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Beyoncé, Protest, and Popular Music

ENGL 200.306
MW 5-6:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

A few years ago, few would associate pop icon Beyoncé with the word “protest.” However, lately, she has built a brand infusing her music with political statements—from staging her 2014 VMA performance in front of a “FEMINIST” LED display to drowning a police car in 2016’s “Formation” video.  This course will examine the stakes of this political turn and its place in a long lineage of American musicians protesting through song.


The class will also take a closer look at Beyoncé’s career to question how gender and race circulate in contemporary popular music. How does Beyoncé’ invoke the long-standing and linked oppressions of race and gender in projects like Lemonade (2016)?  For context, we will read histories of race, gender, and the American music industry such as Angela Davis’s Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (1999) and Ruth Feldstein’s How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement (2013). We will then examine Beyoncé’s five studio albums in conversation with critical pieces from academic journals and publications such as Rolling Stone, The Feminist Wire, The Nation, and the New York Times.


Short assignments will consist of performance responses, oral presentations, and critical album reviews. We will also explore the archives in Penn’s Ormandy Music Center. The course will culminate in research projects where students choose another musical artist and examine the cultural poetics of that artist’s work.