Talks, interviews and press


  • SXSW, Austin Texas (03/17/2018)
    I was thrilled to give my presentation “Ballads: A History of Emotions in Popular Culture” at SXSW. Here is the conference description: Ballads tell us much about how feelings are understood and experienced in popular culture at particular moments. In my book The Ballad in American Popular Music: From Elvis to Beyoncé, a larger historical development emerges: a desire to experience feelings in bigger and bolder ways. Important songs and repertoires in this emotional crescendo include Johnnie Ray’s “Cry,” 1960s soul ballads, and the power ballad. Since the 1970s, power ballads have taken this desire to euphoric, giddy heights.


  • Toronto Star: “He’s seen the same band 87 times. It’s not just the music that keeps these superfans coming back” (8/9/2019)

  • I may not have seen a band 87 times, but I have a few ideas as to why some people do. Read

  • Salon: “The Infinite Remix Potential of ‘Old Town Road’” (7/16/2019)

  • I’m fascinated by tunes that get borrowed and reworked countless times. Inspiring a host of remixes and cover versions, “Old Town Road” has joined that group. Read

  • Postmedia: “What makes The Beatles the most influential band of all time?” (7/4/2019)

  • The arrival of Paul McCartney in Vancouver for a concert gave me the opportunity to try to answer that big question. Read

  • Inside Science: “Popular Music is getting sadder and angrier, new study finds” (2/7/2019)

  • It’s little old me against the data-mining computers in tracking the history of emotions in popular music from the 1950s to the present day.  Two very different results.  You tell me who you think gets it right. Read

  • The Telegraph: “Why is pop music still obsessed with madness?” (01/21/2019)

  • A look at madness in songs by Rihanna, Bebe Rexha, and Ava Max with a further look back to mad scenes in 19th-century opera. Read

  • Huffington Post: "Here's why you can't get that top 40 song out of your head" (02/11/2016)
    Adele, Barry Manilow and Poison all use this powerful musical trick. Read


  • CBC News Network (08/16/2018)
    On the day of her passing, I discussed the artistry and legacy of Aretha Franklin.

  • CBC Vancouver, “On the Coast” (02/14/2018)

    I played musical Cupid on Valentine’s Day and gave listeners a playlist of romantic ballads. Top of the list: Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall in Love.”

  • Cambridge University Press (01/18/2018)
    A video interview about how and why the styles of ballads have changed over a period of more than seventy years, offering a definition of the genre and discussing the influences of celebrated performers including Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Whitney Houston. Watch

  • That Eric Alper's Show — Sirius XM (01/13/2018)
    Eric Alper and I got right to the point: naming ballads that have made each of us cry. Besides the tears, we talked about why listeners love ballads and how the songs have changed since the 1950s.

  • Debatable — Sirius XM Volume (11/17/2017)
    I discussed the 25th anniversary of the release of The Bodyguard soundtrack, Whitney Houston’s career, and The History of the Ballad in American Popular Music: From Elvis to Beyoncé with Alan Light and Jim Shearer.

  • The Listening Service — BBC Radio 3 (11/05/2017)
    Tom Service unlocks the mysteries of Shostakovich's baffling late masterpiece, his Symphony No. 15. Why does Shostakovich create a nightmarish toy shop soundscape in the opening movement? What compelled him to include musical quotations from Rossini and Wagner? And how does that final movement represent perhaps the greatest act of nihilism in musical history? To answer these questions Tom is joined by this week's Listening Service witness, the music historian David Metzer. Listen

  • On That Note — UBC School of Music Podcast (10/24/2017)
    A discussion about how we define ballads, how they change with the times, and why they continue to grab us. Listen

  • In Four — BBC Radio Four (07/01/2017)
    The importance of building intensity: unpacking what makes Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" one of the great power ballads of all time. Listen