The Starnet
Changing Discourses of Popular Music Stardom



Project leader: Professor Hannu Salmi (homepage)

Site of the research: University of Turku, Department of History, Subject of Cultural History


GO TO OFFICIAL WEBSITE FOR MORE INFO on our recent conference:

History of Stardom Reconsidered

University of Turku, November 9–11, 2006 

A three day conference organized by the Academy of Finland project “The Starnet: Changing Discourses of Popular Music Stardom” and The Finnish Association for the Study of Popular Culture. Hosted by the Department of Cultural History, University of Turku, Finland.

Keynote speakers: Professor Richard Dyer (University of Warwick, U.K.), Professor Susan Hayward (University of Exeter, U.K.), Professor Bruce Johnson (University of Turku, Finland)

Online proceedings book forthcoming.

During the conference a new institute was established. Please visit the link for International Institute for Popular Culture (IIPC).


·  Objective and Brief Description of the Project

·  Same in Finnish

·  Sub-Projects: Kallioniemi, Kärki, Mäkelä

·  Research Environment and Co-Operation

·  Seminars and post-graduate supervision duties 

Objective and Brief Description of the Project:

This research project deals with the relationship between the star phenomenon and popular music. The main questions of the project are: How is popular music stardom constructed at specific historical moments? What kind of meanings popular music stars incorporate? Stardom is characterised by different media-oriented public actions which form a web-like texture. The project calls this discursion the starnet. In order to understand traditions and changes in this discursion, as well as the triumph of stardom in the latter part of twentieth-century, the project produces three studies. Docent Kari Kallioniemi examines the democratization of eccentricism in British stardom and popular music. MA Kimi Kärki focuses on Anglo-American stage designing and the multifaceted relationship between “stadium rock stardom” and technology. Dr Janne Mäkelä explores how Finland’s quest for international popular music stardom in the late twentieth-century was connected to globalisation processes and national identity. Kallioniemi and Mäkelä have acquired partial funding for their sub-projects.

The research project will have its domain in the Department of Cultural History (University of Turku). Dr Mäkelä’s site of research will be the Renvall Institute (University of Helsinki). The most important international sites of co-operation are the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, Manchester Institute for Popular Culture, and the Institute of Popular Music (University of Liverpool). The most relevant research links in Finland are the Renvall Institute, Media Studies (University of Turku), and the Finnish Society for Ethnomusicology. The project has an international advisory board of six renowned researchers of popular culture: Martin Cloonan (University of Glasgow), Richard Dyer (University of Warwick), Bruce Johnson (University of New South Wales), Helmi Järviluoma (University of Turku), Vesa Kurkela (Sibelius Academy), and Justin O’Connor (Manchester Institute for Popular Culture). The research project will provide one doctoral thesis, two book-length studies, articles for international academic journals and a collection of articles on stardom written with doctoral students at the Cultural History and the Renvall Institute.


Objective and Brief Description of the Project (in Finnish):

Tutkimusprojekti tarkastelee 1900-luvun jälkipuoliskon tähti-ilmiön ja populaarimusiikin välistä suhdetta. Pääkysymykset ovat: Millä tavoin tähteys rakentuu tiettyinä historiallisina aikoina? Millaisia merkityksiä tähtiin sisältyy populaarimusiikin kentällä? Tähteyttä määrittävät erilaiset medioihin liittyvät julkiset toiminnat, jotka muodostavat verkkomaisen rakennelman. Tutkimusprojekti kutsuu tätä diskurssia tähtiverkoksi (starnet). Projekti lähestyy tähtidiskurssiin liittyviä traditioita ja muutoksia ja tutkii tähteyden voittokulkua 1900-luvun jälkipuoliskolla kolmen eri tutkimuksen kautta. Dosentti Kari Kallioniemi tutkii eksentriyden demokratisoitumista brittiläisessä tähteydessä ja populaarimusiikissa. FM Kimi Kärki keskittyy angloamerikkalaisen lavasuunnittelun, stadionrocktähteyden ja teknologian väliseen suhteeseen. FT Janne Mäkelä tutkii, miten 1900-luvun lopun suomalaisessa populaarimusiikissa kansainvälisen tähteyden pakkomielle kytkeytyi globalisaatioprosesseihin ja kansalliseen identiteettiin. Kallioniemellä ja Mäkelällä on jo osarahoitusta.

Tutkimusprojektia johdetaan Turun yliopiston kulttuurihistorian oppiaineesta. FT Mäkelän tutkimuspaikkana on Helsingin yliopiston Renvall-instituutti. Merkittävimmät ulkomaiset yhteistyötahot ovat International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), Manchester Institute for Popular Culture ja Institute of Popular Music (University of Liverpool). Suomalaisista tahoista tärkeimmät ovat Renvall-instituutti, Turun yliopiston mediatutkimus ja Suomen etnomusikologinen seura. Projektilla on kansainvälinen ohjausryhmä, johon kuuluu kuusi populaarikulttuurin tutkijaa: Martin Cloonan (University of Glasgow), Richard Dyer (University of Warwick), Bruce Johnson (University of New South Wales), Helmi Järviluoma (Turun yliopisto), Vesa Kurkela (Sibelius-Akatemia) ja Justin O?Connor (Manchester Institute for Popular Culture). Projekti tuottaa yhden väitöskirjan, kaksi monografiaa, artikkeleita kv. kausijulkaisuihin sekä artikkelikokoelman, jonka tekemiseen osallistuvat myös kulttuurihistorian ja Renvall-instituutin jatko-opiskelijat.



Dr., Docent of the History of Popular Culture, Kari Kallioniemi: Eccentricism and the Democratisation of Popular Music Stardom

That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of our time. (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859)

Eccentric behaviour has often been seen as deviating from conventional or established form of behaviour. In short, eccentrics have been perceived as “odd”, as different from the majority of the people. The Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines eccentricity as capriciousness and whimsicality.  Eccentric people are impulsive and puerile. Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases associates eccentricism with madness and fanaticism, closely relating it to religious or political fundamentalism. In this sense, an eccentric is a nonconformist, fanatic or extremist, whose actions are directed by obsession, infatuation and monomania.

Therefore, eccentricism has been perceived either as a positive, forthright enthusiasm, closely linked with creativity and performance; or negatively, an ‘alien’, or ‘other’ characteristic.  Traditionally, the eccentric has been viewed in diverse terms, as a lunatic/village idiot on one hand, or an aristocratic collector, inventor or explorer on the other. The latter has often been associated with the individualistic feats in English self-definition.  This view has also often been superimposed on popular music and rock stardom, where eccentricity is used in defining the extremities, arrogant bohemianism and authenticity of a (rock) star. 

It could be argued, that this historical and previously privileged trait of eccentricism is now widely displayed in our popular/mass culture. It could be noted that in twentieth-century modernity the eccentric has been commodified. At the same time, our modernity is the inverse of the Baudelairean notion of modernity: eccentricity has been made into a self-evident value within popular culture and consumption. 

Docent Kallioniemi’s main question in this sub-project is: what does the democratization of eccentricism/bohemianism mean in terms of popular music stardom? Does the transformation of eccentricity from the privileged trait to commodified quotidian celebrity culture also mean the radical renegotiation of our experience and understanding of stardom? Kallioniemi will look at this in detail in case studies which will deal with the history of popular music stardom and its changing relationship to the notions of eccentricity and bohemianism. 

Docent Kallioniemi will produce a series of articles and a quality monograph on the subject by the end of year 2007. Heslingin Sanomain 100-vuotissäätiö has granted him a one-year stipend (August 2004-July 2005) for the study period in Manchester Metropolitan University.


Phil. Lic. Kimi Kärki: Reconstructing Stadium Stardom Aesthetics: Stage Performance Designing in Anglo-American Popular Music, 1965-2001

Indeed, most stadium concerts are now accompanied by simultaneous video replay onto large screens. Attending a live performance by a pop megastar these days is often roughly the experience of listening to prerecorded music (taped or sequenced) while watching a small, noisy TV set in a large, crowded field. (Goodwin, Andrew: Sample and Hold. Pop Music in the Digital Age of Reproducing. Orig. Critical Quarterly 30 (3) 1988. In On Record. Rock, Pop, and the Written Word. Ed. by Simon Frith & Andrew Goodwin. Routledge: London 1990, 269.)

Rock music performance has gone through massive changes since its beginning in the Anglo-American club-circuit. In the 1960s and 1970s, cultural changes were combined with growing technological possibilities, which brought strong visual and theatrical elements in rock performances. Rock spectacles grew together with performing venues, and the mass-audience’s potential as a consumer of rock was realised by the recording industry. The use of gigantic venues changed rock performances into total(itarian) mass-art, in which rock stardom was preserved and created by technological means and clever use of nostalgic elements. Aesthetics of the stadium spectacle has developed from this need to exaggerate and fortify audiovisual gestures and narratives through technology.

To examine this change in audiovisual stadium stardom, Mr. Kärki focuses on the history of Anglo-American stage designing through three primary examples, namely Pink Floyd (U.K.), The Rolling Stones (U.K.), and U2 (Ireland). Their performances are excellent examples of audiovisual Gesamtkunstwerk’ , a unified work of art, in which the music and visual presentation intertwine. An important unifying factor between these seminal ‘stadium groups’ is British stage designer and architectural engineer Mark Fisher.  He is one of the most experienced and utilized stadium spectacle designers who has planned stages for Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, U2, R.E.M., Cher, Jean-Michael Jarre, among others, and the Millennium Dome opening spectacle. 

Pink Floyd, being one of the forerunners of audiovisual rock-performance, were in the beginning a psychedelic band with cult reputation; later – since the 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon – they became one of the biggest stadium scale attractions. Since its formation, Pink Floyd has been recognised as an unconventional rock group in terms of stardom, using the technology of the stadium spectacle to mask the performers and avoid contact with the audience. This applies particularly to their British Winter Tour (1975), In the Flesh tour (1977), and The Wall tour (1980-81), and, to an extent, to A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987-89) and Division Bell (1995) tours. The Rolling Stones, being the longest surviving rock band in the world, have been the embodiment of corporal mass spectacle, particularly with their Steel Wheels (1989), Voodoo Lounge (1994), and Bridges To Babylon (1997) tours. U2 have used the theatrical and technological possibilities of rock performance to provide harsh cultural and political critique against the globalisation processes in Zoo-TV (1992), Pop Mart (1996), and All You Can’t Leave Behind  (2001) tours.

This sub-project will discuss how these performers have remained extreme examples of groups using non-musical stage equipment: liquid slides and lights, videos, lasers and gigantic puppets etc. Kärki will analyse these technological innovations and changes in the audiovisual stardom of Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and U2 from two points of view. First, the groups’ contribution to stadium rock aesthetics; second, their dependence on the new technology. These bands have been perceived both as the embodiment of stadium superstardom and as critics of the modern mass media culture, which paradoxically has created such stardom. Kärki analyses their stage performances as an influential and multifaceted bond between stadium stardom, modern culture, and technology. Since Mr. Kärki has already collected most of his primary sources, he will be able to finish his doctoral thesis in planned time, December 2007.


PhD, Docent of the History of Popular Culture Janne Mäkelä: Almost Famous. The Pursuit of International Fame in Finnish Popular Music Culture, 1961–1999

Finland: zero points. (Finnish saying on the Eurovision Song Contest)

The starting point for the research is the idea that the pursuit of international fame played an important role in late twentieth century Finnish popular music culture. When Bomfunk MC’s, Darude and HIM conquered music charts worldwide in 2000, the public reaction in Finland suggested that the long years of failure had finally been left behind. In order to understand this sustained effort, Dr. Mäkelä is asking: In what ways was the pursuit of international success connected to the issues of stardom, modernity and globalisation? The study proposes that globalisation processes and the triumph of celebrity culture, and their impact on understanding modern culture as a field of struggle for financial profit and fame, have had a powerful influence on expectations for Finnish popular music and identity. The study suggests that while there prevailed a consensus about the importance of gaining international success, people involved in this discourse – stars themselves, representatives of the music industry, journalists, and fans – disagreed on the forms and methods of execution.

The study is divided in three parts. The first part starts from Finland’s first attendance in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1961 and deals with what is here called the dream of international fame in the 1960s and the early 1970s. The second part, the desire for international fame between the mid-1970s and late 1980s, concentrates on expectations and possibilities for Finnish rock groups to break through outside Finland. Finally, the national obsession for international fame deals with the 1990s and suggests that the new attempts for pop export were in many ways related to globalisation processes and the general debate on national identity. The research literature relies on cultural studies and theories of modernisation, globalisation and popular music. Primary material consists of pop histories, writings in the pop press and interviews.

Almost Famous: the Pursuit of International Fame in Finnish Popular Music Culture, 1961–1999 developes arguments that Dr. Mäkelä has presented in his previous works, particularly in his monograph John Lennon Imagined: Cultural History of a Rock Star (New York: Peter Lang 2004). He is at the moment an acting assistant in the Department of Cultural History, University of Turku. This post will end in July 31, 2004, after which he will start his three-years period (from August 1, 2004 to July 31, 2007) as Postdoctoral Researcher appointed by Academy of Finland at the Renvall Institute, University of Helsinki. The research will provide a book-length study, which will be finished in the late 2007, and articles for international academic journals.


Research Environment and Co-operation

The research project will have its domain in the Department of Cultural History, University of Turku, which provides required equipment and facilities for the researchers, including work rooms and computers. Our research project has several links with other organisations and teams operating in the field of popular culture studies. The closest link is, naturally, the research group for popular culture in the Department of Cultural History (see above: Background). Second, the Renvall Institute incorporates similar approaches to those of the Department of Cultural History. Furthermore, the Institute, and its British and Irish Studies Programme in particular, have recently invested in the study for popular culture. Dr. Mäkelä will be located in the Institute.

In international co-operation, the most important link is the IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music) which had its conference Looking Back, Looking Ahead — Popular Music Studies 20 Years Later held in Turku in June 6–10, 2001.  In association with the Departments of Musicology at the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi, the research team for popular culture in Cultural History took an active role in organising the event. Kari Kallioniemi and Janne Mäkelä, who both have actively attended IASPM conferences, were members in the organising committee. The project participated and presented successful research plans in the international IASPM conference which was organised in Montreal in July 2003. Furthermore, the project will participate the next IASPM world conference in Rome in July 2005.

The two other primary international links include Manchester Institute for Popular Culture (Manchester Metropolitan University) and the Institute of Popular Music (University of Liverpool). This ‘British connection’ was established in the mid-1990s when Kallioniemi (1995) and Mäkelä (1996) studied periodically in Manchester and attended seminars in Liverpool. Since the project partly puts the emphasis on English popular culture, it is reasonable to develop this co-operation. During the project at least Kimi Kärki will work a period of approximately six months as a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Popular Music in Liverpool, also visiting the Manchester Institute. 

The research project will be supervised by an international advisory board, consisting of well-known scholars of popular culture. The members of the group include Professor Richard Dyer (University of Warwick), Dr Martin Cloonan (University of Glasgow), Associate Professor Bruce Johnson (Universities of New South Wales, Turku, and Trondheim), Dr Justin O’Connor (Manchester Institute for Popular Culture), Professor Vesa Kurkela (Sibelius Academy), and Docent Helmi Järviluoma (University of Joensuu). Professor Dyer is the specialist on stardom research. Dr Cloonan, who has abundantly studied national identity and the issue of censorship in popular music, visited Cultural History in 1996 and 2003. Professor Johnson, an expert on the history of jazz, modernity and gender, and Dr O’Connor, the director of Manchester Institute for Popular Culture and a scholar of social history of urban culture, have visited the Department of Cultural History several times, giving lectures and seminars as well as supervising graduate and post-graduate students. They both were supervisors for Kari Kallioniemi’s doctoral thesis (1998) while Associate Professor Johnson also supervised Janne Mäkelä’s thesis with Docent Järviluoma (2002). Docent Järviluoma, an Academy Research Fellow from August 2004 on, has specialised on popular music, ethnomusicology and soundscape studies. Professor Kurkela is an expert of history of Finnish popular music and folk music.

As our project deals with the theories which are familiar, not only to scholars and research teams of popular culture in Britain, but are, for example, currently examined in the Nordic countries, there is a great need to communicate with Scandinavian and Finnish research organisations. IASPM-Norden, one of the most active branches of the IASPM, provides a meaningful meeting place for developing the Scandinavian co-operation.

In addition to the two above-mentioned Departments of Musicology in Turku, the most relevant research links in Finland are Media Studies at the University of Turku and the Finnish Society for Ethnomusicology. There has been abundant communication between our project and these parties, particularly with Professor Veijo Hietala (Media Studies, University of Turku). Organised co-operation and discussion is to be developed with other Finnish scholars, particularly with Professor Stig Söderholm (Cultural Anthropology, University of Joensuu), as well as with internationally renowned scholars of popular culture such as Johan Fornäs.

Seminars and post-graduate supervision duties 

In May 2005 we arranged a panel seminar which brought some of the above-mentioned parties together to discuss contemporary issues of popular culture studies. This took place under the title "Changing notions of stardom in popular culture".

The future seminars of the project will be predominantly arranged in terms of motivating and expanding post-graduate research in this field.

Our preliminary plan is to organise a three-day IASPM-Norden conference in the autumn 2006, entitled "History of Stardom Reconsidered". See the further information at the beginning of this page.

The project will feature a strict and multifaceted postgraduate study and writing programme for Mr. Kärki, who is supervised by the advisory board of the project, as well as by docent Kallioniemi. Docent Kallioniemi and Dr. Mäkelä will actively supervise post-graduate students, while fellow researcher Kärki will teach popular culture studies in undergraduate level.


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