Two Texts Essay: Song Lyrics v. Music Video

Yesterday I was checking my email and discovered an email I had missed from last month.

The author wrote:

I am an adjunct at a community college. I am gearing up for my Fall semester and have been searching the web for new essay ideas for my FYC class. I came across your blog and was wondering if you would mind elaborating a bit on your assignment posted back on May 8th of this year. I am interested in the Lyric and Video comparison essay. I guess I am just wondering since most videos follow their song’s stories what they were comparing–were their contrasts as well as similiarities? Also how long was this essay? … I was just hoping you could give me a little more information.

Oops! I hadn’t seen it. I sent her an email yesterday, but I thought I would post here so that others who might be interested could see the information.

She was referencing a retrospective post that said this:

Thankfully I have an amazingly gifted colleague, Dr. Mikee Delony, who shared her assignment for this paper. She came up with the idea of comparing the lyrics of a song with an official music video for the work.

I introduced the idea using Tata Young’s “Cinderella” and Randy Travis’ “I’m Going to Love You Forever.” An interesting aspect of these two sets of lyrics, which was serendipitous, was that they both have a “they say/I say” aspect—which is the name of our new text for the course and a focus for the class. “Cinderella” says “My momma used to read me stories…. I’m going to rescue myself.” Excellent way to begin this discussion! Then Travis’ song says “They say that I’m … I’m no longer one of those guys.” That allows us to talk about reputation and change, something that students in a residential college setting may well have to deal with.

The assignment was very successful. The students enjoyed it because they were allowed to pick any music and the videos, it turns out, were sometimes quite bizarre. I think some of the students went looking for really odd videos to start with!

HeadphonesThe students don’t have any trouble at all finding videos that aren’t exactly like the lyrics or that are unexpected. A lot of music videos don’t follow the song as well as one might think. Yes, the creators knew the song when they put it together, but they didn’t necessarily design it in an expected manner.

As I mention, I start with two examples. We use Randy Travis’ “I’m Gonna Love You Forever.” We read the words of the song and talk about what we would expect from the music video. Older folks might think of Grease. There should be a young man singing to a young woman, or maybe even starting out they are young but then later they are middle aged and old. It should be about a couple. It should mostly have only them in it. It might have some shots of old men and old women sitting around talking.

Then I play the music video. It’s a guy singing at his sister’s wedding. Not what you are expecting, though there are some definitely sweet moments. “Honey, I don’t care. I ain’t in love with your hair. If it all fell out, I’d love you anyway” accompanies a shot of a woman kissing her husband’s bald head. Turn about is fair play.

Then we look at the words for Tata Young’s “Cinderella.” What do you expect? This is a song about someone not being a captive. It is about an empowered woman who is taking charge of her life. I would expect video of a woman whose life is filled with connection: friends with whom she meets regularly for coffee or meals, family with whom she stays in contact, a job that she is good at and is obviously respected in.

Then we watch the music video. Do you expect a girl in a bed? In very frilly girly clothes? A bed like a cage? No, so we talk about the rhetoric of the video.

After students find the song and video they are going to use, they take their song and list out lines, what they expected to see from that, and then what the video showed. Sometimes this is very different and sometimes it is not. I would hope that the students would write their expectations down first, but I am sure some students did not do that.

Two examples of the pre-writing exercise:
Blown Away Carrie Underwood
We are never getting back together

The second song actually has two videos, both official as far as I can tell. One has strange animals showing up at regular intervals. It is definitely unexpected as the animals are never explained and, while we tried, neither the student nor I could come up with a rational explanation that showed why the animals needed to be there or how what types of animals were chosen.

Honeymoon Inn musical cover WCThen the students wrote the paper.

The paper is 3 to 4 pages long.

Students enjoyed reading the papers that others wrote during the peer review process and for fun you might add a class period where everyone watches each other’s music videos and writes down things that they see in it. (After the student has done the prewriting.) This gives more ideas and might add depth to the paper. I haven’t done that for this particular assignment, but I have for a different one and it worked out well.

Just in case you are interested, here is the Two-Texts Essay Rubric I use to grade the final essay.

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