Exoticism in Post-9/11 Pop and Hip-Hop

Meet music major Lori Der Sahakian.

October 11, 2023

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California

Thesis adviser: Prof. Mark Burford [music]

Thesis: “Constructions and Representations of the Middle East in Post-9/11 Pop and Hip-Hop Music”

What it’s about: Through tracks such as “Naughty Girl” by Beyoncé, “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent, and “Buttons” by the Pussycat Dolls, I explore a form of exoticism that uses musical ideas and gestures that can be heard as vaguely Middle Eastern but lacks the sonic specificity to allow listeners to locate a time, country, instrument, or genre. Ultimately, I ask the question: what are the stakes of using generalized Middle Eastern musical gestures in Western pop music during a time of heightened attitudes towards the Middle East in America?

What it’s really about: What makes “Talk Dirty” by Jason Derulo (feat. 2 Chainz) sound kinda like the band playing at my cousin’s wedding?

In high school: I played volleyball and sang in choir. I also started writing my own music!

Influential class: Music and Voice with Prof. Mark Burford [music]. I have been a singer my whole life, so taking a step back from singing and actually thinking about the different roles voice can take on in music was so fascinating to me.

Influential book: In Tehrangeles Dreaming: Intimacy and Imagination in Southern California’s Iranian Pop Music, Farzaneh Hemmasi does such a beautiful job describing diasporic imaginations of a homeland. I also just really enjoyed learning more about some artists that I grew up listening to.

Concept that blew my mind: The depth of the network of revolutionary militia groups throughout West Asia and North Africa during the 20th century, and the forms of solidarity and resistance that grew out of these connections.

Cool stuff: I spent most of my time at Reed singing, whether in Herodotones or in Collegium. I worked as a mentor and coordinator for the Peer Mentorship Program, as a ranger at the PARC, as a tour guide for the admission office, and as a research assistant. My senior year, I cofounded the Southwest Asia and North Africa Union, which made me so happy—I’m glad I got to be a part of it before graduating. I also learned how to crochet and perfected my grandma’s tahdig recipe!

How Reed changed me: I have always loved music, but the music department, especially Profs. Mark Burford, Morgan Luker, and Shohei Kobayashi gave me the tools to truly express my love for it. I am so grateful for everything they taught me and for all their support through my time here.

Help received along the way: The generous financial aid I have received the last four years, especially the Elizabeth and Samual Surace Scholarship in Music, has made coming to Reed possible, and I am extremely grateful.

Awards, fellowships, grants: I received an opportunity grant during the summer of 2022 to visit the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, which was one of the best experiences I had at Reed.

What’s next: Move back home to LA, spend time with my family, look into graduate programs, and get back into writing my own songs!