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Semiotic Analysis and Content Analysis to a Music Videos Coursework

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Music is a universal product that is consumed and shared through listening. It evolved, however, as an audio-visual experience with the introduction of television, and later on, audio-video production of one musical piece, mainly for promotional purposes. Many expressive forms have been introduced, developed, and continue evolving when it comes to music videos. This was bolstered by the introduction of Music Television or MTV in 1981 although programming executive Robert Pittman has been credited as early as the late 1970s to be experimenting a 15-minute show called “Album Tracks” on WNBC channel 4 (Warner, 2009).

The wide and international acceptance and popularity of British pop acts are called the British Invasion. It first occurred in the 1960s when Beatles, Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, Monkees, Bee Gees, The Who, and other bands became popular with consumers specifically in the United States. The second British Invasion came with the MTV friendly acts that are the focus of this study by the 1980s. This research, with the intent to define a certain group using music videos for quantitative and qualitative analysis, will endeavor to focus on a sample population of music videos from the United Kingdom, more popularly known as British popular/pop music from 1980 to 1990.

Defining research problem

What themes or issues do you want to find out about?

This essay will apply semiotic analysis and content analysis to 50 music videos in order to assess the representation of a particular social group, issue, or theme and the variety of meanings that music videos offer in relation to these. It will study British or European music videos of the popular or pop-rock genre released from 1980 to 1990 found in the video website Youtube. All lyrics are in English. It will specifically try to find out whether these music videos speak of women through the use of female-related words, what their lyrical themes are all about, what their symbolical meanings are through their outfits in the music videos.

Turn this into a specific question you can answer by looking at music videos

  • What are the female gender words used in the lyrics in the studied music videos?
  • How often each representative word was used in the videos?
  • What are the themes of the lyrics and the music videos?
  • How often was each theme used?
  • What are the meanings derived from the visual representations of clothing and the lack of it in the performers of the music videos?
  • How often were each outfit or clothing used in the videos?

Choosing a Sample

Population/universe (what your sample represents)

The population sample represents the musicians, their music, and their visual representations that produced English music and videos from Europe in the period of 1980 to 1990. This particular group has been chosen for this study due to the prevalence and global acceptance of British and European bands during that period that conquered not only the US but also the global listeners due to the rich lyrical and video contents of these productions. The lyrics provide a variety of subtle, direct, as well as poetic use of metaphors and rich pictures. The videos are edgy and experimental but show influences from one another. The music and the videos also represent the English and European sentiments at the given period

Convenience Sampling Method

The sampling method is almost always chosen in the research process since there is no need for strict regulation, thus, the researcher is left to rely on logic. The population, however, is clearly defined to maintain the objectives of this study. Convenience sampling a non-probability method is used in this exploratory research due to its limited time and budget in getting certain data (Brown et al, 1999, p 47). The sample population is selected as British pop acts of the 1980s to 1990s to limit a wider selection that is available in Youtube, the internet resource for this study. In searching for British pop acts with music videos, there is the limitation of non-inclusion of other groups who have no uploaded videos on the website. Likewise, the most immediate to appear in the list of the website search engine have the higher probability to be included in this research

Units of analysis (whole music videos/opening scenes)

The analysis is provided on both the lyrical contents as well as on the visual contents of these music videos.

Getting a representative sample

The representative sample generally provides an overview of prevalent musicians or bands during the period of 1980-1970. British was global pop at that time influencing other European bands so that English became a prevalent language that served as an entry-gate to international stardom. It did not matter that there had been a variation of sounds in the given period from the chosen group. What matters at that time is the seeming unity among these bands or musicians in their almost calming melodies with a variety of themes and contents.

Sampling methods

The sampling method used was random. Several bands had several videos released during that time to promote singles and albums, and there were also those who had a few, or maybe, just one hit single that made it in pop charts affecting also the popularity of the music videos.

Identifying codes

What are you going to count?

The study will count how many times

  • Women or female-associated words were used in the lyrics, how many times a popular theme is used in the music, and how many times certain forms of clothing or the avoidance of it were used.
  • The codes are for women, lady, baby, angel, girl, girlfriend, queen, and woman. The theme codes are lost love, war, love, life, confusion, isolation, family, religion, and reaching out. The codes for clothing or outfit are outlandish, costume, formal nightwear, decent casual, casual, summer casual, punk, electronica, animated, biker outfit, sporty, and cowboy/country.

Designing a coding frame

  • Coding Manual
  • Interpretation – consistency
  • Labour intensive – allow enough time!
  • Code your full sample
  • Ensure it is recorded in numerical form

Quantitative Analysis

There are several disparities in the distribution of variables as well as their frequency of use. The first is for the women terminology variable. For the woman or female words/terminologies used, there are several instances that one music video uses the words, like CODE 2 (baby or babe), as well as CODE 3 (girl) and others. There is a repetition of the words in one song. Likewise, in other songs, not a single word or terminology refers to the female gender, so that there is only a total of 41 utterances of the female terminologies, but this does not exactly mean that there are 41 songs that used the female gender. One thing to note is that one music video alone used CODE 3 words (girl or girls) 18 times, and that is “Girls on Film” by Duran Duran. The other prominent pronouns “you” and “me” are instead used in music videos where there is the absence of the female gender representation. The least used female representation is CODE 1 or “angel.”

The second disparity is that for the second variable theme, only one is used per music video, so that, in total, there are only an exact 50 entries. The most prominent theme in the sample population is “love” (CODE 10) with 15 music videos using it, while “lost love” (CODE 11) follows with 10 music videos. The least used themes are CODE 7 and 13, or confusion and religion respectively. The themes, however, vary with at least nine entries or CODES in all.

The third variable, for the costumes, there are a few videos that used several costumes: one set for the performers, and one set for the actors that spell out what is being said. There is a total of 58 outfit or clothing styles used, which some videos represent two production outfits: an animated (CODE 16) with decent casual (CODE 20), or a mixture of the country (CODE 19) and electronica or techno outfits (CODE 21). The most prevalent type of music video wear is decent casual (CODE 20), followed by summer or light casuals (CODE 14). There are eleven codes in this variable with the nakedness or Code 23 least used.

Qualitative Analysis

The quantity of each code defines the type of music videos, culture, or message that the artists and their videos represent. For the first variable, only decent terms are used for the women’s terminologies although there is noted anger for the woman by the performer in the “Girlfriend in a Coma” by The Smiths. The group or sample population maintained acceptable respect and a decent representation of women in their words. In fact, Duran Duran assailed the seemingly “accessory” role of women in popular culture for the song “Girls on Film” hinting at high regard by Europeans, or these English-writing bands and performers for the female gender.

As for the theme, the sample population is quite romantic. The prevalent theme is love and following close is lost love, still on the same boat, about the female and male or couples relationship. Other themes used include confusion or isolation, family, life in general, personal struggle or inner conflict, religion, sex, and war or political conflict. Here, it can be easily surveyed that there is a variety of themes in British music videos not centered on just one or two but several others that may be experienced by individuals in general.

The outfits listed have at least eleven assigned codes: Animated, Biker, Costume or outlandish, Cowboy or country, Decent Casual, Electronica or techno / robotic, Formalwear, Naked, Punk or tattered, Summer, Light Casual or Sporty and Swimwear. This also shows the variety of fashion or clothing wear choices for the British or European musicians and performers. The popularity of decent casual also reflects the reserved or almost conservative use of clothing or outfit among the sample population. Only a few strayed to the experimental, or costume outfit, which was neither provocative nor scandalous.

The only time nakedness was used was in the music video of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Even the band name implies American or US influence if the name of bands is to be analyzed. The plot of the music video, however, is medieval Roman when gladiators and prisoners had to fight against beasts to survive. Here, two kinds of beasts were represented, the king or political leader, and the tiger.

Representation of British Pop Acts

British popular acts perform rock n roll, pop, new wave, punk, ska, and other earlier forms of the so-called “alternative” music. Their music, compared to later “alternative” music is more melodic, less on the guitar and vocal angst, and polished instead with ear-friendly keyboard tunes.

Aside from the melodic hook of British music incomparable to US-produced, British music video favored MTV of the 1980s onwards due to entertainment and image quality. In fact, the music videos were considered short films in contrast to recorded live concerts of the Americans (Reynolds, 2006).

With the introduction and subsequent popularity of A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” video at the Billboard Top Ten, more British acts’ music videos followed suit including the other artists listed here:

Alphaville – is a music trio composed of Hartwig Schierbaum, Bernhard Gößling, and Frank Sorgatz with hit singles “Big in Japan” and “Forever Young” from their album also called Forever Young.

B52s – is composed of vocalists Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson, and Fred Schneider popular for their call and response, slightly wacky and enthusiastic party new wave music. Hits include “Rock Lobster”, “Private Idaho”, Girl From Ipanema Goes to Greenland”, “Love Shack” and “Deadbeat Club.”

Baltimora – is composed of Jimmy McShane, Maurizio Bassi, and Naimy Hackett, one of those so-called “one-hit wonder” bands for their successful “Tarzan Boy” from the album Living in the Background.

Billy Idol – born William Michael Albert Broad, Idol has a worldwide fan base but first embarked with the group Generation X. As a solo artist, his most popular MTV hits are “White Wedding,” “Dancing With Myself” and “Eyes Without a Face”.

The Bolshoi – is composed of singer/guitarist Trevor Tanner, drummer Jan Kalicki, and bassist Nick Chown, and Paul Clark on keyboards. Their most popular single is “Sunday Morning” from the album Giants.

China Crisis – is composed of vocalist-keyboardist Gary Daly and guitarist Eddie London. Their first hit single is “African and White” from their album Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms: Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain. Other hits include “Wishful Thinking” and “Best Kept Secret.”

Culture Club – is distinctly known for its androgynous vocalist Boy George selling an estimated 22 million albums internationally. Other members are Mikey Craig on bass guitar, Roy Hay on guitar and keyboards, and Jon Moss on drums and percussion. Their biggest single is “Karma Chameleon.”

Dead or Alive- rose from Liverpool and had members: Pete Burns ad vocalist and chief songwriter; Wayne Hussey as a songwriter; Mike Percy as a bass player who wrote and performed the backing track for the hit song “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”; Steve Coy as a drummer; Timothy Lever on keyboards, saxophone, and guitars; and Jason Albury on keyboards.

Devo- is considered a techno-new wave band with original members Gerald Casale, Bob Lewis, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Casale, Rod Reisman, and Fred Weber. They are known for their hit “Whip It.”

Duran Duran – is best known for its elegant image and slick music videos helped sell 70 million albums to date. Its members are Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Stephen Duffy, Roger Taylor, Andy Taylor, and Simon Le Bon.

Fiction Factory – the group formerly was a ska band The Rude Boys and is composed of Kevin Patterson on vocals, Chic Medley on guitars, Grant Taylor on trumpet, Graham McGregor on bass, Eddie Jordan on keyboards, and Paul Wishart on keyboards for the second album, and Mike Ogletree on drums and percussion. They released the albums Throw the Warped Wheel Out in 1984 and Another Story in 1985.

A flock of Seagulls – is composed of vocalist-keyboardist Mike Score, drummer Ali Score, bassist Frank Maudsley, and guitarist Paul Reynolds. They released five albums and an earlier EP with the self-titled and Listen as the most successful.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – is composed of vocalist Holly Johnson, vocalist-keyboardist Paul Rutherford, drummer Peter Gill, bass player Mark O’Toole, and guitarist Brian Nash. They became notoriously popular due to the “Relax” single with other successful “Two Tribes” and “The Power of Love”.

General Public – from The Beat, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger joined with keyboardist Mickey Billingham, guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Horace Panter, and drummer Stoker to release the album All the Rage with the hit single “Tenderness”.

Gene Loves Jezebel – is composed of the twins Michael and Jay Aston, guitarist Ian Hudson and Julianne Regan, replaced later by Stephen Marshall. They released 12 albums with “The Motion of Love” as their most popular single.

Go West- is a duo composed of Peter Cox and Richard Drummie. They were able to release eight albums and their most popular single is “We Close Our Eyes”.

Human League – is considered a synth-pop band for their use of synthesizers composed of Philip Oakey with female vocalists Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. Active until today, their most popular single is “Human.”

Housemartins – is already considered “alternative” before alternative was known. They have contrasting lyrics about religion and ideology. Their original line-up was Paul Heaton (vocals), Stan Cullimore (guitar), Ted Key (bass), and Dodger (drums), and then replaced by Chris Lang. Their most popular single is “Caravan of Love”.

Lightning Seeds – released six albums excluding compilations with their most popular piece “Three Lions.”

Lotus Eaters – is composed of Peter Coyle (vocals), Jeremy Kelly (guitar), Mike Dempsey (bass guitar), and Stephen Creese (drums) whose most famous single is “The First Picture of You”. They were able to release the albums No Sense of Sin in 1984, First Picture of You – BBC Sessions in 1998, No Sense of Sin in 1998, and silent space in 2002.

Lloyd Cole and The Commotions – Their 1984 Rattlesnakes album is considered by New Music Express (NME) as top 100 albums of all time. They are composed of Lloyd Cole (composer, vocals, and guitar), Blair Cowan (keyboards), Lawrence Donegan (bass guitar), Neil Clark (guitar), and Stephen Irvine (drums).

Midnight Oil – this group started to rise with the singles ”Power and the Passion” and “Read About It”. Their themes are political and are tinged with activism. They released 11 albums, three of which were when they were still virtually unknown.

Modern English – – this pop-rock group’s most popular singles are “I Melt with You,” “Hands Across the Sea,” and “Ink and Paper” with at least eight studio albums.

Nena – may easily be considered among less-informed listeners as a “one-hit wonder” with the “99 Luftballons” hit (and also album title. But the group released several albums mostly in Europe and topped charts. The original individual Nena is Gabriele Susanne Kerner.

New Order – This group is often compared with Depeche Mode, with hit singles “True Faith” and “Bizarre Love Triangle”.

OMD – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are a synth-pop group with strings of hit singles including “Secret”, “Locomotion” and “If You Leave”.

Queen – considered one of the most successful rock bands worldwide, this group led by the late vocalist Freddie Mercury span decades of hit releases.

The Clash – the Clash performs ska, punk, and even reggae with strong political messages. With a self-titled debut and London Calling, they became international stars.

The Cure – the group also spans decades of producing albums with Robert Smith as the only constant member. They produced several hit singles and the albums: Three Imaginary Boys in 1979; Seventeen Seconds in 1980; Faith in 1981; Pornography in 1982; The Top in 1984; The Head on the Door in 1985; Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me in 1987; Disintegration in 1989; Wish in 1992; Wild Mood Swings in 1996; Bloodflowers in 2000; The Cure in 2004; and most recently 4:13 Dream in 2008 (Robb, 2006).

Subsequent hits in US music charts made many British Acts in this period cover material for Rolling Stone and Newsweek magazines. The popularity of these acts, however, is not without consequence as some rock journalists criticized the phenomenon as the triumph of image over content (Reynolds, 2006).

Historically, a majority of the British pop acts in this era performs “new wave” a rock genre with influences and roots traced back to the 1970s as an answer to angst-driven punk rock. It was still rock n roll but with traces of electronic, disco, funk, ska, and mod music. It is said that the term was introduced in 1976 by Malcolm MacLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols. Incidentally, the music being introduced as the new wave was categorically known as “punk”, which was slowly picked upon by British fanzines like Sniffin Glue and the mainstream press. By 1977, the new wave has become much more accepted used for UK’s underground music (Gendron, 2002, p 269). The new wave represented rebellious youth culture and was frowned upon by pop radio and corporate music. Sire Records adopted the term to market The Ramones and the Talking Heads: their music were experimental, anti-corporate, and criticized the status quo in consumerism. The distinction between punk and new wave was later established as three-chord rhythm characterized punk rock and new wave is characterized by melodic hooks closer to pop sound and fusion of other tunes more specifically, the keyboards. Both punk and new wave were against the established and bland popular music of the late 1970s.

MTV, however, is still much credited for the popular acceptance of British pop’s new wave which was distinguished for their use of synthesizers. It was the danceable tunes, and fashion sense of these British acts mostly represented in music videos that made them big hits (Graves, 2009).


Warner, Charles. “Robert Pittman.” The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Web.

Brown, K.W., Cozby, P.C., Kee, D.W., & Worden, P.E.. Research Methods in Human Development, 2d ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield; 1999.

Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again Postpunk 1978-1984. Penguin. 2006.

Gendron, Bernard (2002). Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press), pp. 269–270.

Graves, Steve. “New Wave”. CBS Interactive, Inc. Web.

Robb, John. Punk Rock: An Oral History (4th ed). London: Ebury Press; 2006.

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