Film Genres and Styles: Music Video


ENGLISH 5060/7053

Winter 2020
Monday and Wednesday, 2:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Web address for this page:

Steven Shaviro ( or

5057 Woodward, Room 9309
Office hours: Monday & Wednesday, 12:30 - 1:30 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, predominantly English-language ones in the musical genres of rock, pop, r&b, and hip hop. We will approach these videos from a variety of perspectives. We will consider – among other things – the complex transmedia relations between musical and visual presentation, the formal and technological 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. We will trace the history of music videos over the past forty years, and also look at the ways that music videos relate to particular musical genres, and at the video output both of major musical artists and of particular directors.

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 (15 minutes including discussion), and a final research paper (2500 words for undergraduates; 4000 words for graduate students).
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%. Attendance will be taken regularly, and points will be deducted for more than 4 non-excused absences.
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

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. Or, as the philosopher Robin James puts it: “Because pop music has always been a realm for pushing boundaries, testing limits, and subcultures breaking through mainstream notions of propriety, the songs and videos we study in this course will be chock full of every kind of so-called ‘offensive’ content you can imagine. There’s ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,’ there’s cursing, there’s gross videos, there’s blasphemy, there’s sexism, racism, and homophobia, you name it, it’s probably here somewhere.” Classroom discussion of these videos does not necessarily imply endorsement of the views expressed within them. My expectation is that we can look seriously and thoughtfully at this material, and do so in non-confrontational and non-polarizing ways. Even when offensive words are sung or spoken in the videos, we can discuss them without using these words ourselves.



In what follows, I give the general theme for each week, and list a number of readings (more readings will be added in the course of the semester).

Most of the music videos that we discuss will be watched in class; but I ask you to watch, in advance, the works that are listed and linked in the syllabus (these are either longer-form works, or videos for which our discussion will be especially intensive). It is your responsibility to track down, and watch online, any videos that you miss in class.

On a separate page, I will keep an updated list of all the videos that are actually screened in class.

January 6/8
Introduction. Prehistory of music video. Early music videos.
Carol Vernallis, Experiencing Music Video, Chapter 1: “Telling and Not Telling”.
Mathias Bonde Korsgaard, Music Video After MTV, Chapter 1: “Defining Music Video”

January 13/15
MTV in the 1980s.
Michel Chion, “Television, Video Art, Music Video”
E. Ann Kaplan, “History, the Historical Spectator and Gender Address in Music Television”

January 22
Methodologies for studying music videos.
Beyoncé, Pretty Hurts
Carol Vernallis, “How to analyze a music video”
Rihanna, Pour It Up
Melissa Bradshaw, “All I See is Controversy”
“Sound Off: Black Women Writers Respond to Pour It Up”
“Rihanna on My Mind: Chatting About the Pour It Up Video”
Lorde, Green Light

January 27/29
Major 1980s artists: Michael Jackson, Madonna.
Kobena Mercer, “Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller

February 3/5
MTV in the 1990s.

February 10/12
Music video auteurs (1): Hype Williams, Chris Cunningham.

February 17/19
Music video auteurs (2): Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Floria Sigismondi.
Carol Vernallis & Hanna Ueno, “Interview with Floria Sigismondi”

February 24/26
Major 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?"

March 2/4
Into the 21st century. From cable television to YouTube.

March 16
Digital technologies and music video.
Mathias Bonde Korsgaard, “Music Video Transformed”

March 18: NO CLASS
Use this time to work on your second short paper.

March 23/25
Major 21st century artists: Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey.
Beyoncé, Lemonade (full “visual album”).
Readings TBA from The Lemonade Reader.

March 30/April 1
Major 21st century artists: Rihanna, Kanye West.
Kanye West, Runaway (“full-length film”).
Stan Hawkins, “Aesthetics and Hyperembodiment in Pop Videos”
Robin James, “Melancholic Damage”

April 6/8:
Major 21st century artists: Janelle Monáe, FKA twigs, Tierra Whack, Moses Sumney.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer (full “emotion picture”).
Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer Music Video/Film: A Collective Reading.
Tierra Whack, Whack World

April 13/15:
Music video auteurs (3): Joseph Kahn, Hiro Murai, Grant Singer, Allie Avital.

April 20:
New developments.


###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
- Roger Beebe and Jason Middleton, eds., Medium Cool : Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones
- Andrew Goodwin, Dancing in the Distraction Factory
- E. Ann Kaplan, Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture
- Simon Frith, Andrew Goodwin, and Lawrence Grossberg, eds., Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader
- John Richardson, claudia Gorbman, and Carol Vernallis, eds., The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics
- Carol Vernallis, Unruly Media: Youtube, Music Video, and the New Digital Camera
- Laurie Burns and Stan Hawkins, eds., The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Video Analysis .

Grade Appeals:
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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