Weeks 4–7: Culture

Pop analyses tend to be most effective when they discuss the lyrics and how they interact with the culture in which they are situated. The next weeks’ readings tackle this from various angles. I am currently working on a project on disco and hip hop, so we will use these genres as the basis for these discussions.

Feb 12: Gender and sexuality

This week’s readings: .

Recommended, but difficult:

Other optional readings:

Due Monday at noon

Find your thread in #partner-responses and post a response essay, about 500 words long.

More on response essays
A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read. Remember that these are graded pass/fail, so anything you write is valuable in that sense. Feel free to use I/me pronouns and to freely express yourself (while remaining professional) and your opinion of the reading.
  • Possible prompts:
    • The Butler reading is extremely important culturally speaking; however, it is a tough read. If you do read this one, you could try to summarize the gist of it in your response for those who don’t get it.
    • These readings are basically musicological, rather than music-analytical or music-theoretical. But, how might you use them in a future project to enhance an analysis?

Due Wednesday at noon

Respond to your partners’ essay with a statement of about 100 words.

Feb. 14, 12:30 pm: Visiting Scholar Lecture

If at all possible, please come to deLaski 3001 at 12:30 for a lecture from Prof. Thomas Johnson (Skidmore College). His talk is titled “Whose ‘Country’? Lil Nas X, Categorization, and History in Music Metadata.” It will relate to our discussion next week.

When “Old Town Road” was booted from the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in Spring 2019, some country music fans were relieved that Billboard confessed to its mistaken genre identification. Other listeners and musicians felt that Billboard’s decision “just reinforced what [they] knew about being a non-white artist or fan in the genre.” The ensuing controversy was ultimately a simple one: what/who counts as country and what/who doesn’t?

In this talk, I analyze what country music is in the streaming age by exploring metadata in Spotify and Wikipedia. Genre tags and stylistic metadata create connections between musicians in a streaming ecosystem, and a musician’s metadata- network can determine how their music gets distributed. By comparing network properties of black country musicians, white Country Music Hall of Fame members, and musicians currently on Spotify’s “Hot Country Playlist,” I demonstrate that black and white country musicians—both contemporary and historical—and their connective metadata often cluster together along racial lines.

Lil Nas X got his viral hit onto the country charts simply by labeling it as “#Country” on Soundcloud, demonstrating the power of a genre hashtag. This talk explores how its erasure fits into the complex and pernicious history of race, categorization, and American popular music.

Abstract

Feb 19: Race and Ethnicity

Discussion leader: Justin

This week’s readings: .

Please also watch Phil Ewell’s “Music Theory’s White Racial Frame,” which was part of the highlight plenary session of the Society for Music Theory’s annual meeting in 2019.

Due Monday at noon

Find your thread in #partner-responses and post a response essay, about 500 words long.

More on response essays
A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read. Remember that these are graded pass/fail, so anything you write is valuable in that sense. Feel free to use I/me pronouns and to freely express yourself (while remaining professional) and your opinion of the reading.
  • Possible prompts:
    • As with last week, these readings are really musicological and not particularly music-analytical; how might you incorporate them in a future project to enhance an analysis?
    • Each of these articles is somewhat old. From your observations, what has changed since a given article was written, and what has stayed the same?
    • in particular does not only address race and ethnicity, but also gender. This is an example of what’s called intersectionality: attending to issues of race as well as gender within one analysis. Why is it important to bring gender into discussions of race, and vice-versa? Can you tie the Rose’s chapter in with some of the readings from last week? 

Due Wednesday at noon

Respond to your partners’ essay with a statement of about 100 words.

Feb 26: Lyrics

Discussion leader: Jenn

Video Summary: Lori Burns, “Vocal Authority and Listener Engagement”

Watch my video summarizing .

Note: This video uses interactive technology. The picture-in-picture can be swapped or even viewed side-by-side. The video also uses a menu so you can quickly navigate to certain portions of the video. For more explanation, see this video from Kaltura.

download lyric analysis slides – download lyric analysis transcript

Here is a link to the song in the model analysis:

This diagram (Example 7.2 in ) summarizes the important terminology introduced in this article.

Burns (2010), Example 7.2.

Reading

Please read .

Due Monday at noon

Find your thread in #partner-responses and post a response essay, about 500 words long.

More on response essays
A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read. Remember that these are graded pass/fail, so anything you write is valuable in that sense. Feel free to use I/me pronouns and to freely express yourself (while remaining professional) and your opinion of the reading.

Here are some optional prompts.

  • Lyric analysis relies a lot on intertextuality, which you studied back in Week 1. You are not meant to be uncovering the “true meaning” when you analyze lyrics, nor are you uncovering the “true meaning” when you analyze poetry! Related to this: you cannot know the identity of the “real author” and the “real reader,” which is why Burns places those terms outside the flowchart in her diagram. What are some reasons why the “real author” is unidentifiable?
  • A big issue that recurs in pop music scholarship is the notion of “authenticity.” Authenticity is a trait that is prized in many pop genres. Country, rap, folk, rock, metal—the list goes on and on, and includes a wide diversity of genres, if not close to all of them. How does the issue of authenticity relate to lyric analysis?

Due Wednesday at noon

Respond to your partners’ essay with a statement of about 100 words.


March 4: Music Videos

Discussion leader: Annamarie

Readings:

Lafrance, Marc, and Lori Burns. 2017. “Finding Love in Hopeless Places: Complex Relationality and Impossible Heterosexuality in Popular Music Videos by Pink and Rihanna.” Music Theory Online 23 (2): 33. https://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.17.23.2/mto.17.23.2.lafrance_burns.html.
Sterbenz, Maeve. 2017. “Movement, Music, Feminism: An Analysis of Movement-Music Interactions and the Articulation of Masculinity in Tyler, the Creator’s ‘Yonkers’ Music Video.” Music Theory Online 23 (2). https://doi.org/10.30535/mto.23.2.6.
.

Due Monday at noon

Find your thread in #partner-responses and post a response essay, about 500 words long.

More on response essays
A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read. Remember that these are graded pass/fail, so anything you write is valuable in that sense. Feel free to use I/me pronouns and to freely express yourself (while remaining professional) and your opinion of the reading.

Due Wednesday at noon

Respond to your partners’ essay with a statement of about 100 words.


Bibliography

Readings are either in the Readings folder or are available online through the library.

Alim, H. Samy, Jooyoung Lee, and Lauren Mason Carris. 2010. “‘Short Fried-Rice-Eating Chinese MCs’ and ‘Good-Hair-Havin Uncle Tom Niggas’: Performing Race and Ethnicity in Freestyle Rap Battles.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 20 (1): 116–33. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1395.2010.01052.x.
Burns, Lori. 2010. “Vocal Authority and Listener Engagement: Musical and Narrative Expressive Strategies in the Songs of Female Pop-Rock Artists, 1993–95.” In Sounding Out Pop: Analytical Essays in Popular Music, edited by Mark Spicer and John Covach, 154–92. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Butler, Judith. 1988. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal 40 (4): 519–531.
Frank, Gillian. 2007. “Discophobia: Antigay Prejudice and the 1979 Backlash against Disco.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 16 (2): 276–306. https://doi.org/10.1353/sex.2007.0050.
Hubbs, Nadine. 2007. “‘I Will Survive’: Musical Mappings of Queer Social Space in a Disco Anthem.” Popular Music 26 (02): 231–44. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143007001250.
Hubbs, Nadine. 2015. “‘Jolene,’ Genre, and the Everyday Homoerotics of Country Music: Dolly Parton’s Loving Address of the Other Woman.” Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 19 (1): 71–76. https://doi.org/10.1353/wam.2015.0017.
Johnson-Grau, Brenda. 2002. “Sweet Nothings: Presentation of Women Musicians in Pop Journalism.” In Pop Music and the Press, edited by Steve Jones. Temple University Press.
Neal, Jocelyn R. 2007. “Narrative Paradigms, Musical Signifiers, and Form as Function in Country Music.” Music Theory Spectrum 29 (1): 41–72. https://doi.org/10.1525/mts.2007.29.1.41.
Rose, Tricia. 1994. “Bad Sistas: Black Women Rappers and Sexual Politics in Rap Music.” In Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. African American Music Reference. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University.
Waksman, Steve. 1996. “Every Inch of My Love: Led Zeppelin and the Problem of Cock Rock.” Journal of Popular Music Studies 8: 5–25.

Weeks 1–3: Foundations

Jan 22: Why study pop music?

We’ll confront the idea that pop music does not deserve to be studied seriously. Our discussion will be based on .


Jan 29: Intertextuality and Mashups

This week, we continue to absorb the lessons on intertextuality from the week prior as we study mashups. Our primary reading will be .

Due Monday at noon

In Slack, find your thread in #partner-responses. Link to a mashup that you enjoy. Write ~250 words that relate your mashup to .

Due Wednesday at noon

In partners, discuss each of your mashups and your writeups about them.


Feb 5: Transcription

Because there is usually no written score for pop songs, transcription is an essential skill for pop analysis. You will practice transcribing on your own. In class, we will have discussion based on .

Due Monday at noon

  • Transcribe the first verse and first chorus of “With a Little Help from My Friends,” either the original by the Beatles or the cover by Joe Cocker—agree on one with your partner, and do the same song. Work out as much detail as you can. You may use lead sheet symbols instead of attempting to exactly transcribe harmony parts. .mp3 files available in the readings folder.
  • Upload a .pdf of your transcription to your thread in #partner-responses.
  • Write a paragraph or so about your experience transcribing the music. What was your process? What was difficult for you? Is there anything you were unsure about? Be brief but clear.

Due Wednesday at noon

Compare your transcription to your partner’s. Discuss the differences, focusing primarily on meter and rhythm.


Bibliography

Readings are either in the Readings folder or are available online through the library.

Adams, Kyle. 2015. “What Did Danger Mouse Do? The Grey Album and Musical Composition in Configurable Culture.” Music Theory Spectrum 37 (1): 7–24.
Burns, Lori. 2002. “‘Close Readings’ of Popular Song: Intersections among Sociocultural, Musical, and Lyrical Meanings.” In Disruptive Divas: Feminism, Identity and Popular Music, by Lori Burns and Melissa Lafrance, 31–62. New York: Routledge.
Murphy, Nancy. forthcoming. “Expressive Timing in ‘With God on Our Side.’” Music Analysis.