Narrative, Interpretation and the Popular Song

Negus, Keith. 2012. Narrative, Interpretation and the Popular Song. Musical Quarterly, 95(2-3), pp. 368-395. ISSN 1741-8399 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article focuses on narrative to explore practices of interpretation in both scholarship and everyday discussion about popular songs. It emphasizes the intersubjective interpretation of song meanings and advocates an “intercontextual” approach to the understanding of song narratives, drawing from research which emphasizes how our knowledge of the world is cumulative and always in a process of becoming through time. The article argues for a musicological hermeneutics of the intersubjective production of value, belief and judgment, and develops this through a discussion of the Beatles “I Want to You’re Your Hand” and Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne”, illustrating how popular songs participate in the wider cultural dialogues through which historical understanding is narrated. Songs links together events, experiences and moments in time, dramatizing these musically and lyrically. Meanings do not reside solely in textual characteristics which place audiences into “subject positions”, equally meaning cannot be liberated by idiosyncratic social use or solipsistic personal listening strategy. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “Kid Charlemagne” (and any other popular song) is always part of an intersubjective, intercontextual conversation, during which interpretation is in progress, forever moving through the time – proffered, debated, adopted as plausible or discarded as improbable.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Popular Music Research Unit
Research Office > REF2014



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Date Deposited:

15 Feb 2013 14:42

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:43

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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