Film Genres and Styles: Music Video



Fall 2014
Monday and Wednesday, 12:50 pm - 3:40 pm
State Hall 326

Web address for this page:

Steven Shaviro ( or )

5057 Woodward, Room 9309
Office hours: Monday & Wednesday, 11:40 am - 12:40 pm, and by appointment

Music videos are a relatively recent media form. Film shorts portraying musical performances have been made since the 1930s, and video clips advertising or featuring popular music were made starting in the 1950s. But music videos as we know them today date only to the establishment of MTV in 1981. Since then, music videos have proliferated, first on cable television, and more recently on YouTube and other websites. In this class, we will look at the history and formal variety of music videos from a number of perspectives. We will consider -- among other things -- the complex transmedia relations between musical and visual presentation, the formal experiments often made in music videos, the development of musical performers as celebrities, and the ways that music videos often foreground questions of race and ethnicity, and of sex and gender.

By the end of the course, successful students should be able to:
1. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of music videos.
2. Demonstrate expertise in close reading, analysis, and argument.
3. Think creatively and generate fresh perspectives.
4. Conduct advanced research by developing a research question; locating, evaluating, and integrating primary and secondary resources; and placing project in the context of relevant scholarship.
5. Write with fluency, clarity, and style.

Two short papers (1000 words), an in-class presentation (20 minutes including discussion), and a final research paper (2500 words).
Short papers: Each of them should be a close reading of a single music video.
In-class presentation: Present a music video to the class: screen the video, offer a close reading, and lead class discussion.
Final paper: This should be a research paper on some aspect of music video history, theory, or artistic vision. Topics to be chosen in consultation with me.
Each short paper counts for 20% of the final grade; the long paper counts for 40% of the final grade; the in-class presentation, plus general participation in class discussions, counts for the final 20%. Points may be deducted for non-attendance.
I ask that all papers be turned in on time; if this is impossible, be sure to speak to me about it before the due date.
Papers should be submitted electronically; email the files to me at .
Graduate students taking this class for graduate credit must participate in class discussions and do the same assignments as the undergradutes; however, their final research paper should be longer (4000 words).

One textbook is required for this class:
Carol Vernallis, Experiencing Music Video ("EMV").
It is available at the Wayne State Barnes and Noble.
It is also available electronically through Wayne State Library
Other readings will be available electronically, or on reserve in the library.
Audivisual material -- music videos and a few films -- will be watched in class. It is your responsibility to track down, and watch online, any videos that you miss in class.

The music videos that we watch and discuss in this class sometimes contain explicit sexual and violent images, and offensive, obscene, racist, and sexist language. I think that it is important to screen and analyze these videos nonetheless, because they are an important part of contemporary culture. Serious classroom discussion of these videos does not necessarily imply endorsement of the views expressed within them, and discussion in this class will take place in non-confrontational and non-polarizing ways.

In what follows, I give the general theme for each week, and list readings (and the two feature films that we will be watching in class). For individual videos, I will keep an updated list of all the videos actually screened in class.

August 27

September 3
Prehistory of music video.
A Hard Day's Night (dir. Richard Lester, starring The Beatles, 1964).
EMV, chapter 1.
Saul Austerlitz, "Introduction" to Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from the Beatles to the White Stripes.

September 8/10
Basics of music video.
EMV, chapters 2, 3, 4, 5.
Michel Chion, "Television, Video Art, Music Video"
"Andrew Goodwin's Six Features of Music Videos"

September 15/17
MTV in the 1980s.
EMV, chapters 6, 7.
E. Ann Kaplan, "History, the Historical Spectator and Gender Address in Music Television"
Andrew Goodwin, "From Anarchy to Chromakey" (chapter 2 of Dancing in the Distraction Factory, available electronically through Wayne State Library.

September 22/24
1980s artists: Michael Jackson, Madonna.
EMV, chapter 11.
Kobena Mercer, "Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson's Thriller"

September 29/October 1
MTV in the 1990s.
EMV, chapters 8, 9, 10.

October 6/8
Music video auteurs (1): Hype Williams, Chris Cunningham.

October 13/15
Music video auteurs (2): Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Floria Sigismondi.
Carol Vernallis & Hanna Ueno, "Interview with Floria Sigismondi"

October 20/22
1990s artists: Bjork, Missy Elliott
Theresa Renee White, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Nicki Minaj: Fashionistin' Black Female Sexuality in Hip-Hop Culture—Girl Power or Overpowered?"

October 27/29
Into the 21st century.
Mathias Bonde Korsgaard, "Music Video Transformed"

November 3/5
The Age of YouTube.
Paula Hearsum and Ian Inglis, "The Emancipation of Music Video"
Carol Vernallis, "Music Video’s Second Aesthetic?"

November 10/12
21st century artists: Beyonce, Lady Gaga.
Carol Vernallis, "Reconfiguring Music Video"
Carol Vernallis, "Beyonce's Overwhelming Opus"

November 17/19
21st century artists: Rihanna, Kanye West.
Robin James, "Robo-Diva R & B"
Stan Hawkins, "Aesthetics and Hyperembodiment in Pop Videos"
Robin James, "Melancholic Damage"
"Rihanna On My Mind"

November 24

December 1/3
Music video auteurs (3): 21st century.
Detention (Joseph Kahn, 2011).

December 8


Additional Resources

The Internet Music Video Database has information on (and links to) thousands of music videos, both new releases and older videos. The Database can be searched by musical artist or by director. It has special features on recent videos, on unusual videos, and on many classics of the genre:

Other recommended readings:
- Saul Austerlitz, Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from the Beatles to the White Stripes (on reserve in Undergraduate Library)
- Roger Beebe and Jason Middleton, eds., Medium Cool : Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones (on reserve in Undergraduate Library)
- Andrew Goodwin, Dancing in the Distraction Factory (available from the University Libraries to read online)
- E. Ann Kaplan, Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture (on reserve in Undergraduate Library)
- John Richardson, claudia Gorbman, and Carol Vernallis, eds., The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics (on reserve in Undergraduate Library)
- Carol Vernallis, Unruly Media: Youtube, Music Video, and the New Digital Camera (available from the University Libraries to read online)

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The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences stipulates that course grade appeals must be initiated within 30 days from the time the grade is posted. The English Grade Appeal Form can be obtained at the English Main Office on the 9th Floor of 5057 Woodward or by emailing Royanne Smith at More information on this process, including the limited grounds for appeal, can be found at

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