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John Vilanova, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Lehigh University

John Vilanova

Assistant Professor

206 Coppee Hall

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Additional Interests

  • Critical discourse analysis
  • Critical and cultural theory
  • Sound studies
  • Modernity/Coloniality/Decoloniality

Research Statement

John Vilanova studies structural and institutional inequity in the creative industries, with an emphasis on anti-Black racisms in the global popular music industry. He is particularly interested in the media industries’ role in creating discourse around artistic “excellence” as a proxy for conversations about race, gender, power and who “matters.” This is encapsulated in his scholarly publications, public-facing writing, and an in-progress monograph on the GRAMMY Awards and Black music.


John Vilanova is an interdisciplinary scholar and writer whose work explores structural and institutional inequalities manifest specifically in the creative and culture industries. He focuses specifically on the music industry, arguing for retheorization and reconsideration of it as a media industry with a set of key stakeholders, ideological formations, politics, representational issues, historical dynamics and other areas of study. 

This is primarily manifest in his monograph, tentatively titled "Not Simply the Best: The GRAMMY Awards, Blackness, and America," which analyzes critically the mediated discourses around the annual GRAMMY Awards ceremonies, considering them a lodestar of the global popular music industry. John's work takes the GRAMMYs and historicizes their results and the subsequent coverage in mass television, magazine, newspaper, online and social media to paint a picture of how influential members of the music industry hear and appraise racial difference. His work animates, historicizes and explores the interrelatedness of subjective taste, ideas of purported "excellence," genre, and broader sociocultural politics with which the GRAMMYS both follow and produce hierarchical racial difference. Ultimately, the GRAMMYs project shows the ways that racial attitudes are attached to the coverage, results, and collective memory of the music industry writ large. 

John employs a multi-methodological approach that includes archival historical research, specifically reading newspapers and other journalistic media coverage as a network of data that produces discursive frames and outcomes. This, alongside interviews with key stakeholders and other fieldwork over a career working in various music industry contexts, allows for a mix of macro-level cultural studies work, meso-level industrial analysis, and micro-level individual data. John is inspired by pioneering Black intellectuals and writers such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, Toni Morrison, and Nikole Hannah-Jones who question the epistemic conditions of knowledge, history and aesthetics and sees Black thought as his intellectual North Star. 

His scholarly program contains a number of other related projects, chief among them field research in Kingston, Jamaica, where he has been studying a group of creative industries workers who are attempting to use reggae music, its politics, its connection to the Afrodiasporic religious practice Rastafari, and its infrastructure in Jamaica to actively decolonize the music industry, which has extracted Jamaican cultural signifiers from the island without sharing in its profits. This type of work adds a decolonial global media emphasis to John's program, which has included historical research on record-pressing in Jamaica, ethnographic field research on Jamaican mobile telephony as a manifestation of the Digital Divide, and ongoing research in Tokyo, Japan, a key site for the trade of vintage Jamaican-pressed vinyl records. For more, see his 2019 International Journal of Communication article, “Kingston Be Wise:” Jamaica’s Reggae Revival, Musical Livity, and Troubling Temporality in the Modern Global Music Industry.

In addition to this work, John is interested in the power dynamics of music industry labor in many forms. For instance, a 2019 Journal of Popular Music Studies article, “I’m Not the Drummer’s Girlfriend”: Merch Girls, Tour’s Misogynist Mythos, and the Gendered Dynamics of Live Music’s Backline Labor, explores and critiques the gendered dynamics of labor while working in live music touring and live music venues. This article is the first of a planned series that examines how work at the live concert venue is enmeshed in identity politics. In the interest of visibilizing the ideological power and impact of music journalism, he has works in progress on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time List and the history of album reviews in music industry magazines and online publications such as Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. 

He is also an established critic and thinker whose scholarship often has an impact outside the classroom and whose journalistic output supports his research, service, and teaching agendas. He is the former managing editor of MusiQology, the public-facing blog of esteemed scholar and musicologist Guthrie P. Ramsey. The blog focuses on African American and Afrodiasporic musics and features a podcast network, social media, a community arts nonprofit project, and writing from John, who was the site's main voice. He is also a respected commenter who has recent bylines in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Times. His professional experience is in magazine journalism, where he rose from fact-checker to managing editor of the luxury lifestyle publication Philadelphia Style. 

John is also a dedicated teacher who designs courses that sit at the intersection of race, media, and journalism. Courses such as From Lena Horne to Lemonade: Black Feminism and Media Industries; Dreams and Nightmares: Mediating Inequality in the Music Industry; and Global Media and Culture, John's classes are intersectional, international, and interdisciplinary, giving students a robust introduction to cultural studies key texts, methods, theories, and topics. He designs assignments that scaffold skill-building with an emphasis on nurturing college writers who will gain communication skills that will be useful no matter what path they take. He also designs creative assignments that allow students to explore course themes, such as a graphic novel assignment that allows students to make creative work that wrestles with the intersections of race and media themselves. He is the recipient of the 2023 Lehigh University Early Career Teaching Award. 

He holds a Ph.D and an M.A. in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication with a graduate certificate in Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and a M.A. in American Studies from the University of Kansas.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Vilanova, J. (2021). Noise-Making, Occupy Wall Street and the Politics of Amplification. 
Resonance: The Journal of Sound and Culture.

Vilanova, J. (2019). Kingston Be Wise: Jamaica’s Reggae Revival, Musical Livity, and Troubling Temporality in the Modern Global Music Industry. International Journal of Communication 13, 4087–4106.

 Vilanova, J. & Cassidy, K. (2019). “I’m Not the Drummer’s Girlfriend”: Merch Girls, Tour’s Misogynist Mythos, and the Gendered Dynamics of Live Music’s Backline Labor. Journal of Popular Music Studies.

Vilanova, J. (Accepted; Forthcoming 2024). Roots Routes: Japan, Jamaica, and the Global Flows of Vintage Reggae Vinyl. Media Industries.

Vilanova, J. (In Preparation). Critical Embellishment: Rolling Stone and Pitchfork Pans as Journalistic Signaling. Journalism Practice.

 Vilanova, J. (In Preparation). The Caucasities of Portland: Theorizing White Protests for Black Lives. Media, Culture & Society.

Other Journal Articles (Invited; not peer-reviewed)

Vilanova, J. (2017). Any-Where and Every-When: Using the Mongol Hordes and the Khmer Rouge to Understand the Islamic State’s Spatial and Temporal Strategies. Global-e.

Academic Book Chapters

Kraidy, M. & Vilanova, J. (2019). “Time Space and Communication: A Preliminary Comparison of Islamic State to the Mongol Hordes and the Khmer Rouge.” In R. Pennington (Ed.), The Media World of ISIS. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Vilanova, J. (2013). "White-Out!: Surf Films, Alternative Whiteness, and the Commodification of Surfer Subculture." In Ingle, Z. & Sutera, D. (Eds.), Identity and Myth in Sports Documentaries: Critical Essays. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

Creative Activity – Podcasts

Vilanova, J. & Sicard, B. (Forthcoming). “Late Registration: 100 Years of Racial Violence on One American College Campus.”

Vilanova, J. & Shapiro, A. (2015). “Exemptions and Obligations: Penn, Philadelphia, and the Debate over PILOTS Payments.” 3620 Podcast.

Vilanova, J. (2014). “This Pod Should Be Cast Loud: War, Noise, and the Politics of Amplification.” 3620 Podcast.

Creative Activity – Mass Media Publications

Vilanova, J. (2019, February 9). What it takes for Black Artists to Win GRAMMYs. The Atlantic.

Vilanova, J. (2018, October 10). Migos’ Crossover Win at the AMAs Signals an Imminent Industry Shift. The Atlantic.

Vilanova, J. (2018, September 13). John Legend’s EGOT and the Seduction of Symbolic Racial Progress. The Atlantic.

Vilanova, J. (2018, June 20). Why Shouldn’t I Interview Stevie Wonder? MusiQology.

Vilanova, J. (2017, April 5). Pepsi's Idiotic Kendall Jenner Ad Highlights Pop Music's Protest Problem. Rolling Stone.

Vilanova, J. (2017, February 13). Beyoncé's Grammy snub and the Glass Ceiling on Black Art. Los Angeles Times.

Vilanova, J. (2016, February 22). Kendrick Lamar and the Structural Limits of Black Excellence. MusiQology.


  • Media & Society [core course for Journalism major] (Fall 2023, Spring 2023, Fall 2022)
  • “What is media's role in constructing racial identity?”[First-year “big questions” seminar] (Fall 2023)
  • Reporting the Crises: Journalism, Identity and Power [senior capstone seminar] (Spring 2023, Spring 2022, Spring 2021 [online])
  • From Lena Horne to Lemonade: Black Feminism & the Media Industries [graduate/advanced undergraduate seminar] (Fall 2023, Fall 2022, Fall 2021, Fall 2020 [online], Fall 2019)
  • Race & Media [first-year seminar] (Fall 2022, Fall 2020 [online], Fall 2019)
  • Writing for the Media [required journalism course] (Fall 2020 [online], 2019)
  • Introduction to Africana Studies (Spring 2023, Spring 2022, Spring 2020)
  • Global Media & Culture [senior capstone] (Spring 2020)
  • Dreams & Nightmares: The Music Industry, Media & Inequality (Summer 2022, 2021, 2020 [all online])