Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: (Mis)Understanding Music: Hip-Hop, Punk, and Metal

Instructor: Mika Elovaara

"There is always some kind of combination of feeling and thinking in our responses to music, some combination of emotional and intellectual elements."
-Music educator Joseph Kerman-

"[Rock] lyrics embody a set of beliefs about the self and larger society. They celebrate autonomy both in personal relationships and the larger community."-Sociologist James T. Carey-

Popular music has become almost an unavoidable part of our lives. In recent times, the cultural and economic significance of popular music has brought it more centrally into the focus of Cultural Studies (Storey, 93).

Throughout the past 50 years, critics of popular music have insisted on a cause-and-effect relationship between music lyrics and rebellious, inappropriate and indecent behavior, "charging that lyrics incite America's youth to rebel against their parents and society." Arguing that "rock/pop lyrics have undermined the moral fiber of Western civilization with their sexually crude, politically radical, and, more recently, violent content," these critics have had vast support from all kinds of groups of people from parents to politicians, from sociologists to psychologists to name a few. (Friedlander, 284).

Not unlike rock 'n' roll when it burst into contemporary culture in the 1950s, Hip-Hop, Punk and Heavy Metal have all faced strong criticism since their first beats, chords and growls hit the airwaves. Various groups of people, including politicians and musicologists, have tirelessly called into question the musical quality, morality and propriety of these genres and suggested that not only is listening to these genres a waste of time, it is also demoralizing and a sign of immaturity.

While the voices critical of popular music have not quieted down, they are now facing a perhaps stronger opposition than ever before, as Hip-Hop, Punk and Metal all have gained global popularity and have even been deemed as meaningful musical genres, representing global community among their fans and expressing the thoughts and concerns of their artists and fans to an increasing global audience. What is more, none of these genres can be called youth music anymore - they attract fans of all ages.

Students in this class will study the history and sociology of Hip-Hop, Punk and Metal through a variety of sources, from scholarly research articles and books to experiencing the music first hand. As a result of the course of study, students will gain an understanding of the history and social significance of each genre individually and hopefully, learn to find some similarities between these seemingly different genres of music.

The class structure is based on in-class discussions of assigned readings and relevant in-class and homework writing assignments. Course requirements: a course journal, a presentation, a mid-term paper, a final paper.

Tentative Reading List:

- George, Nelson: Hip Hop America

- Rose, Tricia: The Hip Hop Wars

- O'Hara, Craig: The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise(AK Press)

- Diehl, Matt: My So-Called Punk

- Weinstein, Deena: Heavy Metal - Music and its Culture

- Christe, Ian: Sound of the Beast - The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal

- Kahn-Harris, Keith: Extreme Metal

- Relevant video footage

- Selected essays and articles

- Selections of lyrics

Assessment Criteria

Reading Journal 10 %

Presentation 20 %

In-class participation 20 %

Mid-term paper: 10 - 15 pp. 25 %

Final paper: 12+ pp. 25 %

Last Update: December 11, 2009