Graduate Research Colloquium: Jacob Mallinson Bird

Lip-syncing is having its moment in the limelight, as it were. With television shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race and Lip Sync Battle!, lip-syncing has moved from a much-maligned practice (for example, Milli Vanilli and Britney Spears) to an entertaining artform in its own right. Drag queens have long been the pioneers of lip-syncing as an artistic medium, and indeed lip-syncing is foundational to the drag queen’s craft: go to any drag show, anywhere, and you will see a lip-sync performance. Having outlined a brief history of lip-syncing in popular and drag culture, charting its meteoric rise through the legendary Lypsinka and, of course, RPDR, this paper seeks to answer two central questions: first, what is lip-syncing, and what, if anything, can it teach us about the nature of the voice; and second, why do drag queens choose to lip-sync, and what do they find so attractive about it? Through the queer theories of Jack Halberstam and José Esteban Muñoz, and the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan, I will show that lip-syncing is far more than mouthing the words to someone else’s song; rather, lip-syncing is a radical, and specifically queer, mode of voicing, revealing many of the common-sense misconceptions of the voice, as well as a method of exploring new ways of being in the world and of identifying with powerful voices of queer heroines for the performing queen. 

Jacob Mallinson-Bird began his academic studies at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he read Music. After taking a year out to focus on his career in drag performance, he began at Oxford in 2015, where he completed the MSt in Musicology at Wadham College, before beginning his doctoral research at St Catherine’s College. His position at Queen’s College is his first academic post. His teaching focuses on music from the 19th century onwards and engages a broad interdisciplinary theoretical apparatus. He teaches papers ranging from Global Hip Hop and World Jazz to Musical Thought and Scholarship, endeavouring in each to foreground marginalised voices. His research interrogates lip-syncing in drag performance. He is particularly interested in how the voice functions in such settings, and what the benefits are for the drag queens who employ this unique mode of voicing. More broadly, his research interests revolve around phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and queer theory.

Free to attend, register here.

About the series:
The Colloquia feature leading figures, as well as younger scholars, from across the world. They present their research in papers on all kinds of music-related topics. Graduate students Marinu Leccia and Judith Valerie Engel organise the series. Presentations are followed by a discussion and virtual drinks reception. Free and open to all Music Faculty students and members. If you would like more information, please email or