Evaluating Music as Cultural Critique

Consider songs you have heard—and perhaps strongly like or dislike—that make some sort of social commentary. We have already discussed Sublime’s “April 29th, 1992”; it is often suggested that the song criticizes police racism and rampant poverty, and advocates a grass-roots revolution (through crime); people vary widely in whether they agree or disagree with the song’s claim(s) as they see them. For this essay you will evaluate a different socially-critical song.

An evaluation essay includes a brief summary of the subject being evaluated, but its central idea is a JUDGEMENT about the subject (is the song’s message good or bad? Do you agree or disagree with it?) and a JUSTIFICATION for that judgement (why is it good or bad? For whom? Why do you agree or disagree?)

The song you choose does not need to be overtly political; many songs make some sort of claim about race, class, gender, or sexuality. It is important that you feel strongly about the song one way or another and want to spend time carefully analyzing its lyrics. Please attach a copy of the song lyrics to the back of your essay to help the reader follow along.  Once you have chosen a song, consider 1) whether you know enough about the topic and 2) whether you already have a settled judgement about its message.

If you do not yet have a judgement about the song’s message, develop and test one and to come up with a working thesis about your song. The thesis must be arguable (takes a position on the song’s message) and specific (lists reasons for the judgement).

After you have developed an arguable and specific thesis, the majority of the essay will be spent supporting it by analyzing carefully-chosen DETAILS from the song. YOUR ESSAY MUST CONSTANTLY REFERENCE THE SONG’S LYRICS RATHER THAN SOLELY RELYING ON GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT SOCIETY. Just as you would use details such as plot, theme, dialogue, word choice, characterization, etc. from a movie or book to support an argument about that movie or book, your argument will not hold water unless you show the reader how the song demonstrates your thesis. Song details will definitely include lyrics, but may also address such elements as rhythm, vocals, tone/mood, instrumentals, harmony/dissonance, genre, allusion, etc.

In grading this essay, I will again look in particular for an “irresistible” introduction using one of the methods we discussed in class: CDSO, hypothetical situation, or epigraph.

Rough Draft Requirements:
At least 1 full page, formatted in Word as a .doc or .docx
Typed in 12-point standard font and double-spaced with one-inch margins–see MLA Essay Format (8th Edition) (Links to an external site.)
An irresistible introduction–see Irresistible Introductions Powerpoint
A clear, specific, and arguable thesis statement derived from a semiotic analysis of the ad
Offer support (provide evidence) for your claim by carefully analyzing details (lyrics) from the song
Edited and proofread (typos/ carelessness will reduce your grade)
Give your essay a title
You are NOT required to conduct research for this essay; if you choose to do so, you must cite your sources correctly using MLA format

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