Prerequisites: none, although some experience singing or playing a music instrument would be a distinct advantage.


This course is designed to introduce you to the study of Popular Music in an academic setting.  Following in the steps of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, England, universities and colleges around the world have initiated progressive and comprehensive programs devoted to a close look at culture in the public realm, usually described as “popular”.  Popular music, like pop culture in general, offers a window into the minds and hearts of several generations of people from the fifties to the present, although its roots can be found throughout music history, often in a form once labelled folk music. The study of popular music brings a fresh perspective to the traditional canon of aesthetics as laid out by the academics and cognoscenti of the last 100 years.

Students are introduced to several theoretical frameworks of analysis and examination drawn from cultural studies, sociology and critical theory. The course will also look behind the veil of media hype to the mechanisms that create mass markets and sales.  There will be excursions into the World Music market to assess the effects of the West on the Rest, expressed either as hybridity or cultural grey-out.  The role of videos and karaoke will be examined to see how they effect the appreciation and understanding of popular music among modern-day consumers. And finally, three widely different topics will be presented to bring depth to the appreciation of Popular Music Studies – the guitar, the Beatles, and rap.

Student volunteers provide a major component of the course in the form of presentations that will consist of the latest or retro trends that they are currently enjoying.

WebCT Connect

Aside from the lectures and the listening tests, all the components of the course can be accessed online from anywhere via WebCT Connect (the successor to Vista), using your WCL (Campus Wide Login) password and username. This ease of access includes the two written exams which are made available in a one-day window of opportunity per exam, at the middle and end of the course term. After logging in, one time only, each student can write the exam during a three-hour window of opportunity. Also, the reading journals, presentation or ethnography will be submitted online. In theory, this class is almost paper-less. In many cases, marks are issued instantly after assessments, via your individual account on the WebCT M403J website.

Course Requirements

Presentation or Ethnography 29 %
Mid-term and End-of-Term Exams (20 % each) 40 %
Reading Journal (22 readings) 11 %
Mid-term and End-of-Term Listening Exam (10 % each) 20 %

The School of Music expects the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, the School of Music will follow policy with respect to “Intellectual Honesty,” and “Academic Discipline”. (See the current general calendar.)

Required Readings

Students are asked to purchase a courseware package from the UBC bookstore.

Lecture Schedule

Each “week” consists of two classes.

Week 1 Course Introduction

Objectives: To learn about the expectations and requirements of the course, as well as the key concepts that are central to the study of popular music.

Topics: Reflexivity, Triangulation, Hook, Culture Vulture, CanCon (Canadian Content)

Recommended movie: School of Rock (2003)

Week 2 Sexuality

Objectives: To investigate some of the most contentious issues about sexuality in popular music and discover how popular music studies articulates its dilemmas.

Topics: mojo, hokum, puritans, misogyny, misandry, three waves of feminism, masculism, gaze

Recommended movie: Kinsey (2004)

Week 3 Adorno and “the masses”

Objectives: To discover the influential theories of Theodor Adorno, perhaps the most important and certainly the most controversial commentator on popular music.

Topics : Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, Culture Industry, Propaganda, Mass Communication, Mass Culture, Critical Theory, Pseudo-individualisation, Frankfurt School (Institute of Social Research), Modernism, Tribalism, Humbug, Theodor Adorno, Edward Bernays

Recommended documentary: The Cola Conquest

Week 4 Hegemony and Resistance

Objectives: To discover the forces of the marketplace and learn about some of the strategies that have been devised to understand and resist them.

Topics: Hegemony, Ideology, Neo-Marxism, Neo-colonialism,

Recommended movie: The Runaways (2010)

Week 5 Canadian Popular Music:
Identity and Resistance

Objectives: To investigate the problems that Canadian producers and performers of popular music must confront as they compete for the attention in the global and local market place. Also, to learn how many Canadian popular musicians incorporate personal expressions of Canadian identity while participating in the global discourse.

Topics: MAPL (music, artist, lyrics, performance), CRTC radio regulations, Marshall McLuhan

Recommended movie: Hardcore Logo (1996, or anything else by Bruce MacDonald)

Week 6 Globalisation and Hybridity

Objectives: To understand the globalisation of popular music with particular reference to the East Asian (especially Taiwanese) popular music marketplace.

Topics: Globalisation, Cultural diversity, Grey-out (homogenisation), Hybridity, Holistic, Other, Diaspora

Recommended movie: The Heavenly Kings (2006, a mockumentary)

Week 7 Music and the Everyday:
High and Low

Objectives: To explore the collapse of the difference between High and Low Cultures.

Topics: Vernacular culture, Cultural Studies, Hyphenated Canadians, CCCS (the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, aka the Birmingham School), High Art and Low Art, Everyman, Langue (grammar) and Parole (use) (Ferdinand de Saussure), Karaoke, Session, Musicking, DIY (do it yourself), Kitsch, Dumbing down, LCD (lowest common denominator), Cultural Relativity, Michel de Certeau

Recommended Documentary: Polka Time (2003, PBS Online via YouTube)

Week 8 Authenticity: Real or Imagined

Objectives: To understand the complex issues involved in the perception of an authentic music performance in popular music.

Topics: Markers (identifiers), Binary opposites, Deconstruction, Socialisation, Symbolic Interaction, Strategic Interaction, Dramaturgy, Compartmentalisation, Performativity, Liminality, Flow, Peak Experience, George Herbert Mead, Erving Goffman, Victor Turner

Recommended Movie: Pleasantville (1998)

Week 9 The Guitar

Objectives : To discover the complex and historical interplay of the musical role of the guitar as it moves back and forth from one world, Western Art Music, to its opposite, Popular Music.

Topics: Rasqueado (strumming), Punteado (plucking), Cittern, Parlour music, Portamento, Guitar Slide Ring (bottleneck), Pick up (transducer), Les Paul, Leo Fender, Telecaster, Stratocaster, Sul ponticello, Sul tasto, Hum, Humbucker, Whammy bar, Wah pedal, Riff, Break, Basso Continuo, Figured Bass, Tab(lature)

Recommended Movie: Crossroads (1986)

Week 10 Music Videos

Objectives: To discover the many avenues of expression represented by popular music videos.

Topics: Psychodrama, Schizophonia, Diagetic, Nondiagetic, Mickey-Mousing, Invisibility, Inaudibility, Leitmotif (unity device), FACT (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent), Facsimile music video, Simulacrum, Representational music video, Claudia Gorbman

Recommended movie: This Movie is Broken (2010)

Week 11 The Beatles

Objectives: To assess the influence of the Beatles as the greatest rock and roll band in the history of popular music

Topics: Fandom, moral panic, tribalism, misrule (transgression) Mikhail Bakhtin, skiffle, Malcolm Gladwell, wall of sound, Phil Spector, concept album, money chords

Recommended Movie: A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Week 12 Rap

Objectives: To determine if Rap can be appreciated using the lens of Western Art Music, in terms of theory and history

Topics: Beat Poetry, minstrelsy, Sprechstimme, wiggers, nerdcore

Recommended movie: Fort Apache, The Bronx (1986)

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