I’ve been working on a mini-essay about popular music’s lack of academic institutionalization, but I’ve had a hard time getting a handle on it. I think the topic is probably bigger than I’d like to make it.
My thesis so far: Popular music is not treated as a substantive field of study (i.e., beyond pop-culture studies) because a) unlike novelists and visual artists, who study the history of their discipline as a matter of course, popular musicians are not seen as "intellectuals" participating in an unique discourse; b) while the notion of the auteur (still a contentious issue) allowed the academy to see film studies at its inception as analogous to existing studies of artists and writers, it is perhaps even less applicable to popular music; c) there is a relative absence of legitimizing institutions (like the gallery complex) or gatekeepers (respected novelist-critics) to isolate significant works for study; d) compared to literary and artistic "themes," the focus of much academic inquiry, it is not always obvious what popular music is "about" (it is often more functional); and e) while the lines between popular and high-culture art and literature are quite blurry (cf. the Jonathan Franzen debacle), thus giving more leeway for popular works to sneak into syllabi, they are much more stark with respect to music (composition or bust).
I realize some of these causes may actually be symptoms, which is what makes the whole subject so difficult. As a sideline, I also want to discuss how libraries give popular music the short shrift. (One nice thing I did discover in my research to date: one of my favorite academics, Michael Berube, has started a blog.)