Extended: A Critical Introduction to R.E.M.

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Tom Hertweck / University of Nevada, Reno
contact email: 

A Critical Introduction to R.E.M.

edited by Tom Hertweck (U of Nevada, Reno)

for inclusion in the series "For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music" (Lexington Books)

Comprising a recorded repertoire of hundreds of songs (including originals, covers, and collaborations), fifteen studio albums which have sold more than 85 million copies worldwide, and legions of fans in all corners of the globe, R.E.M.'s body of work is a true cultural phenomenon and thus warrants our attention.  More than this, now that the band has formally split up after 31 years and is likely not to reunite, R.E.M. is officially ensconced in the past, and so constitutes a bounded object of study. Long a subject of interest in popular biographies and criticism, the time is ripe to give R.E.M. the formal academic recognition it so richly deserves.

This collection will gather together new academic essays about R.E.M. and serve as that best-selling, world-famous band’s introduction to academic study.  An open-ended call to scholars to aggregate their work, the collection seeks to organically assess the state of thought surrounding R.E.M.’s work, contexts, and socio-cultural importance as a way of providing a basis for further inquiry.  A secondary, but no less important purpose, however, is to provide R.E.M. fans a toothsome critical appreciation to the group’s work, as their fans have always presented themselves among the most intellectually committed in pop and rock.

The collection seeks essays that explore any aspect of R.E.M.’s musical/aesthetic, cultural, historical, political, or contextual significance.  Interdisciplinary in scope, the editor is looking for chapters that take seriously the myriad ways that this band had been for more than three decades at the center of a changing musical culture: beginning as upstarts in Georgia outside the musical mainstream, but eventually establishing themselves as innovators who were beloved by critics and fans across the globe.  A product of both the art-pop and punk scenes of the 1970s, R.E.M. in the end came to be seen as a stalwart of the pop establishment, a role the band loved, and loved to loathe (to say nothing of their fans’ shifting responses to them).  R.E.M.’s mobile aesthetic qualities deserve inquiry and explication.  Sonic innovators who both revered the traditions of pop and rock, and who also remained mindful of the more cloying aspects that lurked around the edges of those genres, R.E.M. was always interested in the artistry that was possible in mainstream music.  Further, the band’s special place in the political world of the 1980s through the 2000s will garner attention.  Bridging the gap between artist and activist, R.E.M. was among a vanguard of post-1960s bands who thought that their celebrity could be marshaled to social justice causes (gun regulation, the Motor-Voter Bill, Tibetan freedom, etc.), and so enter into numerous discussions about the state of the world, from neoliberal economics to gender and sexual equality.  Finally, because of the immense body of work the band put out, the collection will serve to produce readings of particular songs or related clusters of songs.  In this way, the music stays at the center of the work. 

The following subjects are merely a quick list of possible chapter topics; the collection remains open to any innovative and/or interdisciplinary approach to R.E.M.’s work and place in popular music.

R.E.M. and Politics

            Rock the Vote/Motor-Voter Bill

            Reagan, Clinton, the Bush era(s)

            The rise of neoliberalism


            LGBTQIA+ activism

            Artist/activist divide

            Tibet and other social justice appeals  

R.E.M. and Pop Music



            The aesthetics of “bubble-gum” pop

            Warner Brothers deal and “selling out”

            Relationship to the music business generally

            Pop, college radio, and the indie revolution

            Music video culture

            Dissent about the band’s greatness 

Explanations and the Importance of Periodicity

            The IRS Years

            The Warner Years

            With and without Bill Berry

            Post-breakup work

            The value of separating periods of work/comparisons

R.E.M. Songs

            Close-readings of exceptional works or clusters of themed works

            Storytelling/singer persona/performativity

            Influences within popular music, literature, or poetics

            Musicological contextualization

            Unplugged ’91 and ’01

R.E.M. and Thematic Issues

            Gender/sexuality in music and videos

            Consumerism or capitalism broadly construed

            Relationship to the South

            Fan culture/domestic vs. international popularity

R.E.M. and the Future

            The wages of canonization (Rock Hall induction, as elder statesmen)

            Direct and indirect influences (guesting, producing, etc.)

            Responses and declarations of influence/appreciation from other artists

Proposals consisting of a 300-500 word abstract and a biographical note or CV will be due to the editor by 1 March 2018, with notifications sent within two weeks.  Full drafts of essays will be due 15 August 2018.  Please send questions and/or proposals to the collection’s editor, Tom Hertweck (thertweck@unr.edu).  Academic publisher Lexington has expressed interest in the collection for inclusion in the series For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music.