Popular Music Studies


B. Mus., B.A. with a major or minor in music, or B.A. with a major in anthropology with a minor in music. It would also be advantageous (but not required) to have enrolled in my undergraduate course, M403J Introduction to the Study of Popular Music.


Popular culture has become a pervasive phenomenon throughout the world and at home, and music is a key component of that culture. Combined with radical new perspectives such as distinctions between High and Low Art have been demolished, the study of popular music has opened the field of music research to music academics ready to expand and triangulate their interests in a way never imagined in the past.  The dimension of this research attempts to discover persistent themes in a world dominated by evanescent fads and trends.

The goal of the seminar will be to survey the domain of Popular Music Studies so that you can formulate future research goals and discover personal musical growth. You will examine its practical aspects, such as pedagogy and ethnography, and its theoretical frames derived from “old school” critical theorists like Theodor Adorno and the more recent insights from Pierre Bourdieu about cultural capital. You will also learn about the more contentious issues in Popular Music Studies such as the judgement of “bad music” and the hybridity resulting from globalisation.

In sum, you will learn about an entirely new field of inquiry called sociomusicology, the new sibling of ethnomusicology and cultural anthropology.

Course Requirements

Each class will begin with a lecture devoted to the theme of the lecture (as outlined in this syllabus), supplemented by pre-lecture readings that you will have reviewed before the class meets. The pre-lecture reading list is available online in your UBC Connect website.

Following the lecture, you will participate in a class discussion of two readings, each one summarized by one student and then responded to by another. The list of 26 readings (two per class) is found in the syllabus below. After each summary and response, the floor will be open to discussion by the class as a whole, led by the presenters. If you are not a presenter or respondent, you will be expected to have at least 3 questions or comments prepared for the discussion (which will be submitted to me). Therefore, in addition to your pre-lecture readings, you will need to review the presentation readings as well. When you are assigned a presentation, you will submit a copy of your summary to your respondent a day or more before the two of you present your summaries. Your summary or response will be in point form, at least three pages long.

You will write a book review of 300-400 words that you will post to your Reading Journal. The thirteen books (one per week) listed in the syllabus are an interesting mix of well-known Popular Music Studies textbooks, readers, and two specialized histories. Given the extensive nature of each book, your summary will be an overview, supplemented with observations from reviews of the book found in journals. After a few readings, all in chronological order, you will discover some repetition of key ideas. Then it will be your objective to detect variations and new pathways created by each author.

At the end of the week, you will contribute to a dialogue about the week’s lectures and presentations by posting comments to the class WebCT online Discussion Board.

Finally, you will complete two project assignments. The mid-term assignment will consist of two mock applications for an imaginary musical ethnography – one for a grant and the other for permission to pursue your ethnography from UBC’s Ethical Review Board. Both projects will give you valuable experience in grant and ethics applications that are a necessary part of your career as a graduate student and practicing ethnomusicologist. Your end-of-term assignment will consist of an ethnography that will focus on the listening or music performance interests of your friends or family. Details of both assignments are available on your UBC Connect website.

There will be no exams.

WebCT Connect

All the necessary components of the course can be accessed online from anywhere via WebCT Vista, using your WCL (Campus Wide Login) password and username.

Lecture outlines
Pre-lecture readings
Presentation Readings and Responses guidelines
Reading Journal and guidelines
Ethnography guideline
Trial Grant Application guideline
Trial Application to UBC’s Ethical Review Board guideline
Discussion board

Your reading journal entries, presentation or response outlines, mock grant application and ethnography assignments will be submitted online via Vista. The marks for each project or assignment will be posted online immediately after they are marked. You will be able to see a running record of your marks as the semester proceeds.

Summary of Mark Distribution

Ethnography 21 %
Mock grant application 14 %
Mock UBC Ethics application 14 %
Presentation reading summaries or responses 25 %
Weekly reading journal (13 readings) 13 %
Weekly online discussion forum (13 weeks) 13%

According to the School of Music guidelines, the grades awarded in this course will follow established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, students are expected to adhere to the School of Music policy with respect to “Intellectual Honesty,” and “Academic Discipline”. (See the current general calendar.)


Stone, Ruth M. Theory of Ethnomusicology (Prentice-Hall)

Lecture Schedule and Required Reading List

Week 1 Introductions and Expectations

John Covach (2001), “Popular Music, Unpopular Musicology,” in Rethinking Music, edited by Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist, pp. 452-470

Robert Fink (2002) “Elvis Everywhere: Musicology and Popular Music Studies at the Twilight of the Canon,” in Rock Over the Edge: Transformations in Popular Music Culture, edited by Roger Beebe et al., pp. 60-109 (also in my M403J reading list)

Book Review #1

Nicholas Cook (1998) Music: A Very Short Introduction

Week 2 Survey of Critical Media and Journals

Dave Laing (2006) “Anglo-American Music Journalism: Texts and Contexts,” in The Popular Music Studies Reader, pp.  333-339

Jim Finnegan (2003) “Theoretical Tailspins: Reading “Alternative” Performance in Spin magazine,” in Gen Xegesis: Essays on Alternative Youth (Sub)culture, pp. 121-161

Book Review #2

Richard Middleton (1990) Studying Popular Music

Week 3 Ethnography and Field Work

Melanie Lowe (2004) “ ‘Tween Scene: Resistance within the Mainstream,” in Music Scenes: Local, Translocal and Virtual, edited by Andy Bennett and Richard Peterson pp. 80-95

John Hoch (2005) “Dealing with Dickheads: An Ethnography of a Nightclub Staff Member,” in the The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in a Complex Society, Edited by James Spradley et al.  pp. 139-147

Book Review #3

Peter Martin (1995) Sounds and Society: Themes in the Sociology of Music

Week 4 Music Analysis

Robert Walser (2003) “Popular Music Analysis: Ten Apothegms and Four Instances,” in Analyzing Popular Music, edited by Allan F. Moore, pp. 16-38

Nadine Hubbs (2000) “The Imagination of Pop-Rock Criticism,” in Expression in Pop-Rock Music: A Collection of Critical and Analytical Essays, edited by Walter Everett, pp. 3-30

Contemplating Music: challenges to musicology, pp. 155-81

Book Review #4

Simon Frith (1996) Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music

Week 5 Popular Music in Secondary School Curriculum

Ken Stephenson (2002) What to Listen for in Rock: A Stylistic Analysis (a college and grade 12 textbook)

Lucy Green (2003) “Music Education, Cultural Capital and Social Group Identity,” in The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, edited by Martin Clayton et al., pp. 263-273

Book Review #5

Keith Negus (1996) Popular Music in Theory: An Introduction

Week 6 Globalisation: Hybridity and Hegemony

Masashi Ogawa (2001) “Japanese Popular Music in Hong Kong,” in Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of the Japanese presence in Asia, Europe and America, edited by Harumi Befu and Sylvie Guichard-Anguis, pp. 121-130

Keith Roe and Gust de Meyer (2001) “One Planet – One Music? MTV and globalisation,” in Global Repertoires, edited by Andreas Gebesmair and Alfred Smudits, pp. 33-46

Book Review #6

Allan F. Moore (2001) Rock: The Primary Text: Developing a Musicology of Rock (2ND

Week 7 The Canadian Perspective

Chris MacDonald, “ ‘Anywhere But Here’ Rush and Suburban Desires for Escape,” in Rush: Rock Music and the Middle Class, Dreaming in Middletown, pp. 27-61

Michael Taft (1993) “Syncretizing Sound: The Emergence of Canadian Popular Music,” in The Beaver Bites Back? American Popular Culture in Canada, pp. 197-208

Book Review #7

Peter Martin (2006) Music and the Sociological Gaze

Week 8 Critical Theorists

Tia DeNora (2003) “New Methods and Classic Concerns,” in After Adorno: Rethinking Music Sociology, pp. 35-58

Nick Prior (2011), “Critique and Renewal in the Sociology of Music: Bourdieu and Beyond,” in Cultural Sociology, volume 5, pp. 121-138

Book Review #8

Brian Longhurst (2007) Popular Music and Society

Week 9 Gender

Sheila Whiteley (2000) “Wonderful World, Beautiful People: the 1960s’ Counter Culture and Its Ideological Relationship to Women,” in Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity and Subjectivity, pp. 22-31

Gwendolyn Pough (2004) “(Re)constructing Womanhood: Black Women’s Narratives in Hip-Hop Culture,” in Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere, pp. 103-126

Book Review #9

Roy Shuker (2008) Understanding Popular Music Culture

Week 10 Authenticity

Philip Auslander (1996) “Liveness: Performance and the Anxiety of Simulation,” in Performance and Cultural Politics, edited by Elin Diamond, pp. 196-213

Bakari Kitwana (2005) “Do White Boys Want to be Black?” in Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes and the New Reality of Race in America, pp. 13-106

Book Review #10

David Brackett, editor (2005) The Pop, Rock and Soul Reader

Week 11 Bad Music

Simon Frith (2004) “What is Bad Music?” in Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate, edited by Christopher Washburne and Maiken Derno, pp. 15-38

Kevin Dettmar and William Richey (1999) “Musical Cheese: The Appropriation of Seventies Music in Nineties Movies,” in Reading Rock and Roll: Authenticity, Appropriation, Aesthetics, pp. 311-326

Book Review #11

Andy Bennett, Barry Shank and Jason Toynbee, editors (2006) The Popular Music Studies Reader

Week 12 Music Videos

Nicholas Cook (1998) “Introduction: Music and Meaning in the Commercials,” in Analysing Musical Multimedia, pp. 3-23

Kip Pegley “Multiculturalism, Diversity and Containment,” in Coming to You Wherever You Are: MuchMusic, MTV, and Youth Identities, pp. 70-87

Book Review #12

Murray Foreman and Mark Anthony Neal, editors (2006) That’s the Joint: the Hip-Hop Studies Reader

Week 13 The Historiography of Popular Music

Andrea Bergamini (2000) Masters of Music: The History of Rock Music (a children’s book)

Peter Van Der Mere (1989) “The Riddle of the Twelve-Bar Blues,” in Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music, pp. 213-286

Book Review #13

Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois, editors (2010) The Anthology of Rap

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