The phrase “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” was once used to establish the style of music as an unpleasant part of society and culture.
The phrase has been virtually vacated from modern speech, while “rock n’ roll” has grown into the new “golden oldies” while our parents, the original rock n’rollers have become the new critics of youth culture.
However, can music be a negative influence on the lives of listeners? Is it a gateway to crime and obscenity which corrupts the minds of the youth? Popular music is flooded with songs about sex, drugs, blowing off your responsibilities, and violence. Modern music is emotional, talking about subjects of rage, sorrow, and love. What do these factors do our mental states as listeners?
Popular music in America is made up of two main genres: rock and roll and hip-hop and R&B. Rock and roll has no real “official” definition, and it comes in many different sounds. However, the basic definition is lyrics being paired with beats which are made from instruments (usually guitar, bass, and drums are staples). The instrumentation is usually heavily emphasized, being either as important to the meaning of the song as the lyrics, or even more important to the meaning. The instrumentation typically has moments in which it is being played alone for long period of times, which is where the popular concept of “guitar solos” comes into play.
Hip-hop and R&B is a very different category, albeit with similar origins. In reality, Hip-hop and R&B are two different styles, but they both share one quality. The lyrics rely on much more than the instrumentation for the meaning. Instrumentation can establish mood and tone for the song; however, it is not as important to the song as the instruments in hip-hop are. Both genres are also closely related to the style of delivery known as rap. Rap is essentially just spoken word poetry paired with complex (or in some cases simplistic) rhythms. R&B on the other hand more heavily incorporates singing.
In hearing those simplistic descriptions, it is clear that those genres make up a massive percentage of musical consumption in the US. However, can the songs you hear alter the way you behave, and more importantly, can a negative song promote negative behaviors in a person?
This is a very hard question to research due to diversity of human experiences and mental states, as well as the diversity of music itself. There are so many contributing factors which shape human behavior that at the end of the day, the music we listen to is one small spec in the ocean of influences which apply to the human psyche.
However, there is some research that the music you listen to can actually shape who you are as a person. Even though songs may talk about negative aspects of life, with drugs, crime, and violence being common topics, what is more important for how music shapes how we live are tone and emotion.
Studies have found that music can serve as an outlet for emotional expression and management. People are able to relate with emotional content of some songs and through that be able to lose the hopeless mentality which comes with mental states such as depression and anxiety.
A rapper making recent buzz in the hip-hop scene, XXXTentacion opened his album 17 in late August. With the words, “here is my pain and thoughts put into words/ I put my all into this, in hopes it will help cure/ or at least numb your depression,” the album brings up topics from the personal experience of the rapper, bringing up the struggles of the people in his life, as well as the his own personal run-ins with mental illness.
While emotional rap has existed for a while, it is only beginning to become a very popular form of the genre. However in the world of rock and roll, emotionally charged songs have had a place for a while. ‘Emo’ rock became name grouping together a majority of what was popular for teens in the 90’s and early 2000’s. One of the most notable of these bands is the grunge band, “Nirvana”, led by the late singer Kurt Cobain, who, through his own tackles with depression, killed himself on April 5th, 1994.
These songs and genres as a whole have been able to give people a platform for their emotional release and expression, which is a great way to cope with personal issues and can actually help deal with problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety.
Some songs also serve as to promote activism for these issues. Rapper Logic, the most notable example of recent memory, has a new song from his album, Everybody. The song in question, 1-800-273-8255, brings up not only personally struggles from the perspective of an explainer but he also tries to reach out to his fans to seek help, and to send them his best hopes in their times of need.
Clearly music can be a force that actually improves the mental state of individuals. It can assist with the management of emotions which are considered negative such as rage and depression. However, there have been some studies which critics of the genres mentioned above bring up.
The University of California, Los Angeles, for example came out with a study which stated that the has been an association with criminals and listeners of hip-hop. However, that study and studies of similar degrees have been criticized for making conclusions of stating that there was a correlation between the crimes and the fact the people listened to the music, same with older studies which made the same connections to rock and roll.
At the end of the day, it must be known that music could very well trigger listeners to do bad things. However, that is the case with any medium of entertainment, from TV all the way to books and other forms of literature.
With so many of the American people listening to these songs it is clear the songs themselves cannot be blamed for the actions performed by the listeners.Music is something you cannot avoid in modern culture; it is ingrained in the firmament of society. It is no more influential to the minds of the people than any other aspects of life consumed by the mass populous.