Week 10 (Oct 28): Lyrics (F19)

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 and then you’ll do your own analysis.

Lyric analysis: Lori Burns

Introduction video

Watch my video summarizing .

Note: This video uses interactive technology. The picture-in-picture can be swapped or even viewed side-by-side. The video also uses a menu so you can quickly navigate to certain portions of the video. For more explanation, see this video from Kaltura.

download lyric analysis slides – download lyric analysis transcript

Here is a link to the song in the model analysis:

This diagram (Example 7.2 in ) summarizes the important terminology introduced in this article.

Diagram summarizing important terminology from Burns.
Burns (2010), Example 7.2.

Concept check

Optional: Complete the Concept Check quiz on Blackboard to see if you are understanding these concepts.

Due Wednesday: Response

More on response essays
A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read. Remember that these are graded pass/fail, so anything you write is valuable in that sense. Feel free to use I/me pronouns and to freely express yourself (while remaining professional) and your opinion of the reading.

Here are some optional prompts:

  • Lyric analysis relies a lot on intertextuality, which you studied back in Week 1. You are not meant to be uncovering the “true meaning” when you analyze lyrics, nor are you uncovering the “true meaning” when you analyze poetry! Related to this: you cannot know the identity of the “real author” and the “real reader,” which is why Burns places those terms outside the flowchart in her diagram. What are some reasons why the “real author” is unidentifiable?
  • 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. How does the issue of authenticity relate to lyric analysis?

Submit this by posting in the appropriate discussion forum.

Due Friday: Blog comments

Respond to the members of your peer group by clicking the “comment” button under their blog post and typing your response directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.

Due Sunday: 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 Canvas.
  • Upload your assignment as a .pdf attachment. Please do not use other file types.



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

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.