Fame Factory: Performing Gender and Sexuality in Talent Reality Television


  • Hillevi Ganetz Gender Studies at the Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden




Talent reality television, popular music, performance, masculinity, femininity, sexuality


This article discusses how gender and sexuality are performed in a highly feminised cultural symbolic context. The object of study is a reality show where the contestants compete in mainstream popular music. Fame Factory is a Swedish talent-hunt television series with many similarities to Pop Idol. The audience may follow the struggle of the young artists off stage in the ’Fame School’ in addition to seeing and voting on their feats on stage. In the Fame School they learn to sing, perform and dance, but also to perform masculinity, femininity and sexuality, even if this is not explicit. Through an analysis of some key episodes of this reality show, the article discusses how gender and sexuality are produced and reproduced within this music television context. It is shown how the performances rest on highly traditional conceptions of these categories, but there are also certain transgressions, especially concerning sexuality, which undermine hegemonic structures.


Andrejevic, Mark (2004): Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefields Publishers.

Bayton, Mavis (1997): “Women and the Electric Guitar”, Whiteley, Sheila (ed.): Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, London & New York: Routledge.

Bayton, Mavis (1998): FrockRock: Women Performing Popular Music, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.

Brown, Laura S. (2005): “Outwit, Outcast, Out-flirt? The Woman of Reality TV”, Cole, Ellen & Jessica Henderson Daniel (eds): Featuring Females: Feminist Analyses of Media, Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Butler, Judith (1990): Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, London & New York: Routledge.

Butler, Judith (1993): Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’, New York & London: Routledge.

Callison, Darcey (2007): “Dance”, Flood, Michael, Judith Kegan Gardiner, Bob Pease & Keith Pringle (eds): International Encyklopedia of Men and Masculinities, London & New York: Routledge.

Chapman, Rowena & Jonathan Rutherford (1988): Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Coates, Norma (1997): “(R)evolution Now: Rock and the Political Potential of Gender”, Whiteley, Sheila (ed.).

Connell, R.W. (1995): Masculinities, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Edin, Anna (2005): Verklig underhållning: Dokusåpor, publik, kritik, Stockholm: Stiftelsen Institutet för Mediestudier.

Ekenstam, Claes (2003): “The Body, the Will and the Fear of Falling: The History of Masculine Self-Control”, Ervø, Søren & Thomas Johansson (eds): Moulding Masculinities: Bending Bodies, Vol. 2, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Frith, Simon & Angela McRobbie (1978/1990): “Rock and Sexuality”, Frith, Simon & Andrew Goodwin (eds): On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, New York: Pantheon Books.

Frith, Simon (2007): “Live Music Matters”, Scottish Music Review, 1:1.

Ganetz, Hillevi (1997): Hennes röster: Rocktexter av Turid Lundqvist, Eva Dahlgren och Kajsa Grytt [Her Voices: Swedish, Female Rock Lyrics], Stockholm/Stehag: Symposion

Ganetz, Hillevi (2004): “Familiar Beasts: Nature, Culture and Gender in Wildlife Films on Television”, Nordicom Review, no. 1-2.

Halberstam, Judith (1998): Female Masculinity, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Hekma, Gert (1996): ‘“A Female Soul in a Male Body”: Sexual Inversions as Gender Inversion in Nineteenth-Century Sexology’, Herdt, Gilbert (ed.): Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Cultural History, New York: Zone Books.

Hill, Annette (2005): Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual television, London & New York: Routledge. [Read this article]

Holmes, Sue & Deborah Jeremyn (2004): Understanding Reality Television, London & New York: Sage.

Kilborn, Richard (2003): Staging the Real: Factual TV programming in the age of Big Brother, Manchester and N.Y.: Manchester University Press.

Kroon, Ann (2007): FE/MALE Assymetries of Gender and Sexuality, Dept. of Sociology: Uppsala University.

MacKinnon, Kenneth (2003): Representing Men: Maleness and Masculinity in the Media, London & New York: Arnold.

McClary, Susan (1991): Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Meyer, Michaela D.E. & Jennifer M. Kelley (2004): “Queering the Eye? The Politics of Gay White Men and Gender (in)visibility”, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2.

Mort, Frank (1996): Cultures of Consumption: Masculinities and Social Space in the Late Twentieth-Century Britain, London & New York: Routledge.

Mosse, George L. (1996): The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.

Murray, Susan & Laurie Oullette (2004): Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, New York & London: New York University Press.

Skeggs, Beverley (1997): Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable, London: Sage.

Stahl, Matthew Wheelock (2004): “American Idol and Narratives of Meritocracy”, Washburne, Christopher J. & Maiken Derno (eds): Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate, New York & London: Routledge.

Striff, Erin (2003): “Introduction: Locating Performance Studies”, Striff, Erin (ed.): Performance Studies, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Waggoner, Catherine Egley (2004): “Disciplining Female Sexuality in Survivor”, Feminist Media Studies, 4:2, 217-220.

West, Candance & Don H. Zimmerman (1987): “Doing Gender”, Gender & Society, 1:2. [Read this article]

Whiteley, Sheila (ed.) (1997): Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, London & New York: Routledge.

Zwaan, Koos, Tom F.M. ter Bogt, & Liesbet van Zoonen (2006): Cultural Intermediaries in the Music Industry: Breaking into the Popular Music Industry, paper presented at the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference. Istanbul, Turkey.






Independent Articles