Aniela Starzyńska

Visual analysis of disco polo after the year 2000

The theme of the dissertation is the contemporary disco polo, which, after emerging in the mainstream popular culture in Poland in the 1990s, around 2007 has returned to unflagging popularity. The direct impulse was my monthly stay among the recipients of disco polo, during which I observed that the music video is just as important means of communication as music and song lyrics. I wondered what content contemporary disco polo videos carry.

In my dissertation, I discussed the history of the genre – from the roots of disco polo, through the “golden decade” of the 1990s, the circumstances of a sharp drop in popularity at the turn of the century, the second rebound in the first decade of the twenty-first century and the contemporary fate of the genre. It was the basis for me to show how disco polo aesthetics, which is the aesthetics of kitsch, can be and is used for political purposes. In spite of the artists’ refusal of their social and political involvement, the declared neutral and universal message of disco polo carries specific values and attitudes.

The main part of my work is a visual analysis of contemporary music videos of Shazza, Akcent and Bayer Full in terms of representation of class, race and gender. The applied categories have allowed me to extract structures present in the visual culture that are fundamental and classic categories that we can use to explore the culture. The representation of the class in a music video meant for me elements that referred to the lifestyle and status and could indicate affiliation to a given social class. These elements were both objects, their appearance and the scenery in which the action of the music video took place. The analysis of the representation of the race consisted of means of constructing the exotic, orient and category of the Other in disco polo clips. The analysis of gender representation concerned the image of a woman and a man in disco polo music videos, their roles and the relationship between them.

The research allowed me to conclude that objects, outfit, the appearance of the protagonists and the set found in the music videos of Bayer Full, Shazza and Akcent, are the means of expressing the affiliation, self-creation or aspiration of the disco polo artists to a group of people with a certain status and style life. These elements are carefully selected and sometimes they are given separate shots in professionally directed and produced clips, with millions of views on the Internet. The images we watch in contemporary disco polo videos are not coincidental and there is a specific message behind them. An attempt to assign creators and recipients of disco polo to a given social class and lifestyle related to it seemed to be interesting, but in the long run, not very useful. The contemporary version of the disco polo phenomenon is definitely more exclusive than it used to be. The boundary affiliating disco polo to specific social groups, clearly marked in the 1990s by the public opinion, has blurred. While at the end of the twentieth century recipients and creators of disco polo were representatives of the lower social strata, today it is widely listened to and watched throughout the country by representatives of all groups. The analysis of the visual aspect of disco polo is, therefore, more meaningful if it encourages a critical look at its message, rather than when it is undertaken only in terms of the class affiliation of creators and recipients of the genre.

The creators of disco polo, with greater budgets at their disposal, are increasingly transferring the action of contemporary music videos to exotic places – to China, Cuba or the Middle East. In favour of the concept of a universal message, they produce images of exotica, orient and the Other that are to evoke certain associations, appeal to a fairly narrow range of feelings and emotions. In this way, in “postcard” landscape shots and numerous tourist attractions in which the protagonists of music videos appear, the stereotypical perception of visited places and their inhabitants is retained – used instrumentally, especially in relation to a women of a different race, to promote a generally positive disco polo message. In contemporary
music videos, we will not find explicitly racist or aggressive gestures of domination. However, this does not change the fact that the way of presenting the idea of universality is objectifying and it fortifies the neo-colonial scheme.

The examples of gender representation in contemporary disco polo videos are the most predominant, next to the class ones. At the same time, since the very beginning of the genre, the image of a woman, a man and their roles has not undergone any transformation – it has been preserved in an unchanged form until today. The only change, or extension, is the outfit and make up of female protagonists and attributes of the male ones. The disco polo videos show a stereotypical, idealized image of women who most often function as a passive sexual object captured by a man and subordinate to his eye. The power of male representatives is manifested in disco polo clips not only by gaze and agency but also by the attributes they possess – cars or jewellery, while the only attribute of women is their appearance. These images legitimize and replicate the normative strategy of constructing gender in space and in public discourse. They fortify thinking about gender in binary categories, the heteronormative order and the gender hierarchy with male domination.

The history of the genre from the late twentieth century until today and the visual analysis of contemporary music videos imply that we are dealing with a new aesthetics of disco polo. It is also, and perhaps above all, a representation of the desires, fears, ideas and models of Polish women and men regarding the cultural, economic and sexual spheres. The stigma of social shame that this area of Polish culture was burdened with in the 1990s, or the acknowledgement of it as embarrassment and kitsch, makes the discussion about it extremely polarized between absolute condemnation and uncritical affirmation. Nevertheless, disco polo is part of Polish popular culture, which should be studied along other phenomena.

(born 1996)
Studies at the Faculty of Visual Culture of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the years 2015-2018. Internship at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (2018).