Mermaids are rising again as a pop-culture phenomenon
Mermaids are rising again as a pop-culture phenomenon, and this time, it’s happening across media forms and global cultures. Three “Little Mermaid”-inspired live-action films are slated for upcoming production or release in the upcoming year: an indie film set in a 1900s Mississippi carnival, Universal Studios’ emerging adaptation, and Disney’s take on the Hans Christian Andersen story, rumored to feature music from the iconic animated film and new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda. A Polish indie mermaid horror-comedy film, “The Lure,” awaits its 2017 US debut after gaining phenomenal global attention. Singer Katy Perry is in the midst of a Covergirl campaign to market “mermaid makeup,” custom-made silicone mermaid tails have become a tween craze, and Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, and Britney Spears have celebrated mermaid merchandise and styles. Pharrell Williams and Fox Studios are producing Atlantis, an underwater romance set in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where King Neptune is the local mascot. The 2017 Coachella festival boasts a mermaid theme, while Tumblr features trending #FatMermaid and #BlackMermaid hashtags. Mermaid “snuggie-tail" throw blankets take up two entire shelves at the local Target.
Mermaids Rising: Women, Water and Global Pop dives deep to find the thread that connects a legacy of watery women throughout the history of global popular culture: from one distinct ethnic tradition, to a global movement in mermaid pop culture, to the next. Drawing from my work as anthropologist of media and popular culture, and as a folklorist trained to locate abiding performances and symbols that emerge throughout human history, my research shows that mermaid trends arise at times of cultural shift and upheaval: with global migration, as with the rise of the Mami Wata goddess during the Transatlantic slave trade; with Seapunk’s emergence at the dawn of web 2.0; and with the current obsession with tropical sounds and styles embodied by Rihanna and Beyoncé in the age of mass global African and Afro-Caribbean migration. Mermiads Rising tells the compelling shadow history of global popular culture’s abiding mermaid obsession, and the over-the-top performers and characters who have made that history possible.
Mermaids have never been out of style. Even so, they saturate the musical and cultural mainstream at times of historical rupture and upheaval—particularly when migrations and political change call for cultural hybridity and fluid identities. Mermaids Rising documents their hidden importance to contemporary trends in popular culture. It is a cultural history of mermaids across global pop music traditions, starting with the sea shanties and African water goddesses of early globalization, and culminating in the work of Beyoncé, Rihanna and Grimes. It encompasses songs by women who draw from mermaid myths and symbols, songs about mermaids from community traditions and smitten male artists alike, and the sounds that surround them as they and their way through popular culture, film and fashion. It will be illustrated with global mermaid artwork, lyrics, and folktales and enriched with short interviews with folklorists and Mami Watapriestesses.
Mermaids Rising answers to millennial women’s insatiable obsession with mermaid sounds and styles; it puts today's mermaid trends in historical perspective; and it collects an unprecedented series of mermaid songs, folklore, and cultural artifacts as they relate to pop-culture history. It appeals to anyone who has encountered mermaids throughout their trajectory through the world of pop. The book documents how mermaid cultures converge from a host of global traditions, from the South Pacific, to the Horn of Africa, to the Netherlands, to converge in the form of popular music as it emerges in the US and circulates again around the world. It is the story of globalization and it is the story of the music women make and inspire as they come of age.