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Do you wish your college had offered a sociology class about Lady Gaga? If so, then you get a second chance at holding up popular music to the high altar of academic criticism every year right here in Seattle, no final exam required. The annual Pop Conference kicks off on Thursday at MoPOP (ex-EMP and about 10 other names) in Seattle Center for four days of hardcore music nerdery that goes far beyond speculating what happens if you play The White Album backwards. Bringing together scholars, music journalists, and critics, the event does an admirable job of digging beyond a splashy Kendrick-Lamar-won-a-Pulitzer news story without getting too lost in inaccessible ivory tower terminology.

Taking in the current #MeToo moment, this year’s theme is “What Difference Does It Makes? Music and Gender.” From riot grrrl feminism to prog rock’s “technophallic” (their word) guitar heroics, this year’s Pop Conference will explore how music does and undoes gender identities and assumptions—a fitting coda to the museum's recent David Bowie exhibit.

Here are five can’t-miss panels at this year’s Pop:

THE SYSTEM MUST MAKE ROOM FOR ALL THAT WE DO

The keynote to get the party started, a seven-person deep mini-summit embedded in Pop, will tackle how music should respond to #MeToo and #TimesUp, both on-stage and backstage. Local luminaries like Sub Pop CEO Megan Jasper will rub shoulders with NPR’s chief music critic, Ann Powers, and veteran performers like The Slits’ original band member, Palmolive. Thursday, April 26, 7:15-9 pm

Pacific Rimming

A+ for erotic punning—I believe it's a requirement to get into a graduate-level liberal arts program—as three scholars look at queer music scenes on both sides of the Pacific. Is it ok for queer Filipinos to perform the works of dead black divas? How did queer kids help build up an indie music scene in Honolulu? And just what was up with the mid-century genre classification of “exotica” for Asian and Pacific Islander music? Saturday, April 28, 11:15 am-12:45 pm

Soft and Stormy: Gender, Race & Genre from the '70s-'90s

Are soft rock and quiet storm really two sides of the same coin? The former was largely the provenance of white suburbanites while the latter enthralled middle-class urban black listeners. But scholars here will argue that both reflected upwardly mobile financial security with lyrics about sex and sensuality. For fans of Kris Kristoferson, Hall and Oates, Karen Carpenter, and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Friday, April 27, 1:45-3:15 pm

Black Male Interiority

Black men suffer from a double whammy of cultural biases against showing their emotions. But that’s slowly changing. Witness the #YouGoodMan viral hashtag around black men and mental health after Kid Cudi told the public he had checked himself into rehab for suicidal thoughts. That cultural moment is the point of departure for a panel that will also analyze Jay-Z’s 4:44 and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Thursday, April 26, 3:45-5:45 pm

Merch Girls and the Gendered Dynamics of Live Music

With the rallying cry of “I’m not the drummer’s girlfriend,” a photo installation and roundtable discussion will look at female labor in the live music industry. The session will also feature a live performance and talk back with Chelan native Alice Stuart, who rode the ’70s folk revival wave and returned in the ’90s as a blues musician. Friday, April 27, 1:45-3:15 pm