Love You Like a Love Song: Lyrics, Lyric Poems, and Close Reading (first session)

Close reading isn’t just an academic practice. On fan forums, websites like Genius.com, and a myriad of YouTube videos, everyday listeners do close reading for fun. They annotate song lyrics, connect details to singers’ careers and personal lives, point out wordplay, allusions, and historical/cultural references, and debate the religious, philosophical, and political implications of verses or lines. Scholarship and arts journalism build on this extracurricular practice—and, in turn, can feed back into it, adding nuance and insight. This seminar will explore how to teach the art of close reading through literal love songs and through short lyric poems that present themselves as love songs, with the goal of leading students from the pleasures of making local annotations to the discipline of synthesizing these into well-supported claims about complete texts and the characters, situations, and ideas that they bring to life. Songs to be discussed will range from ancient and canonical texts to enduring jazz standards and contemporary hits; the complexities of dealing with non-verbal elements in actual songs (music, vocal style, the visual cues in a video) will also be addressed.