English Ph.D. Dissertations


The Revolution Will Be Spotified: A Rhetorical Analysis of Music as a Mode of Resistance in the 21st Century

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing)

First Advisor

Daniel Bommarito (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Neil Baird (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Julia Halo (Other)


This research project analyzes how musicians and genres of music are used as rhetorically effective modes of resistance in political and social climates in the West to break down barriers culturally and reveal systems of power. An interdisciplinary approach is implemented that combines cultural rhetorics, popular culture studies, communication studies, and ethnomusicology to investigate the way musicians send messages of resistance to different audiences and listeners. In order to do so, Huckin, Andrus, and Clary-Lemon’s concept of critical discourse analysis is used to analyze the way music lyrics convey meaning and cue the audience to certain resistant messages in different ways. In addition, Royster and Kirsch’s concept of social circulation is utilized to tap into the ways technology and online social spaces are interrogated as complex rhetorical spaces that are multidimensional and add new levels of activism for musicians. The study focuses on four mainstream genres, pop, rap and hip-hop, rock and alternative, and country, to reveal how artists in these genres use the rhetorical strategies available in the genre to reach their audience, while also navigating the power systems and structures at play. This research finds music does not move simply from the musician to listeners anymore. Instead, the continuous feedback loop through social media, popular culture, and digital music services like Spotify create a conversation that continues between musicians and listeners, giving both more power to resist through music as a method for rhetoric against the power systems working to oppress and silence.