Culture Theory and Critique, 55 (2), April 29, 2014.
This essay explores the impact of neoliberal logics of voice on the music-making and performance practices of female playback singers in the South Indian Tamil film industry. As singers whose voices are first recorded in the studio and then ‘played back’ on the set to be lip-synched by actors, playback singers have been professional musicians and public celebrities since the 1950s. Their careers are governed by practices of voice cultivation and by modes of performance and public self-presentation, in the studio, on stage, and increasingly in mediatized contexts. Since the 1990s, neoliberal logics of flexibility, entrepreneurship, and self-marketing have redefined the role of the playback singer and the way singers conceive of their work in both social and aesthetic terms. These changes have occurred within a broader context in which anxieties about globalization and expanding commodity culture are reflected in debates about the place of women in public.