Ward Keeler, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at Austin

Why is Burmese pop music so bland and so popular?

Burmese pop music is ubiquitous, highly conventional, and very popular. It has come to displace an earlier, fusion genre that combined Burmese and international pop styles, countering fond notions that when a global style gets localized it will generate something new. What are we outsiders to make of the fact that when Burmese take on foreign models wholesale, in what they call "copy songs" (kopi thehcin), they contravene all Western aesthetic standards, namely, our validation of originality, innovation, and emotional expressiveness? By what other criteria do they find the genre pleasurable?

Ward Keeler is a cultural anthropologist specializing in expressive culture, language, and gender studies. Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas, he received his BA from Cornell University and his Ph.d from the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought. The first part of his career he devoted to work in Indonesia (Java and Bali). In recent years he has worked more extensively in Burma. His publications include books on Javanese shadow puppets, a Javanese language textbook and a translation of an Indonesian novel, and several articles on the arts in Java, Bali, and Burma. Currently a fellow at IIAS, he is writing up the fruits of fieldwork he carried out in Mandalay in 2011-2012; the title of his project is Masculinity, Autonomy and Attachment in Buddhist Burma.

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