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. She is a co-editor of the volume Taylor Swift: The Star, The Songs, The Fans, currently forthcoming from Routledge. This book—the first academic book focused on the superstar singer-songwriter—builds on the success of the Taylor Swift Study Day: Eras, Narrative, Digital Music and Media, an interdisciplinary virtual symposium that took place in July 2021 that Paula co-organized with fellow co-editors Christa Bentley and Kate Galloway. The 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. She was also one of the co-organizers of the hybrid Music and the Internet conference in 2023, and one of the co-founders of the digital colloquium Music Scholarship at a Distance, a virtual forum for music studies convened in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Paula is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Music and The College at the University of Chicago, where she teaches classes like “Music and Sound in Digital Cultures,” “Theories and Aesthetics of Remix,” and “Divas, Idols, Material Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Music Videos.” She received her PhD in Historical Musicology from Columbia University in 2019, and prior to her appointment at UChicago she served as an Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and as a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. Her work has been published in the journals Popular Music and Society, Sound Studies, and The Soundtrack, as well as in special issues of American Music and Twentieth-Century Music, both of which she co-edited. Her expertise has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including NPR’s All Things Considered, Vulture, The Wall Street Journal, Jezebel, Vice, and the Sound Expertise podcast.

Beyond campus, the library, and the classroom, Paula sings as choral musician, bakes when she’s stressed, and watches Star Trek.

Contact Paula at pch9857@gmail.com or say hi to her on the internet.