Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Fine Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Donna Lee Kwon


This dissertation explores issues of gender politics, market segmentation, and taste through an examination of the contributions of several artists who have achieved Adult Contemporary (AC) chart success. The scope of the project is limited to a period when many artists who figured prominently in both the broader mainstream of American popular music and the more specific Adult Contemporary category were most commercially viable: from the mid-1980s through the 1990s. My contention is that, as gender politics and gendered social norms continued to change in the United States at this time, Adult Contemporary – the chart, the format, and the associated music – was an important, if overlooked or even trivialized, arena in which these shifting gender dynamics played out. This dissertation explores the significance of the Adult Contemporary format at the end of the twentieth century through analysis of chart performance, artist image, musical works, marketing, and contextual factors. By documenting these relevant social, political, economic, and musical factors, the notable role of a format and of artists neglected by scholars becomes clear.

I explore these issues in the form of lengthy case studies. Examinations of how Adult Contemporary artists such as Michael Bolton, Wilson Phillips, Matchbox Twenty, David Gray, and Mariah Carey were produced and marketed, and how their music was disseminated, illustrate record and radio industry strategies for negotiating the musical, political, and social climate of this period. Significantly, musical and lyrical analyses of songs successful on AC stations, and many of their accompanying promotional videos highlight messages about musical genre, gender, race, and age. This dissertation ultimately demonstrates that Adult Contemporary-oriented music figured significantly in the culture wars, second and third wave feminism, expressions of masculinity, Generation-X struggles, postmodern identity, and market segmentation.

This study also illustrates how the record and radio industries have managed audience composition and behavior to effectively and more predictably produce and market music in the United States. This dissertation argues that, amid broader social determinations for taste, the record industry, radio programmers, and Billboard chart compilers and writers have helped to make and reinforce certain assumptions about who listens to which music and why they do so. In addition, critics have weighed in on what different musical genres and artists have offered and for whom, often assigning higher value to music associated with certain genres, socio-political associations, and listeners while claiming over-commercialization, irrelevance, aesthetic insignificance, and bad taste for much other music.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)