Issue 24: Music & Contemporary Culture
"Music is a reflection of culture: each one shapes the other."
Music-A Reflection of Society
Sammy Agrawal, Groton School
Jan 31, 2019
Music is everywhere-at school dances, in our dorms, during our showers. We live in an incredible time when the world is at our fingertips, while our fingertips are on our keyboards--a quick Youtube search yields virtually all of mankind’s recorded musical history, from Tchaikovsky to Britney Spears. The prevalence of music in our daily lives increases the influence that performers and musicians hold. As the U.S’s political landscape continues to cause more and more of us to research the pros and cons of Canadian citizenship, teenagers and young adults are increasingly turning to celebrities as role models. For better or for worse, celebrities and musicians-empowered by millions of dedicated followers on social media-continue to play an increasing role in shaping civil discourse and public opinion.
Celebrities have a responsibility to think deeply about the consequences of their actions, and what it is that they’re passing on to America’s youth. Rappers often flood their songs with homophobic slurs, threats of violence and crime as well as references to drugs. Some, like Eminem, deflect criticism by claiming that the personas they create for their “battle raps” differ from their true feelings--that may be true, but the only Marshall Mathers* 99% of the world will ever know is the one they hear on an album. Artists cannot simply distance themselves from their lyrics and refuse to take blame for what they’re saying--one’s art is a reflection of one’s personality.
However, artists themselves aren’t the people solely responsible for the influence of their content. The spread of certain artistic expressions is fueled by commerce; artists will continue to release what people are buying. As long as Blurred Lines** is played at our school dances, we are unwittingly endorsing a detrimental aspect of society, lack of consent, by not actively opposing it. I’m not saying that listening to Blurred Lines once at a dance automatically makes us lose our perception of boundaries. There are plenty of amazing songs that are “hype,” but don’t cross the line. Repeated exposure to art that constantly glorifies drinking and loose behavior does reinforce the message that those things are fine.
Music is a reflection of culture: each one shapes the other. As long as our culture continues demanding art that involves homophobia, drug use, and violence, these things will continue to plague our society. Teenagers like ourselves are the primary audience that defines what hip-hop and rap culture become. It is up to us to truly listen to what we’re hearing, and ask ourselves if the content is what we want to support.
*Marshall Mathers: Eminem’s real name.
**A song that blurs the boundaries of consent.