How music is changing our society in 2018/2019

The power of music is indisputable. For ancient Egyptians flutes and harps were commonly played to create mood and entertain the ruling and leisure classes. Music has since become much more accessible to the masses, although this process has not been without resistance from those who fear the power it contains to do more than reflect social change, but to actually fuel it.

The subtle music messages through history

Historians and anthropologists are confident that music is both a reliable way of understanding culture and social conditions and a medium which can both reflect and even fuel social and political rebellion. Take 16th to 18th century England for example, when music for the masses was delivered through hymns; religious songs with lyrics deigned to reinforce obedience to the church.

Jump to the 20th century and we find the rise of the football anthem, punk which ushered in a decade of rebellion, and the emergence of ‘girl power’ as women muscle to the front of the music stage.

Twenty years on
In contemporary culture music had never been more accessible; thanks to the ways it is both created and delivered changing so dramatically.

Never before have the public had 24/7 access to musical sources, opportunities to create their own through computer programs and devices, other opportunities to find an audience whether through reality TV talent shows or an online video platform.

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Musical messages
In ancient Greece the public learned from wise male philosophers who spoke for hours in public places, and some believe that modern day popular musicians play the same role.

Therefore contemporary music must do more than simply observe and comment on contemporary society, but perhaps also encourage social unrest amongst the marginalized where it once operated as a means of social control?

It would be naïve to write this off as unlikely, after all we already know that music has a profound effect on motivation, (shopping centres speed up their musak as closing time approaches to encourage customers to shop faster), and on pain control – playing music during surgery reduces the amount of post-op painkillers needed.

Music very definitely also both encourages and reinforces shared emotional reactions between group members who identify with a common struggle; what happens when a woman sings ‘I will survive’ at a karaoke event for proof of that.

Music is the people’s voice

From 1960s hippie flower power and anti-war messages to the political undertones of 1980s hits, music has been a consistently reliable way to tap into popular concerns and opinions.

In recent months the emergence of ‘UK drill’, an offshoot of rap which typically includes mention of violent crime as a response to gang rivalries, brewed on social media before spilling into the street, has caused people to once again question whether music reflects current social problems, or actually encourages them.

The role of music in modern society is in some ways more complex than it was in the past, but what we know for certain is that it will continue to act as an accurate and insightful record of social history.

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