Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do… Sort Of… But Not Really…
In our day and age, with the media desperate to spark any kind of moral panic, one can look online and find ample studies proving that violent lyrics provoke violent thoughts. One could also find just as many articles stating how music is a positive outlet for emotion and used by millions worldwide for therapy, but no. The regular mother today is lead to believe that if her son has just listened to an Eminem track, he’s inevitably going to spring from his computer desk and go and mug the nearest little old lady. Because society needs someone to blame.
If you ask me, all it comes down to is common sense. If we teach the young generations that violence is morally wrong, they should know better than to behave violently. If a young person wants to go and beat someone up, it’s really down to them alone; for all we know, they could be going home and listening to One Direction afterwards. The behaviour of any individual is down to their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations; to assume that just because someone is an Eminem fan means they are violent or aggressive is a very unjust stereotype to make. God forbid society places a stereotype on anyone.
Every person is responsible for his or her own behaviour. The music a person listens to is highly unlikely to influence a person’s behaviour. Granted, a certain “type” of person may well listen to a certain “type” of music, but these conventions are not set in stone, nor are they relevant for every individual. Studies have indeed proven that certain music provokes certain reactions; but only short term. Violent music will inevitably spark violent thoughts. Christmas songs will obviously make you think of Christmas: doesn’t mean you’re going to put your tree up and get the mince pies out in July if Band Aid comes on your iPod whilst on shuffle. If you listen to Eminem’s (delightful) track, “Puke”; you’re more than likely going to think of someone you don’t like very much. Doesn’t mean you’re going to go and find them immediately upon listening to it and wring their neck.
So in conclusion, in my eyes, the type of music you listen to does not by any means define the kind of person you are, or the behaviour you exude. Take Chris Brown: a “rhythm’n’blues” artist… Who beat the shit out of his girlfriend. Eminem, a “violent hitmaker” never convicted on a violence charge. Music can be a fantastic outlet for emotions, and granted, certain music radiates certain feelings and emotions: but only ever in the short term. Because let’s face it, it’s nobody else’s fault if a certain person behaves in any which way, positive or negative. I doubt that soldiers fighting for our country say that “Now that’s what I call Britain!” was their motivation. Likewise, if you go and mug an old lady, I doubt Eminem or the like is to blame. You’re probably just a dickhead.
The Kids Are Alright
Just how influential are teenagers? Often they (and indeed, being only 19, myself) are chastised for how easily shaped our outlooks on the world our, supposedly only one violent film or X-rated rap song away from a major felony and a life on the streets. But are we really the sheep that the media would portray us as?
Certainly, in my early teens, like many others, I was something of a hotbed of emotion, constantly convinced the world was against me and that no-one else could empathise. Music in some way did help and also perhaps contribute to this, bands such as Nirvana and Green Day discovered in my formulaic years taught me that, of course, many others go through that exact same melodramatic teenage angst.
Did this, however, convince me to drop out of school and become a drug addict? No, because I can think for myself. Much as fans of Van Gogh’s artwork aren’t suddenly motivated to cut their own ear off, I, as a fan of Kurt Cobain, wasn’t motivated to suddenly live my life like him. Am I an exception to my generation? From personal experience, I wouldn’t say so.
One of the particular targets of the scorn of the sensationalist media is the genre of rap music, with artists such as Eminem and the N.W.A often criticised for promoting gun crime and violence in their songs.
However, to what extent is this true? Research by the National Research Centre for Women and Families suggests that, although listening to violent songs made teenagers more hostile in the short-term, the effects were not lasting and when given another task the teenager would generally act normally once more.
Perhaps one of the more interesting finds by the NRCFWF was that teenagers deemed ‘hostile’ prior to the experiment in fact showed no difference in their reactions to violent songs and ‘non-violent’ songs. This suggests that another problem is to blame for the violence among youths today, and one in which violent music has little or no stake.
It seems to me that something of a blame culture has become prevalent in today’s society, with rap music and ‘video nasties’ becoming easy targets for the ire of the government and tabloid papers. Coming from a working-class town myself, I would argue that many kids are affected much more by poor living conditions and a lack of future than they are by a few songs on their Ipod. Before pointing the finger the powers that be must at first realise what it is that makes this angry genre of music so appealing to today’s disaffected youths. It is very telling that Eminem rapping about growing up in a trailer park the other side of the world displays a much greater degree of empathy for many teens than their local MP living 20 minutes away in his second home.
As Pete Townshend once wrote, ‘the kids are alright’. How about we stop pointing the finger of blame for once and actually give them a chance?
Hit Me With Your Best Shot— Fire Away!
Domestic violence is still a current and prominent issue in society and one that is rarely touched upon the media as it is generally not the top news story in comparison to the rest of world news. Yet, it appears that over time, artists have been highlighting the issue through the form of music lyrics. This not only highlights the issue, but gives the victims of abuse a voice. As shocking and as disturbing the lyrics are, they are essential for enlightening society about what occurs from behind closed doors.
A band from 1962, The Crystals, sung the song, ‘He Hit Me (It Felt like a Kiss)’ and focuses directly on domestic violence. The band was formed of four black women singing about how a husband hits his wife. However, the lyrics state that, ‘He hit me, but it didn’t hurt me,’ and so there is an indication that she is trying gain power by stating that he did not hurt her through the abuse which makes her appear the stronger person. Through singing about the abuse, it also gives the women a voice which the media does and didn’t give them at the time; especially as they were black women and were extremely marginalised. The chilling aspect of this song is that the song has a cheery tone as violins play and it is quite light hearted. This creates a wider appeal for the audience as it is not only easy listening, but is also informative.
Nowadays, music is much more of a commodity and music labels focus on selling songs for wide audiences such as clubs and so lyrics do not focus on the message of lyrics so much. However, it is evident that the media have recently focused on the domestic abuse that singer Rihanna suffered. Rihanna sings the song, ‘Love the Way You Lie’ in which she sings the line, ‘I like the way it hurts’. This is extremely disturbing and yet it empowers her as an individual to convey to an audience that she came out of the abuse as a better and stronger person and that she can be a tougher individual because of this. Not only this, but it gives hope to others who have been victims of domestic abuse because of Rihanna’s image, they respect her as a result.
It’s particularly important for female artists to empower themselves in this way as it destroys the perception that men have a significant level of power of women. A song that sticks out to me here is Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot and is an extremely rocky tune that empowers her as a woman. It highlights that women should be taken seriously in society, especially as singers with a message in their lyrics.
Although the message of these songs is disturbing and shocking, surely it is necessary for our culture to be informed of this abuse? It’s the only way we’ll know otherwise.
Violence in Lyrics
The first reaction when it comes to violence in songs is most of the time: ‘It is bad’. But going a bit deeper into the topic might make you change your mind.
Just be clear about one thing: Glorification of violence is always absolute unacceptable, no matter in which format it appears.
The most important thing to consider when it comes to violence within a song is the intention behind it. It is absolutely acceptable to write a song about a violent crime like domestic violence in order to give the victims their voices back. This is a way of giving them back the power and most of the time also about picking up the pieces of a destroyed past life. So the ‘singing about violence’ can be a way of handling the situation. This can also lead to so called ‘revenge songs’, where the victim can find a non-violent way of taking revenge.
But songs that tell about violence and crimes are not only a way of dealing with the topic for the author of the song but, since it is openly accessible, also for the listener. A song which openly deals with some form of violence can be a motivation for ‘secret victims’ to follow the singer’s example and to speak up as well.
There is also another feature about songs that contain violence which is the effect on listeners who are lucky enough to have no experience with serious violence. These people should listen to song like ‘Behind the Wall’ by Tracey Chapman as well. The idea behind it is that even a ‘uninvolved’ listener can make the topics like domestic violence even more heard in public, so that there can be found a solution and help for the victims.
Every song that that contains violence of any kind of form and that is not written with the intention to either handling the damage, giving the victims their voices back or to making violence a more without a taboo to talk about in public, it is not acceptable and should not find a single listener. A song that is written with the intention to motivate people to become violent is absolutely worth of condemnation. I would find a million examples on the internet for songs like that, but that would give these kinds of songs far more attention than they deserve.
To sum it all up I can say that I appreciate the topic of violence within a song as long as the intention behind it is to either inform and to handle this taboo topic.
This is a dangerous and complex issue, particularly from an editorial standpoint.
All I will say on this subject is that Heartbreaker is probably a better song than Hit With Your Best Shot.