Who puts the pop in popular?

10th July 1998 at 01:00
"Popular music means 'popular', it doesn't mean the Spice Girls," explained Abby Scott, who worked with Oasis between 1994 and 1996, but now teaches media studies at Islington's Sixth Form Centre.

Although a third of delegates attending her workshop, "Teaching Pop Music at A-level", were already analysing phenomena such as Britpop with their students, most media studies teachers steer clear.

There is a belief that teenagers cannot be objective about "their" music, and a fear that teachers will feel old-fashioned and undermined by their students' knowledge of contemporary music. The music industry is also, famously, a closed shop: it's difficult to get information, and most books date quickly. For example, while the late 1980s and 1990s have witnessed a huge British pop revival, most of the books currently available still describe the industry as dying.

Scott gave delegates a whirlwind tour of a 13-week pop music course, with comprehensive lesson plans, and practical advice, such as how to obtain the pop "bible", The BPI Yearbook (Pounds 25 via 0171 287 4422). She starts the course by encouraging students to look more objectively at ideas of taste. They recreate their own "music history", and analyse family members' favourite tunes: "So many of them think you have good or bad taste." Students are surprised that they can identify songs from the Forties and Fifties as well as the Prodigy or Portishead.

She then looks in detail at the construction of pop groups' images: "Look at Michael Jackson or Madonna. It's essential to change if you want to survive. "

Delegates were privileged to see Noel and Liam Gallagher wearing MS shirts in the first Oasis video, shot for Pounds 15,000 by a friend in a back garden. This was then compared with a video made in America two years later, for Pounds 180,000, in which "new laddism" and the depressed, Mancunian backdrop, is replaced by views of swimming pools and girls.

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