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Department of Music

Studying Popular Music

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

• At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of popular music and the core debates around it including its definition, modes of production and circulation, stylistic features and the variety of analytical approaches available to study it academically.
• Students should be able to gain a critical understanding of how popular music differs from (and interrelates with) other musical forms like Western Art and Folk music and World Music, the role of the cultural industries in the circulation of popular forms - including how this has been transformed by digital forms of production and circulation – debates around the relationship of popular music to ‘the people’ and ‘the industry’ and issues around copyright, censorship, policy and creative expression.  
• The course will provide the necessary intellectual and factual background to inform the study of global forms of popular music in more detail.


One hour lecture per week

Scope and syllabus

This course is designed as a general introduction to global popular music and the field of popular music studies. It will draw on research in popular music studies, media sociology, cultural studies, musicology and ethnomusicology, theories of identity (including race, class, gender and sexuality) and cultural policy. This course will introduce students to the core analytical approaches they will be able to use as they deepen their studies into Global forms of popular music throughout their academic career.

Outline of lectures:

  • Between creativity and commerce: What is popular music?
  • Art, Folk, Pop: three discourses
  • Useful Guide or Pigeonhole? Genre theory
  • Sounds of the City: Pop and modernity
  • Teds, Rudies, Rastas and Punks:  Pop and subcultural theory
  • Riot Grrls, Pet Shop Boys, Ill Manors, Eton Rifles: Pop and Class, Gender and Sexuality
  • White Riot, Black Planet: Pop and Race
  • It Ain’t Where You’re From It’s Where You’re At: Hybridity and the Black Atlantic
  • You Say You Want a Revolution: Pop and protest
  • Hush my Mouth; Pop and censorship
  • All Night Long: Dance cultures
  • The future is now: Pop and Technology
  • Can you feel it? Pop and emotion
  • Transglobal Underground: Pop goes global

Method of assessment

One 2 500 words essay (worth 40%), One 2 500 words essay (worth 60%)