What is Critical Karaoke, you ask? Here are the rules:
(1) You get to talk about a single song,
(2) for as long as the song is long,
(3) while the song is playing in the background.
You speak while the song plays. You might pause at special moments where your analysis meets the music. You might incorporate some of the lyrics into your talk (if there are lyrics). You do not need to sing, but you can. As long as you follow the first three rules, the rest is really up to you.
Critical Karaoke was introduced by Joshua Clover at the Experience Music Project (now MoPOP) annual Pop Conference and has been replicated at different forums since, including at Graduate Center English Program Friday Forums in 2014, 2015, and 2019.
Jennifer Stoever writes in The Sonic Color Line (2016) that “listening operates as an organ of racial discernment, categorization, and resistance” (6). Thinking alongside Stoever, I’ll be leading our next “Mediating Race” class as a Critical Karaoke event. Our Critical Karaoke will showcase sonically attuned analyses by “Mediating Race” students that think through what role(s) listening plays in selfhood, race and gender discrimination, citizenship, and sexuality across space, time, genre, and medium. All are welcome to engage the transformative power of performance, to dress the part, to be creative.
Since we’re discussing visual art and media, we’ll modify Critical Karaoke somewhat and play music videos in the background and you are welcome to discuss both the music and the video. Take some time to consider who produces what, what the camera is doing, what props are on screen, the music industry’s role in the music-making and visual product, and all of the themes we’ve been discussing in “Mediating Race” with Professors Davidson and Gates. Use this as an opportunity to look into your favorite artist, their record label (who manages their brand?), their history, and the conversations happening around their work in addition to what the artist says about their own work.
Here’s what you need to do:
(1) Post a comment to this blog post below with a link to the music video you would like to play and a sentence or two about what you plan to talk about.
Note: the video must be 5 minutes or less. Please post this comment no later than Monday, March 18th by midnight.
(2) Prepare your presentation for Wednesday’s class (this should take a total of about 2 hours or less). Do your research, think about your approach, and most importantly, practice reading while the music video plays. Time your talk to take breaks at critical moments, to incorporate lyrics (if there are lyrics), and to highlight specific things happening in the music or in the video or both.
Note: you will not be able to preface your talk, there will be no disclaimers or explanations. When the music starts, that’s when you start talking. And when the music stops, a hook will appear stage right and help escort you away from the front of the room.
I will make a set-list, and kick off the event with Janelle Monae’s “PYNK”. After Critical Karaoke is over, we’ll discuss everyone’s presentations together as a class.
3/21/19 Update: Want to see how it went? Read my class recap here.