Why Was Beyonce Not Cool Enough for the Smithsonian’s New “Cool” Exhibit?

When two scholars decided to pick 100 of the coolest Americans, it got dicey; here’s why

(José Goulão via Wikimedia Commons)

Janis Joplin

(Patrick Pearse via Wikimedia Commons)

"The phrase 'charismatic self-possession' is very important. Janis Joplin is all about emotional outpouring. That’s her sensibility. She’s actually said on the record that she thought she was the reincarnation of Bessie Smith, who is in the exhibit. But the aesthetic of the blues singer is that although you are expressing an emotional experience, you are doing it in control of your art. You’re not mistaking being emotional for expressing emotion.

So Janis Joplin is simply not cool onstage. Her performance aesthetic—although she’s a great singer—is about emotional outpouring. And that’s just not – compared to Patty Smith or Chrissy Hine or Deborah Harry, she’s simply not cool. She’s much too emotional. 

That’s a tough one. People bring her up all the time. Simply in terms of the iconic power and quality of her work, she would definitely qualify."

About Kirstin Fawcett
Kirstin Fawcett

Kirstin Fawcett reports on the collections, exhibitions, new research and other happenings around the Smithsonian Institution.

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