How I built a career as a pop culture commentator

Dr Kirsty Fairclough is Senior Lecturer in Media and Performance at University of Salford. She’s delivered conferences on Mad Men and Twin Peaks, written extensively about film and music, and is the author of the upcoming book Beyoncé: Celebrity, Feminism and Pop Culture. She also organised ‘Purple Reign’, the world’s first Prince conference, which took place in Manchester this May.

Kirsty will be appearing at NME’s #Lifehacks event on Thursday, joining a panel in which she and fellow creatives discuss the things they wish they’d known at age 18. Ahead of the big day, we got in touch to find out more about her career journey so far.

You’ve spoken and written on many different pop culture topics – everything from Twin Peaks to the relationship between Beyoncé and feminism. What makes a TV show, celebrity, or pop culture phenomenon something that you actually want to drill down into and research further?
“I’m fascinated with popular culture and the reasons why audiences connect with mass mediated products, and by that I include celebrities as well as television shows and films. I’m very lucky in that my job enables me to teach students about the ways in which we can, and indeed must, analyse popular culture in order to understand issues related to gender, race, sexuality and class. My current work on celebrity feminism looks at famous women and the ways in which they may act as a lens through which we can navigate feminism and popular media. I have hosted conferences on popular culture and enjoy hearing other academics and students analyse television shows, celebrities and musicians from a wide variety of perspectives.”

How did you go about building a career which has made you an authority on these kind of topic? Was it always your life plan?
“I’ve always been interested in popular culture as a phenomenon, and an obsession with Hollywood cinema was the starting point. I taught Film and Media Studies for many years while studying for an MA and then a PhD. I then began writing which led to publishing books and articles on popular culture, then hosting international conferences. Celebrity Studies as an academic discipline didn’t exist when I started my career, and I worked closely with other academics who, like me, thought it was time to begin to analyse celebrity culture in terms of what it could tell us about culture and society more generally. It really took off from there. I have the privilege to work with like-minded people across the world who are curious about analysing popular culture.”

What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in a similar kind of career?
“I would encourage anyone to write as much as they can, and to use social media as a platform for that writing. Say yes to things, don’t shy away from putting yourself out there for opportunities and don’t wait for them to come to you. Be proactive and show people you’re passionate about what you want to do.”

And finally, what life lesson do you most wish you’d known when you were 18?
“Just keep going! There will always be those who don’t agree with your career choices, but if you believe in what you are doing, there will be a place for it and you!”

NME has teamed up with University of Salford and youth initiative Create Jobs to lay on our #Lifehacks event in London this Thursday, November 23. The event will be headlined by Chelsea footballer Eni Aluko and hip-hop artist Loyle Carner, who will team up for an ‘in conversation’ panel.

Another panel will see acclaimed campaigners Paris Lees, Paula Akpan and Josie Naughton join forces to discuss how to effect positive change. Meanwhile, MOBO founder Kanya King MBE and Universal Music UK’s Jonathan Badyal will join Kirsty to talk about the things they wish they’d known at age 18.

One the day, you’ll also be able to connect with the NME team and our partners at the dedicated Hack-Space, and enter the world of gaming at the Game Lab. Plus, there will be free food and drink, and the event will culminate in an exclusive secret evening gig.

You can buy tickets to our #Lifehacks event (including an exclusive secret gig) with University of Salford here.