I am delighted to share the news that Popular (or rather me) is GOING WEST, with a speaking slot at this year’s EMP Pop Conference in Seattle. You can find full details here. Come along if you happen to be in Seattle and otherwise stay tuned for publication of my paper right here.

What is it about? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED. Here is the, if you will, poposal that got the nod.

VOX POPULAR: The Charts As Soapbox In A Digital Era

The UK Singles Chart has two notable qualities. One is its particular place in the national imagination – chart “races”, “battles”, and records are tabloid fodder even now. The other is that the Top 40 was until recently entirely based on sales – a purely commercial barometer of popularity.

These two factors – news interest and sales criteria – historically interacted to make the UK charts a kind of cultural seismograph, a channel for unvoiced mass sentiment. Anything from the World Cup to the death of Princess Diana spawned hits, creating a feedback loop between pop and the rest of the media.

But in April 2005, something changed. The chart began to include digital downloads, dissolving physical and pricing barriers to entry. If you could persuade a few thousand people to buy a track, you were in. The cultural seismograph had become – at least potentially – a platform.

My presentation is the story of the pranksters, campaigners, trolls and fans who took advantage of the download era to make the charts themselves a megaphone. I look at attempts to manipulate the Top 40 to give voice to cultural grievances – like successfully getting Rage Against The Machine to Number One ahead of a reality TV hit. I explore efforts to send political messages via the charts – like the campaign to mark Margaret Thatcher’s death by charting “Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead”.

I also examine botched attempts, and the ways in which the tactic failed to live up to its expressive potential. And I put these campaigns in the wider cultural context of the 00s: part of the new media’s wider attack on the legitimacy of the old, and its seductive promise to give everyone a voice.

I am really excited about going there and talking about this – EMP is awesome and it’s fantastic to be going back there.