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Music lessons: University courses on Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé take over campus
By SP_COP on April 23, 2014 | From metro.co.uk
Wise words there from We Can’t Stop, the huge hit single from last year by singer Miley Cyrus.

Those lyrics will resonate with any undergraduate who’s ever enjoyed a late night, so perhaps it makes sense that they should study them as well as live by them.

One university in New York state backs that logic, announcing that it will run a course called The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media to its students this summer.

Rather than a step-by-step guide on how to twerk, the course at Skidmore College will offer students a ‘creative and rigorous way of looking at what’s relevant about sociology and sociology theory’, according to Professor Carolyn Chernoff.

Miley’s persona as a ‘hyper-commodification of childhood’ and her recent rebranding will all be up for discussion at the liberal arts college in Saratoga.
Skidmore College isn’t the first institution to offer courses which allow students to analyse and ponder some of the biggest names in music.

At Rutgers University in New Jersey, two of those names are already on the syllabus. One module, Bruce Springsteen’s Theology, allows students to look at the use of biblical motifs in the music of The Boss. Another, Politicising Beyoncé, announced at the beginning of this year, will also focus on song lyrics, comparing the singer’s output with texts by feminist black writers.

If you prefer an academic delve into the work of Beyoncé’s husband, then you might want to enrol at the University of Missouri, which offers the course, English 2169: Jay-Z and Kanye West. Most college students have 99 problems… but an extension on their essay isn’t one.

However, while we may gain a better understanding of culture by exploring the popularity of certain celebrities, can the words of a pop song ever be that important? Some of Beyoncé’s lyrics might well be in stark contrast to the musings of certain feminist writers. An example? A half-rhyme from her single, Blow, released at the end of last year, in which she asks: ‘Can you eat my Skittles/It’s the sweetest in the middle’.

But PhD student Kevin Allred, who teaches the Politicising Beyoncé course, believes her lyrics and attitude say more about society than we might realise. ‘I use Beyoncé to discuss race, gender and sexuality in the US because her cultural influence is so pervasive,’ he said.

‘As one of the most powerful black women in pop culture today, what she does says something about the ways we see sex, gender and race as categories operating in society. I firmly believe that you have to make your material interesting to students to engage them, especially in today’s changing technological world, or else you risk them being unable to relate and thus deem the material important.

‘And these issues are still around and still touching everyone’s lives, so to study them we also have to look at ourselves, and I think pop culture helps us do that.’

Understanding the role of established artists might well offer an insight into certain aspects of society, but when it comes to Miley Cyrus, how much can we really learn from a 21-year-old with a penchant for twerking?

However, it’s not what Cyrus can teach us but what her popularity says about today’s society that counts for sociology students.

‘By understanding, for example, One Direction or Richard Hawley, we get interesting case studies related to the authenticities of any era,’ said Dr Michael Brocken, senior lecturer in music at Liverpool Hope University, and the figure behind the world’s first ever Master’s degree related to the city’s most celebrated music export – The Beatles, Popular Music and Society.

‘Conversely, if we take a look at industries, subcultures, fandom and audiences we can see how certain styles and images emerge. Popular culture is a fascinating way of understanding life around us.’

Those who question the relevance of a course about the Beatles will certainly be given short shrift by its creator. ‘That’s like a Liverpudlian saying, “What have The Beatles ever done for us?”’ He added: ‘The answer might be: Only helped re-invent the city during one of its direst periods and brought effective labour to the city.’

In 2000, Staffordshire University introduced a Football Culture course, which included an exploration of David Beckham’s role within the sport in terms of branding and merchandise.

Ellis Cashmore, the professor of culture, media and sport who introduced it, said it used football as a ‘prism through which to analyse issues such as globalisation, racism, gender, violence, corporatisation and celebrity culture’....
Read Complete Story (metro.co.uk)
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