Released in 1998, British band Pulp’s A Little Soul seems somewhat maudlin, yet the music video cleverly challenges our assumptions of responsibility in relationships. The incongruous use of children, as vocalist and metaphorical conscience, encourage us to contemplate the lyrics. Suitable as related material for Raimond Gaita’s Romulus, My Father as a Belonging text, A Little Soul would also be useful in exploring the interactions and communication between parent and child. Romulus and All My Sons, by Arthur Miller, have been included in the upcoming Standard Module C: Texts and Society Elective 1 Exploring Interactions.
Rather than writing an analysis, I have instead included a number of teaching strategies that lead students toward a substantial analysis of their own.
The following activities are suitable for use with Stage 5 or 6 students who are mature enough to explore ideas of domestic and personal ethics. This makes the music video a powerful text for analysis and related material.
- Discuss the title: What synonyms and connotations can be suggested for the word ‘soul’? For the word ‘little’? What is the effect of the indefinite article ‘A’?
- Play the song – first time, ask if the music suits the lyrics: write three to five words that identify or describe associated emotions
- Play the song – second time, ask which words or ideas are most noticeable? I deliberately do not provide the lyrics – make students focus on listening AND then the salient points will be obvious
- Play the song – third time, students should record specific techniques and examples eg. first person perspective, repetition, colloquial language, rhetorical questions …
- Ask students to predict how the music video might represent these ideas
- Collect initial responses on a graphic organiser – on board or paper – can be whole group or in pairs BUT should be shared at some point. Did anyone come close with their predicted representations?
- The music video is a mix of narrative and performative styles. What is the effect of having a young child sing these lyrics?
- Consider the chorus: who is trying to give advice? The adult or the child? Which language features are used to force the audience to think about this?
- Within the narrative arc, we see children forcing adults to accept their responsibilities and eventually perform. Group students and identify the different personas. Make notes on how we see these interactions – use specific film techniques and examples.
- Consider the gender of each persona. Note the object, technology or activity that occupies the adults. What assumptions or conclusions can be drawn from these social practices?
- Each group should present their ideas and notes to the class. It may help to agree on a graphic organiser format to facilitate the collation of information.
- Ask students to develop specific topic sentences that explain three key points about this music video – think about human relationships and interactions; the impact of technology and isolation in society; innocence, naivety and the apparent indomitable spirit of children; depression and negativity …
- Students should aim to write two or three separate analytical paragraphs to express their decisions on:
What the music video is ‘saying’ How it is being ‘said’ Why it is being ‘said’ that way Make clear links to a prescribed text
Finally, please note: music videos should be treated as works of fiction. Discourage students from anticipating that any particular member of a group has been involved in or supports any particular behaviour. There may be certain situations where this is not the case; please avoid any lengthy debate about the perceived reality of individuals in the world of popular music. Remind students that apart from a brief discussion on the context of the text, describing the band members is of very little value when analysing a text for an exam or assessment task: Write about the what, how and why of the text, and explain the effects of these on an audience.