Paula Harper

Paula Harper
Assistant Professor in the Department of Music and The College
Goodspeed 203
PhD, Columbia University; MA, University of Washington; AB, University of Chicago
Research Interests: Virality, digital platforms, media and mediation, circulation, sound studies, gender, fandom

Paula Clare Harper is a musicologist who researches music, sound, and the internet. She is interested in putting digital ephemera and oddities into broader context, in hearing the musicality of online meme cultures, and in tracking music’s creation and circulation across digital platforms and communities.

Her current book project, Viral Musicking and the Rise of Noisy Platforms, documents the early 21st-century rise of ubiquitous social media platforms through an understanding of them as mechanisms for facilitating virality—a virality that is deeply sonic, and that can be productively analyzed as musicking. From Geocities and Webrings to Twitter and TikTok, the book charts a trajectory in which unpredictable virtual landscapes were tamed into entrenched channels and pathways, through exchanges between the vernacular work of digital actors and the top-down corporate attempts to capture, corral, and control their viral participatory practices. 

Additionally, Paula’s research interests in music, gender, and digital fandom intersect in ongoing work on pop divas including Beyoncé and Taylor Swift; after co-convening the summer 2021 “Taylor Swift Study Day: Eras, Narrative, Digital Music and Media” conference, she is now co-editing the volume Taylor Swift: The Star, The Songs, The Fans. This edited collection uses Swift as a prism through which to analyze a variety of timely and intersecting issues in contemporary digital culture and music—from songwriting and copyright, to constructions of race and gender, to fandom and digital reception.

Paula holds a PhD in Historical Musicology from Columbia University, an MA in Music History from the University of Washington, and an AB in Music and English from the University of Chicago. Prior to her appointment at Chicago, she held positions as Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln and as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. 


Christa Bentley, Kate Galloway, and Paula Harper, eds., Taylor Swift: The Star, The Songs, The Fans (under contract, Routledge, 2023).

Guest Editor: Special Issue of American Music
K. E. Goldschmitt, Kate Galloway, and Paula Harper, eds., American Music Special Issue: Platforms, Labor, and Community in Online Listening 38.2 (Summer 2020)

“Receiving, Remixing, Recuperating ‘Rebecca Black – Friday,’” American Music 38.2 (Summer 2020): 217-239.

“BEYONCÉ: Viral Techniques and the Visual Album,” Popular Music and Society – Special Issue: Beyoncé 42/1 (February 2019): 61-81.

“‘Unmute This’: Captioning an (Audio)visual Microgenre,” The Soundtrack 9/1&2 (2017): 7-23.