American Popular Music

Module code: W3075
Level 5
15 credits in spring semester
Teaching method: Seminar, Lecture
Assessment modes: Coursework

This module examines the historical, social and cultural contexts of American popular music, focussing predominantly on the USA. Emphasis is placed on popular genres and styles of the twentieth century, the period in which the USA took on a dominant role in the creation and spread of popular culture across the globe.

As well as charting this growth in dominance, the module analyses popular music as representative ‘people’s music’. Genres and styles – including the blues, jazz, country, soul, funk, punk, disco, hip hop and grunge – are used to read aspects of change and continuity in the American twentieth century. Rather than providing a simple chronological history of musical styles in the USA, the module uses the music to examine concepts of race, place, tradition, commerce and authenticity. The music industry is analysed in terms of American business models, and recording and revival are explored as ways of thinking about representation, commercialization and exceptionalism.

Vital socio-historical moments, such as the emergence of rock and roll and the use of music in the civil rights era, are studied alongside the ‘invention’ of the teenager and the rise of a counterculture. The module concludes with a series of reflections on the various soundscapes associated with America and with the notion of multiple Americas audible through the myriad of non-Anglophone genres that exist within North America.

Module learning outcomes

  • Identify and describe a range of American popular music genres, and their relationship to the socio-historical context of the 20th century.
  • Analyse and critically evaluate texts, including musical recordings.
  • Apply a range of concepts, theories and approaches introduced in the module to explore cultural and musical aspects of American popular music.
  • Demonstrate skill in developing a written argument by selection of appropriate illustrative examples.