Social change can be defined as any significant alteration over time in behavioural patterns and cultural values and norms. (CliffsNotes, Social Change Defined.) Music, and musicians, have influence over this due to their increasing platforms not just through their music, but across platforms such as social media and the influence they have over their fans. This essay will use Feminism within music and lyrics, the Kesha vs Dr Luke court case and One Love Manchester to describe and explain how music has an influence over social change, and how music can be a positive force in creating social change.
The sexualisation of women in music is an issue female artists and listeners alike must face, especially with the added pressure of social media. In regards to the presentation of women in music, lyrics in songs from most genres can be seen as degrading towards women and therefore can be harmful to a female audience and a hinderance to social change.
Nouns like babe and baby are often used in pop music, and some are of the opinion that this disregards a womans adulthood and infantilises her. In rap music, the language used to describe women becomes more violent, with bitch and hoe (whore) being used more commonly. (Gronevik, Klara, The Depiction of Women in Rap and Pop Music.) This violent language is a problem when referring to women, the noun bitch is mostly used for the purpose of being negative and having negative connotations. Lyrics surrounding these nouns and the contexts in which these nouns are placed further illustrates the derogatory nature in which women are placed in, in music.
This could have a negative impact on social change due to the negative language used describing women being so widespread; listeners may believe it is acceptable to treat women as bitches and hoes.
Moreover, with the added pressure of social media for artists, their presentation, especially regarding female artists, becomes scrutinised. However, female artists have begun to voice their opinion on the scrutiny they, and their bodies, are under.
One example of this is the ongoing conflict between UK group Little Mix and morning talk show host Piers Morgan. The conflict started when Little Mix posed naked, covered with painted slurs they have been subjected to while being in the music industry, to promote their new single, Strip. Morgan accused them of using sex to sell records, saying, If men stripped off like that we’d be arrested but women do it and it’s empowering’. They’re stripping off to sell albums, that’s what it’s about.
“The rest of it is baloney . They don’t have any flaws, they’ve been airbrushed to look perfect Theyre fake. There’s not a mark on them. You can’t even see the surgery. He further went on to ask the audiences opinion; do you find Little Mix empowering when they strip off and put offensive words all over their naked bodies? Or like me do you find it a cynical assault on the records market? (Piers Morgan, Good Morning Britain.)
Little Mixs Leigh-Anne Pinnock responded to this, commenting Strip is a really special song from LM5, its all about standing proud and we wrote it to encourage and empower people to be who they are. The lyrics in the song emphasise that the song is for empowerment and confidence. (Take off all my make-up ’cause I love whats under it / Rub off all your words, don’t give a, “uh”, I’m over it / Jiggle all this weight, yeah, you know I love all of this / Finally love me naked, sexiest when I’m confident ) (Little Mix, Strip.)
Little Mix are feminists and are targeting their female audience to spread the message that they are strong and beautiful and powerful. Not only in interviews, but with their songs and lyrics; their fifth studio album alone, LM5, includes five songs with messages of female empowerment. (The National Manthem, Woman Like Me, Joan Of Arc, Strip and Womans World.) Feminism within music is so important, especially now, with trolls like Piers Morgan targeting artists like Little Mix who dress how they want to dress because it is empowering for them. Little Mix standing up to Piers Morgan and voicing their distaste and objections to his view that they are using their bodies to sell records is also important and spreads a message to their fans that they arent going to change because they feel empowered with the way they dress and look and the music they write. Therefore, Little Mix and the message they send can be seen as a positive force for social change, however, the addition of the image of artists being such a big part of their career nowadays, and the amount of scrutiny their image has to face, can be seen as a negative in terms of social change.
In October of 2014, Kesha (Rose Sebert) (musician, singer/songwriter and activist) filed a lawsuit against Dr Luke (Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald), one of her producers, claiming that Gottwald sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused [Kesha] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life. (KESHA ROSE SEBERT, an individual, plaintiff v LUKASZ SEBASTIAN GOTTWALD, a/k/a DR LUKE, an individual, KASZ MONEY, INC., a New York Corporation; PRESCRIPTION SONGS, LLC, d/b/a WHERE DA KASZ AT? A California limited liability company; KEMOSABE ENTERTAINMENT, LLC, a California limited liability company, KEMOSABE RECORDS, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, and DOES 1-25 inclusive, defendants.) Gottwald countersued for deformation of character. The court denied Kesha a court injunction allowing her to produce new material alone or apart from Sony and Dr Luke, meaning that if Kesha wished to record and release new material, she would have had to work with her alleged abuser to do so. (Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone, Kesha Denied Injunction Against Dr Luke, Must Record for Sony.)
Kesha released a statement regarding the case, saying that all [she] ever wanted was to be able to make music without being afraid, scared, or abused But at this point, this issue is bigger than just about [her] I think about young girls today I dont want my future daughter or your daughter or any person to be afraid that they will be punished if they speak out about being abused, especially if their abuser is in a position of power. She furthers her statement by adding, Yes, I am very much a feminist, but more than that, I am a humanist. I believe in supporting my fellow human beings in being SAFE. (Kesha Rose Sebert, Facebook, 24th February 2016.)
The background of this case study is important to how music, Keshas music, was a positive force for social change. In 2017, in the midst of the court case, Kesha released Praying, a song that heavily alludes to the situation between herself and Dr Luke. The song is critically acclaimed and can be interpreted in different ways, as all pieces can; some believe Praying is an anthem of forgiveness (Eve Barlow wrote for Variety; [Kesha] pushes through her demons and possesses a remarkable level of empathy,)(Eve Barlow, Variety, Song Review: Keshas Praying, Published July 6th 2017) and some believe it to hold anger (Tatiana Cirisano wrote for Billboard that while the chorus aims for reconciliation with an unnamed listener…there’s still a flicker of anger in the singer’s words.)(Tatiana Cirisano, Billboard, With Confessional, Defiant ‘Praying’ Lyrics, Kesha Opens About Tumultuous Past Five Years, Published June 7th 2017.) Shortly after Praying, her third studio album, Rainbow, was released. The album release is important as it sends a message to abuse survivors that anything is possible, even through abuse, and that it is something that can be survived. The uplifting messages continue throughout Keshas album; Praying, as previously mentioned, directly addresses an abuser of some sort, but alludes to her particular abuser, Dr Luke. Learn to Let Go spreads the message that the past cant haunt [you] if [you] dont let it. Lastly, Rainbow enforces, when the winds are howling strong / and you think you cant go on/ hold tight sweetheart / youll find a rainbow. The message Kesha is trying to send is not one of mass produced value, and it does not create positive social change in a conventional way; she is not trying to start a revolution or a riot. Nonetheless, Kesha widely and openly spreads the message to speak out about abuse, to challenge the people that are abusing their positions of power, and that things do get better, and this message is spread through her music. Therefore, Keshas music can be seen as a positive force for social change.
On May 22nd, 2017, Salman Abedi, a member of Islamic State, detonated a homemade nail and shrapnel bomb in the foyer of Manchester Arena after Ariana Grandes Dangerous Woman Tour concert had ended. The bomb killed 22 civilians. (Simon Coyle, What happened in the Manchester terror attack: Everything we know so far, Published May 25th 2017.) It is difficult to say how many people were injured, due to there being both severe and minor physical injuries, and many more endure psychological trauma, however it is predicted that between 500 and 800 people were injured. On May 26th, Ariana Grande released a written statement on Instagram, writing, we will not quit or operate in fear. We wont let this divide us. We wont let hate win Ill be returning to the brave city of Manchester to spend time with my fans and to have a benefit concert in honour of and to raise money for the victims. (Ariana Grande, Instagram, May 26th 2017.)
The benefit concert, One Love Manchester, took place on June 4th 2017 and featured acts including Pharrell Williams, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Take That, Victoria Monet, Robbie Williams, Niall Horan, Little Mix, Imogen Heap, Mac Miller, Katy Perry, Coldplay and Liam Gallagher. (BBC Music, One Love Manchester, aired June 4th 2017.) The concert around ?10 million, and the proceeds went to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund and the British Red Cross.
One Love Manchester was an important event to be held as the premise of creating this event was to send the message that love triumphs over hate, and this message was sent through music. In the same statement Ariana Grande posted on Instagram, she said music is something that everyone on Earth can share. Music is meant to heal us, to bring us together, to make us happy. So that is what it will continue to do for us. Many of the artists chose songs to uplift the audience, for example, Pharrell Williams Happy, Oasis Dont Look Back In Anger, and Katy Perrys Roar and Part Of Me. There were also changes in the setlist after talking to one of the victims families; Grande said Olivia (Campbell-Hardy) wouldve wanted to hear the hits. The setlist was important – many of the fans who attended the benefit concert and the original Manchester Dangerous Woman Tour concert would be fans of popular music. Melinda Newman wrote for Forbes that, This attack deliberately targeted young girls and the music they love, so to see so many young females on stage (including the Parrs Woods High School Choir) proudly owning their talent was wonderfully empowering. The uplifting message ran throughout the concert; videos of policemen and security guards dancing with audience members soon went viral, alongside videos of the performances. (Forbes, Melinda Newman, Why Ariana Grandes One Love Manchester Benefit Concert Matters, June 4th 2017.) This music event had a positive influence on social change as it directly addressed not only the victims of this horrendous attack, but music lovers across the world (the concert was broadcast internationally) to spread the message that love triumphs over hate in times where hope may be lost, and this message was spread through the act of a music event and through live music.
Within music and the music industry, there will always be opportunity for evil, such as the sexualisation of women, sexual abuse and misconduct, abuse of power and even terrorism. However, the examples given within this essay prove that music can help to heal, to grow, and to be a positive force for social change. Artists like Little Mix use their image and music to send a message to both their fans and the people who dislike them; women are powerful, regardless of what they look like, how they dress, or their sexuality. Kesha and her comeback to music after her court case regarding Dr Luke, is an assistance and a reinforcement for victims of abuse and sexual assault that abuse is something that can be survived, and that things can get better. Lastly, One Love Manchester not only raised money for people affected by the Manchester Bombing, but brought music lovers from across the world together to make a social statement – love always wins. Therefore, in conclusion, music can be, and is, a positive force for social change.