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The Social Power of Popular Music - MUS00184C

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  • Department: Music
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alice Masterson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

This module will introduce the socio-musicological study of popular music. Dividing the sessions into critical musicological topics (including identity, gender, authenticity, and politics), we will explore the extent of pop’s social power.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The difficulties that Donald Trump has faced finding musicians willing to let him use their music at his political rallies demonstrates the delicate relationship between music and social and political issues. Indeed, when pop superstar Rihanna tweeted that ‘[neither] me nor my people would ever be at around one of those tragic rallies’ upon learning that Trump had been playing her hit ‘Please Don’t Stop the Music’ on the campaign trail in 2018, she separated her and her fans into a distinct social group that rejects the POTUS’ politics. How have popular music consumption and social and political identities become so intertwined? Through use of case studies, this module will explore a number of social issues and their relation to pop music, with particular focus on identity and resistance. Interdisciplinary by its nature, the social study of popular music will also introduce students to theories from the fields of sociology and cultural studies. Case studies are deliberately broad, including a wide range of dates, countries, and genres, to demonstrate how the theories studied may be applied to a number of contexts.

What does the term ‘popular music’ actually mean, and how might we approach studying it? How do audiences use pop music consumption to define their individual identities, and how does this branch out into collective identity? How does popular music reinforce or resist norms surrounding gender and sexuality? What role has popular music played in protest movements around the world? How and why do audiences perceive authenticity as important, and can true authenticity ever really be achieved? Why do the deaths of prominent musicians cause such widespread grief from people who have never met them? These questions will all be addressed through seminars, group discussions, and practical exercises.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should:

  • Demonstrate familiarity with the ways in popular music and its consumption interact with the broader social world;

  • Have further developed their knowledge of critical musicological topics including reception theory, gender, and authenticity;

  • Be able to evaluate the ways in which individuals construct individual and collective identities for themselves and perform them both to themselves and to others through consumption of popular music;

  • Have engaged critically and meaningfully with some of the key texts on popular music scholarship;

  • Be able to devise their own examples and subsequent analysis of appropriate musical repertoire and its relevance to its social and political context.

On completion of this module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate learning outcomes A1-6


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Assessment is through an essay of approximately 4000 words, on an appropriate topic of the student’s choice agreed in tutorial.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Report form with marks to student within the standard turnaround period.

Indicative reading

  • Auslander, Philip. ‘Musical Personae.’ The Drama Review 50 (Spring 2006) 1: 100 – 119.

  • Barker, Hugh and Yuval Taylor. Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. NY: W. W. Norton & Company Inc.: 2007.

  • Frith, Simon. Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

  • Moore, Allan. Analyzing Popular Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

  • Reynolds, Simon and Joy Press. The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock ‘n’ Roll. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1995.

  • Shuker, Roy. Popular music: the key concepts. Fourth edition. London: Routledge, 2017.

  • Whiteley, Sheila, Andy Bennett, and Stan Hawkins, ed. Music, Space and Place: Popular Music and Cultural Identity. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.