Help me feel astute about pop culture.
November 17, 2020 4:33 PM   Subscribe

What are examples of works that combine critical analysis of usually "academic" fare with elements of pop culture don't traditionally get that type of treatment? Looking especially for works that are are upbeat, sincere, and accessible in tone. Examples below.

No preference on medium, length, or genre. My examples tend toward pop music or podcasts but any aspect of popular culture is welcome, including film, television, etc.

Switched on Pop (a podcast on pop music discussed through a musicological lens) is the work that's inspiring this question and most closely resembles what I'm looking for.

Years ago, I attended a performance of Yeethoven (a classical music performance that argues for the similarities between Beethoven's works and Kanye West's Yeezus) which also qualifies.

99% Invisible and Atlas Obscura sometimes qualify when they take the minutae of everyday things and make connections to larger political and historical trends.
posted by galleta monster to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Chuck Klosterman, especially Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:43 PM on November 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

The DKDKTV YouTube channel has a series of KPOP Explained by a Korean videos that are pretty thoughtful. (You want Jungian concepts? We got Jungian concepts. Also situating things in the context of Korean history.)
posted by Lexica at 4:52 PM on November 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Anne Helen Peterson is an academic whose thing is writing about celebrity culture from an academic perspective but in an accessible way. She has a newsletter and a few books.

Lindsey Ellis does excellent long-form youtube videos looking at movies and some other pop culture from a feminist/film studies perspective. Her series using the Transformers movies as a way to explain film theory is excellent, even as someone who's never watched a Transformers movie.

Similarly, I have learned A LOT about pop music and the music industry in general from Todd in the Shadows videos. He's less of an academic, but he goes on some deep dives. My favorite is his series about one-hit wonders, but his one-off videos about pop hits are often pretty interesting as well.
posted by lunasol at 4:55 PM on November 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

Carl Wilson's book "Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste" is really really great. A fast read, too.
posted by wooh at 5:23 PM on November 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

Let's Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson is a work of genius, it's like a slow motion collision of pop culture and critical analysis where all of the fragments are looked at in a mostly non-judgemental manner, starting off by looking at judgements, but then he goes into a decent summary of the History of Aesthetics, which is worth a look in itself.
posted by ovvl at 5:36 PM on November 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

Hanif Abdurraqib's writing on music and culture is fantastic. They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us is a great collection of his essays. He's also hosted the latest season of Lost Notes from KCRW (available as a podcast):

For Lost Notes: 1980 Abdurraqib looks at how the first full-length album from the Sugarhill Gang set the stakes for an entirely new genre of music, how record producers set out to bring Minnie Riperton back to life and how Stevie Wonder delivered on the comeback he was due. Abdurraqib shares an Ian Curtis song that the fallen singer’s bandmates used to birth New Order plus a reflection on the concert that the South African government never wanted Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba to perform. You’ll learn how punk singer Darby Crash tried to rise to immortality but was interrupted when John Lennon passed away the very next day and how, in 1980, Grace Jones rose from disco’s death rattle - reinforced and reimagined - into a new decade freshly obsessed with risk.

His 68 to 05 project is collecting essays on albums that came out between, well, 1968 and 2005.

And another vote for Carl Wilson's book mentioned above.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:41 PM on November 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

It's mostly academic papers, but it looks like there might be some nuggets in the Google results for "pop culture critical re-evaluation."
posted by rhizome at 5:44 PM on November 17, 2020

(the version that I read was: "A Journey to the End of Taste"; but "Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste" is what I pasted from the Goog... revised history?)
posted by ovvl at 5:46 PM on November 17, 2020

Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There by David Brooks
posted by jacobean at 3:19 AM on November 18, 2020

Not much there, but previously, re sitcoms.

They ended just after I started reading them, but I enjoyed Hanif Abdurraqib’s column in the Paris Review, Notes on Pop, which might fit the bill.
posted by fabius at 5:09 AM on November 18, 2020

Adam Neely's youtube videos on music and theory are great - I'm not a video person but really enjoy these, and mostly can keep up.
posted by carbide at 8:00 AM on November 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Some episodes of the podcast Heat Rocks fit this bill. Each episode, sociology professor and DJ Oliver Wang and music supervisor Morgan Rhodes discuss an album selected by a weekly guest.

I also thought of the recent book on Karen Carpenter by Karen Tongson at USC.
posted by mustard seeds at 8:43 PM on November 18, 2020

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