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The community consensus is that song lyrics are on topic. I agree with this policy 100% - this could be a great "draw" for the site, too, because it seems like there's a dearth of quality information about songs.

Some lyrics - notably the lyrics of Bob Dylan, who recently won the Nobel Prize and whose lyrics have appeared in independent poetry anthologies - have quite a bit of literary merit. A few other artists are notable for their poetic lyrics, as are certain songs. (Hotel California, American Pie, some U2 songs, etc. leap to mind). On the other hand, I think it could damage site credibility if we were analyzing the Backstreet Boys or Brittney Spears lyrics as "serious" literature. (Nothing personal against those musicians, but still...)

Should questions about any kind of song be considered "on topic," or should the song in questions have lyrics that have at least some literary merit? If so, how would we formalize this into a rule that can be broadly and uniformly applied?

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On the other hand, I think it could damage site credibility if we were analyzing the Backstreet Boys or Brittney Spears lyrics as "serious" literature. (Nothing personal against those musicians, but still...) Should questions about any kind of song be considered "on topic," or should the song in questions have lyrics that have at least some literary merit? If so, how would we formalize this into a rule that can be broadly and uniformly applied?

The thing about literary merit is that it's impossible to define objectively. And if you are going to create a policy, it should be objective so we don't have to get into debates every time we want to apply it.

The other thing about literary merit is that it is several concepts rolled into one. To give an example, there are some things that I don't think have artistic merit, but that I think are still worthy of study because of their influence. (Ayn Rand is a good example).

The third thing about literary merit is that it's a concept that has long been used to oppress marginalized groups of people. I really don't want to continue that tradition on this site.

The final thing about serious scholarship is you never know if research will be useful until after you do it. The history of academia is littered with examples of research that no one was interested in until years later. I've learned about as much from works with "no literary merit" as I have from the "classics".

For all of these reasons, this proposal is a bad idea in my mind. People whose credibility would be damaged by a question about Britney Spears lack an understanding of literature in my mind.

  • True - no one thought that number theory was useful until the computer came around. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Aug 30 '17 at 12:21
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or should the song in questions have lyrics that have at least some literary merit?

That's a very slippery slope you're looking at there. How could we possibly define 'literary merit' in an objective way ... and once we started considering only works of sufficient 'literary merit', where would we stop? The issue of literature snobbery has already come up, and this site has always had an unspoken assumption that all literature is equal, and no literature is more equal than others.

If people want to ask questions about the kind of books that other people might consider 'trash-fic', those questions are just as valid as questions about Shakespeare. Similarly, I don't think we should start excluding songs on the basis that they're not, as you put it,

"serious" literature.


It's true that we'd be a bit of a weird literature site if we got overrun by song questions to the exclusion of questions about what people more normally think of as literature (novels, plays, poetry, etc.). But this hasn't been an issue so far, and if it becomes one, we can look into it then and consider whether we can or should do anything about it.

  • "It's true that we'd be a bit of a weird literature site if we got overrun by song questions to the exclusion of questions about what people more normally think of as literature (novels, plays, poetry, etc.)." I think it's weirder that we only have questions about the lyrics but none about the music, especially given that music, like oral literature, is older than a lot of the literary traditions that our site asks questions about. – user111 Aug 28 '17 at 17:27
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    @Hamlet Meta consensus is that musical or non-lyrics questions about songs are off-topic. – Rand al'Thor Aug 28 '17 at 17:29
  • that's not a great consensus. There isn't really an explanation of why such questions are off-topic. And we haven't even received such a question yet, so that question has no examples of how such questions have gone on this site. – user111 Aug 28 '17 at 17:32
  • To explain my downvote: you say "this site has always had an unspoken assumption that all literature is equal, and no literature is more equal than others.", but you don't explain why. The why is critical here. – user111 Aug 28 '17 at 17:35
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Every kind of song lyrics are on topic.

Take a look at How will we avoid literature snobbery? - this seeks to prevent exactly that: only accepting 'serious' literature. We don't only deal with 'serious' literature here - we deal with all types of literature. Nowhere at Are songs and poems on-topic? does it say that we only accept 'serious literature lyrics'. If you feel like asking a question about any song lyrics, go ahead.

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    Downvote removed, but I'm not upvoting because this doesn't explain why. Saying "this is what we do" is all well and good; explaining the rationale behind it, as I've tried to do in my answer, is always more convincing. – Rand al'Thor Aug 28 '17 at 17:21

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