Week 11: Analysis of lyrics (F18)

Last modified on August 4, 2023

This week we’ll learn how to analyze the structure and poetry of lyrics. This goes beyond the kinds of meaning-based lyric analyses you see on sites like Genius.com and looks instead at how the lyrics are written and what kinds of subtle messages might be present there. We will learn through Lori Burns’s excellent approach, you will analyze lyrics yourself, and you will write a reflection on lyric analysis.

Due Saturday, Nov 3

Introduction to lyric analysis

Read , 154–67 (stopping at “Four Analyses”).

Concept check

Complete the Concept Check quiz on Blackboard to see if you are understanding Burns’s critical terms properly.

Reading and response

Listen to each of these songs:

Now read the analyses in , beginning on page 167.

  • Go to Blackboard and navigate to your group wiki.
  • Locate the wiki I made for you with the template already pasted in.
  • Work with your group members to edit the wiki and create document that summarizes the reading.
    • You should communicate with one another on Slack.
    • Guidelines are available here.

Due Monday, Nov 5

Analysis assignment

Using Burn’s analyses that you read as models, perform a lyric analysis of “Sorry” by Beyoncé.


    1. Listen to the song several times while looking at the lyrics.
      • If you have trouble understanding the meaning of the lyrics, feel free to look at the interpretations on Genius.com. If you click on a lyric, a sidebar will appear with various users’ interpretations.
      • Keep in mind that the info on Genius.com is crowd-sourced and are not necessarily authoritative—you may disagree, and that’s okay!
      • Looking at Genius is totally optional.
  1. Work through each step of Burns’s paradigm for lyric analysis and apply it to Sorry. This means addressing narrative agency, narrative voice, modes of contact, and listener engagement. (You will not turn this in—this is your own personal work.)
  2. Using Figure 7.2 as a guide, create a succinct outline that directly addresses each aspect of Figure 7.2. Who is the implied author, narrator, etc.? Addressing the agency of the implied author, what is the implied author’s sensibility, values, ideologies? Addressing the voice of the narrator, what is the narrator’s status, identity, etc. etc. etc.
  3. Finally, write a short paragraph similar to the “Interpretive Summary” at the end of each of Burns’s analyses, which highlights the most interesting aspects of your analysis and creates a coherent interpretation.


  • You will be assessed on the following concepts:
    • Understanding of implied author and agency
    • Understanding of narrator and voice
    • Understanding of narratee and modes of contact
    • Understanding of implied reader and listener engagement
  • You will be given detailed feedback through the rubric. Click “View rubric” in the gradebook to access this.
  • Assignments are always graded pass/fail, with a threshold of 70% to pass.


  • Submit both your outline and your interpretive paragraph.
  • Submit your assignment on Blackboard.
  • Upload your assignment as a .pdf attachment. Please do not use other file types.

Due Wednesday, Nov 7

Reflection post

A big issue that recurs in pop music scholarship is the notion of “authenticity.” Authenticity is a trait that is prized in many pop genres. Country, rap, folk, rock, metal—the list goes on and on, and includes a wide diversity of genres, if not close to all of them. When an artist is presumed to be “authentic,” one might likewise presume that the lyrics of the songs are autobiographical, authentic representations of themselves.

Burns raises this issue at the outset of her chapter, and states that it is “vastly oversimplifying” to approach lyrics in this way. This is why her apparatus moves the “real author” outside of her framework altogether—it is unhelpful to worry about what the author really meant, because this is ultimately unknowable (think back to our first class on intertextuality and Barthes’s The Death of the Author).

Write a 250-word reflection of your analysis of Beyoncé’s “Sorry” and how your process intersected (or didn’t intersect) with the issue of authenticity. Some questions to get your mind energized: How much was your process informed by your knowledge of Beyoncé’s “real life” (as much as anyone knows her “real life”)? To what degree do you see this work as authentic? How much of Beyoncé’s image do you perceive as being authentic, and how much is managed—and who does this managing?


      • Go to Blackboard and navigate to Reflection Journals (on the sidebar).
      • Click the appropriate link for this week.
      • Click “Create journal entry” and paste your text directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.


If articles are not available online, you should be able to find them in the Readings folder.

Burns, Lori. 2010. “Vocal Authority and Listener Engagement: Musical and Narrative Expressive Strategies in the Songs of Female Pop-Rock Artists, 1993–95.” In Sounding Out Pop: Analytical Essays in Popular Music, edited by Mark Spicer and John Covach, 154–92. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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