnerable to muting and time shifting, female recording artists—and black women in particular—have always been a fixture of US television production by helping build televisual worlds as theme singers. These professionals help cultivate television programs’ aural sensibilities by literally giving voice to a show’s premise and, in so doing, raise the volume on women’s place in television storytelling as otherwise marginalized subjects. This essay identifies three different types of theme singing that are especially common in television storytelling: theme singing as declaration of selfhood, theme singing as expression of kinship, and theme singing as assertion of community. Further, it analyzes Solange’s and SZA’s involvement with Insecure (HBO, 2016–) as music consultant and soundtrack contributor, respectively, to identify an emerging pattern within contemporary television production of shifting the tonal and thematic properties of theme singing onto licensing by dispensing with original theme music altogether while potentially amplifying more women’s voices as source music.
Research Article| December 01 2019
Alyxandra Vesey; Opening Statements: Theme Singing and Shifting Paradigms for Voicing Feminine Subjectivities as Television Music. Camera Obscura 1 December 2019; 34 (3): 157–167. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-7772431
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