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COURSE NAME: "The Music Video: From Popular Music to Film, Video and Digital Media"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2021

INSTRUCTOR: Peter Sarram
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 3:00 PM 4:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: COM 220 recommended
OFFICE HOURS: by appointment

Since its emergence in the late 1970s, the music video has become the dominant means of advertising popular music and musicians, as well as one of the most influential hybrid media genres in history. In sampling and reworking a century’s worth of films and other pop culture artifacts (as well as art objects and concepts), music videos have affected aesthetic style in a wide range of film and television genres, introducing experimental and avant-garde techniques to a mass audience while influencing artistic and aesthetic movements in their own right. This course will investigate the ways in which popular (recorded) music and visual cultures have reciprocally influenced one another. Music videos will be examined alongside various other media forms including videogames, live concert films, film and television music placement and curation, television title sequences and end credits, user generated content on YouTube, remixes, and mashups. The course will take a particular look at experimental, avant-garde film and video traditions and how they inform music video. Ultimately, the course will specifically treat music videos as a distinct multimedia artistic genre, different from film, television and the popular recorded music they illuminate and help sell.


The course will have a double trajectory: introduce students to the ways in which popular music and visual media have crossed paths to create specific genres/modes of expression that are contextually situated (ie. exist at specific historical moments marked by specific technological and cultural conjunctures), as well as identify the verbal, musical and visual codes –the complex interactions of narrative, settings, props, costumes, lyrics and more-- that combine in music videos to create defining representations of social identities (race, class, gender, sexuality and performance) and ideologies. The course will highlight the industrial, technological and cultural determinants which impact upon the textuality as well as the production and consumption of this form of audiovisual media. In contrast to conventional film musicals, the course will focus on those audiovisual forms where the textual predominance of the musical material is clear, where the texts exist in function of the music. 


This course will encourage students to analyze media phenomena in a manner that is theoretically grounded, context-specific, and historically situated, as articulated objects constituted in and through communication. By the end of the course students will be able to engage a variety of critical methodologies for the analysis of music videos and their often-conflicting images, sounds and messages. They will also explore the ways in which the production and reception dynamics of the media process shape meaning. Through readings, discussion, written assignments and screenings students will learn to utilize a number of analytical approaches to the form’s visual and auditory materials and will apply these analytical skills to a wide variety of music influenced media. 

The course will be run as a seminar. Students are highly encouraged to cultivate their own perspectives on the issues raised in the assigned readings, those they encounter as part of their own research and interests and those raised by others during class discussion. There will be regular screenings during class time as well as required viewing outside of the classroom. At least two feature length films will be screened outside of class time. Students are responsible for the materials missed due to unexcused absences.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural ContextCarol VernallisColumbia University Press978-0231117999 Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context Carol Vernallis Columbia University Press 978-0231117999

Two Short Papers 10% each
Weekly Reflection 10%
Final Analysis Paper  25%
Midterm 15%
Final Exam 20%
Attendance and Participation 10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Course Schedule:


1.     Introduction to Music Video; Terms and Analysis


Reading: EMV, 3 - 53.


2.     Avant-Garde and Experimental Film


Reading: EMV, 54 - 98.


3.     Concert Films

Video Stars in Music Films/Film Stars in Music Videos

Reading: EMV, 99 - 108.


4.     Video Art and Early MTV

Scopitones, Electronovision and Video Technology Experimentation

Settings, Props, and Costumes

Reading: EMV, 109 - 136.


5.     MTV I

Lyrics and Music

Reading: EMV, 137 - 155


6.     MTV II

Color, Texture, Space, and Time

Reading: EMV, 156 - 174.


7.     MTV III: Auteur Directors, Film Soundtrack Videos, New Country, New New Pop;

Linking Music, Image, and Lyrics

Reading: EMV, 175 - 20 8.


8.     The Digital Revolution: YouTube and User Generated Content

Long Form Music Videos


Reading: Carol Vernallis, “YouTube Aesthetics,” in Unruly Media: YouTube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema, (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Cayari, C. (2011). “The YouTube effect: How YouTube has provided new

ways to consume, create, and share music.” International Journal of Education & the Arts, 12(6).


9.     Post - Classical Cinema


Reading: Carol Vernalis, “The Audiovisual Turn and Post - Classical Cinema,” in Unruly Media: YouTube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema (Oxford, 20 13), 42 - 68.


10.  Live Concert Videos

Video Games


Reading: D - Fuse, VJ: Audio - Visual Art and V.J. Culture (Laurence King, 2007), 3 - 48.

Karen Collins, “Game Audio Today: Technology, Process, and Aesthetic,” in Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), pp. 85 - 106.


11.  Guitar Hero, Performativity, Animation and Virtual Bands


Reading: Kiri Miller, “How Musical is Guitar Hero?, ” in Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 85 - 124.

John Richardson, “The Surrealism of Virtual Band Gorillaz: “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.,” in An Eye for Music: Popular Music and the Audiovisual Surreal, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 201 - 239.


12.  Television Title Sequences, End Credits and Music Placements


Reading: Ramsay Adams, David Hnatiuk, and David Weiss, Music Supervision: Selecting Music for Movies, TV, Games, and New Media ì. New York: Schirmer, 2005.

Jeremy G, Butler, Television: Critical Methods and Applications , 4th Ed., (NY: Routledge, 2012), 325 - 356.


13.  Small Screens, Web. 2.0 and the Future of the Music Video


Reading: Carol Vernallis, “Music Video’s Second Aesthetic?,” in Unruly Media: YouTube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema, (Oxford University Press, 2013).


14.  Visual Albums, Celebrity and Social Strategies to Stardom


Screening Event: Tierra Whack, Whack World

Beyoncé, Lemonade

Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer

Frank Ocean, Endless