This course explores the intersection between popular music and politics. It starts from the premise that ‘the political’ is a site of contestation whose parameters are constantly being rearticulated by multiple cultural practices, including music.
Three limitations provide the course with a coherent focus. First, while the historical relationship of music and politics extends back to (at least) ancient Greek tragedy, the subject matter is limited to contemporary, i.e. post-World War Two music. Second, while many late 20th century classical, avant-garde and jazz artists have engaged with politics, the course focuses on ‘popular’ music, broadly defined. Third, while music has often been deployed in the service of state power, the onus is on music associated with political movements that have sought to challenge established orders.
The course, then, explores popular music as a conduit for, expression by which, and manifestation of political struggle, protest and contestation.
Whereas it is standard to focus on the popular music/politics nexus exclusively with respect to US and UK experiences this course has a broader purview, exploring this dynamic within and between societies and cultures across the world.
The course also explores the music/politics relationship beyond the obvious messaging of political lyrics. It assumes that the politics of music are communicated through (and limited by) a complex of cultural systems – song structures, album artwork, music videos, fanzines, fashion, concert rituals, the music press, the recording industry, social media etc. which can reinforce, rearticulate and importantly distort or undermine intended political gestures or meanings.
In terms of material to be studied, while academic literature is important, students will be encouraged to listen to and think critically about songs, albums and videos as texts which either implicitly or explicitly engage or challenge the political.
Some of the substantive themes the course will address include: the contribution of folk and soul music to the US Civil Rights Movement; the struggles of Tropicália and Afrobeat with military dictatorships in Brazil and Nigeria; black consciousness in US Hip-Hop and Rap; class and race in Punk and post-punk in the UK and Europe; the feminist politics of the Riot Grrrl movement; transnational anti-globalisation music activism in Latin America and the US; the spatial politics of Electronic Dance Music; the postcolonial iterations of European Rap and Heavy Metal in the Middle East; xi K-Pop and the political economy of hybridity.