Covid-19 Update: We've taken precautionary measures to enable all staff to work away from the office. These changes have already rolled out with no interruptions, and will allow us to continue offering the same great service at your busiest time in the year.

Is Pop Music a Tool of Social Control?

2132 words (9 pages) Essay in Sociology

08/02/20 Sociology Reference this

Disclaimer: This work has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work produced by our Essay Writing Service. You can view samples of our professional work here.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

‘Pop music is a tool of social control’. Critically discuss.

Music has been an essential part of human life since man has been able to string a sentence together. According to a study conducted by Nielsen Music, the average American spends more than 32 hours a week listening to music, up from 23.5 hours a week in 2015[1], making it a significant part of western society. Arguably there are multiple purposes of music, one predominate drive is to provoke an emotional reaction; another may be to cause an individual to succumb to an ideology, product or service (Brown and Volgsten, 2006)[2]. Therefore this does pose the question; is pop music a tool of social control? Brown and Volgsten wrote, “Music has a special way of getting past the ‘bouncers’ of the human unconscious”[3].

The genre of music hip-hop is an intriguing focus for such a question; as a product of resistance of an oppressed minority group in a subsection of America that has progressed into one of the most popular genres of music worldwide. Spotify’s ‘musical map of the world’, which analyses nearly 20 billion tracks and localized trends in over 1000 cities, found hip-hop was the worlds most listened to music. For a genre of music which was derived from the marginalised black people of New York in the post-industrial urban America (Rose, 1994)[4], typically having political undertones, to become a part of mass culture worldwide is significant; and can give insight into whether popular (pop) music can be manipulated into a form of social control.  Alternatively, this could support that “music can become a manipulative device when placed in conjunction with an intellectual message, adding a new and powerful emotional dimension to it” (Brown and Volgsten, 2006).

The success of the genre is down to two main factors; the commercialisation of the culture as a commodity; and the genre remaining accessible and true to its roots. Pountain and Robbins (2000) suggest that the fact hip-hop didn’t need proficiency on a musical instrument made hip-hop highly democratic[5].  Likewise relegated groups across the world resonate with the attitudes of resisting prejudice and marginalisation.

Hip-hop was conceived from the African-American struggle of the late 1960s, being one of the few things the youth living in the Bronx could do that wasn’t self-destructive. Hip-hop was not only enjoyed by people that could afford to go to clubs but also taking place in rec rooms and basketball courts, and was the creation and appreciation for the self-experience that was hip-hop.  Hip-hop was developed as an outlet for frustrations with the inequalities and discrimination of day-to-day life. By the 80s hip-hop had attention drawn to it with well-known political contributions such as Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash. Neal said, “The Message” [by Grandmaster Flash] was the first significant political recording produced in the post-soul era, representing an astute critique of the rise and impact of the [president] Reagan right on working-class and urban locales”[6]. The existence of hip-hop culture, which was formed in response to mass culture, suggests that we are active in our response to pop music. The social dynamics of what was considered the ‘hood’ was mainly concealed from the majority of America; this was challenged by hip-hop with artists offering a shocking depiction of their blighted neighbourhoods and forcing America, and the rest of the world, to no longer be ignorant to the harsh reality of the violence and corruption that infested their streets. 

Through the medium of music, hip-hop has developed its own counterculture that challenges mass culture. This suggests that pop music is not a form of social control but can be used to criticise popular culture. Sivanadan (1990) suggested that such subcultures, which are dominated by black people, were motivated by a sense of opposition to a racist and capitalist society[7]. This reflects Benjamin’s (1936) writing, “The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well”[8].  Hip-hop as a culture, now enjoyed by the masses, would have first emerged when artists, with similar problems of social adjustment, interact with one another and they have innovated new frames of reference (A. Cohen, 1955)[9]. Hip-hop explicitly demonstrates a counterculture that has been adopted by an aspect of popular culture; therefore this shows that as consumers we are actively responding to mass culture through music, which refutes the idea that pop music is a tool for social control. The sheer existence of hip-hop, which lyrically expresses ‘resistance through rituals’, demonstrates a subculture challenging a conforming and uncritical mass culture (Hall and Jefferson, 1975)[10]. However, it has now integrated into a widely consumed medium and may be categorised as pop music itself. Hip-hop has ‘a symbolic form of resistance’ and is used to define one’s differences to the mainstream culture and its values (Hebdige,1979)[11] .

However, predictably the growing popularity of the genre did not go unnoticed by corporations and music labels. As sales grew, so did the influence corporations had on the content of hip-hop music.  Artists were encouraged to take different approaches within their music in order to sell increase sales.  As corporate America took over and carried increasing weight in the industry, many hip-hop artists became driven by profit rather than challenging mainstream culture. Therefore the essence of resistance to mass culture diluted as the industry churned out standardized versions of ‘hip-hop’ music, which developed it into pop music, in order to maximise profit. This shows that hip-hop has been sucked into the process of the ‘Culture industry’, which is where in a capitalist society mass culture works like industry and produces standardized commodities (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1947). Adorno and Horkheimer explain ‘culture industry’; “Its millions of participants […] demand reproduction process which inevitably leads to the use of standardized products to meet the same needs at countless locations”[12]. This suggests that as hip-hop became popular the industry destroyed the cultural significance it once had, and the consumption of mass-produced hip-hop produces standardized individuals; therefore pop music could be seen as a tool for social control.

Benjamin (1936) wrote about how mechanical reproduction and mass consumption of art (including music) causes it to lose its aura, which is its originality and authenticity.  He goes on to suggest that the loss of the aura results in the loss of a singular authority of the art. This is demonstrated in that although many popular hip-hop tracks have political undertones, for example, Eminem’s 4-minute freestyle criticising Trump and Dave’s ‘Question Time’, it is clear that the majority of political pop/hip-hop music produced mirrors the political climate of that time; therefore only replicating a position held by mass culture in order to increase profit.

Often when people ‘consume’ hip-hop, which many consumers falsely believe to be separate from pop music, they are under the illusion that they are exercising their freedom and are independent from conformers of mass culture, especially when the hip-hop music has political undertones.  This is a form of commodity fetishism (Marx, 1867)[13], where in reality the transaction of buying music or going to concerts is commercial interests taking more of the fruits of the consumers’ labour; and in exchange for their money they receive ‘fake’ music that is formulaic and repetitive. Popular music evaporates quickly to be replaced by more of the same because that is what makes money. Adorno (1991) wrote “Music, with all the attributes of the ethereal and sublime which are generously accorded it, serves in America today as an advertisement for commodities which one must acquire in order to be able to hear music”[14]. The music industry creates a false sense of choice when producing pop music, which seduces consumers into buying more and increasing corporate profit. 

In conclusion, the commercialisation of genres of music, such as hip-hop, is the process of corporate influences stripping away the culture at the roots and replicating aspects that sell. Pop music is a tool for social control as all popular, mainstream, music is driven by commercial interests and is driven to make money not necessarily make good music. The formulas for pop music create the illusion of freedom and satisfaction but in reality, consumers are just giving money to the capitalist system. This is important, as society should be aware commercial music they consume and not be lulled into following capitalist ideologies.

Bibliography

  • Adorno and Horkheimer. (2002). Enlightenment as Mass Deception . In: Noeri and Jephcott Dialectic of Enlightenment. 15th ed. USA: Stanford University Press. 2.
  • Adorno. (1991). on the fetish character in music and on regression of listening. In: Bernstein The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. London : Routledge. 38.
  • Benjamin, W (1936). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin. 222.
  • Brown, Volgsten (2006). Music and Manipulation: On the Social Uses and Social Control of Music. New York: Berghahn Books.
  • Brown, Volgsten (2006). Music and Manipulation: On the Social Uses and Social Control of Music. New York: Berghahn Books. x.
  • Cohen, A (1955). Delinquent boys: the culture of the gang. Michigan: The University of Michigan. 59.
  • Dick Pountain and David Robbins (2000). Cool Rules – Anatomy of an Attititude. Islington: Reaktion Books
  • Hall and Jefferson (2006). Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. 2nd ed. London: Routledge
  • Hebdige, D (2003). Subculture. 11th ed. New York: Routledge.
  • Mark Anthony Neal. (2004). PostIndustrial Soul, black popular music at crossroads. In: Murray Forman, Mark Anthony Neal That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader. Hove: Psychology Press. 363-386.
  • Marx. (1867). commodities . Capital Volume 1. 1 (4), 46-60.
  • Nielsen Music. (2017). EVERYONE LISTENS TO MUSIC, BUT HOW WE LISTEN IS CHANGING. Available: https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/everyone-listens-to-music-but-how-we-listen-is-changing.html. Last accessed 16th Dec 2018.
  • Sivanandan (1990). Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. New York: Verso.
  • Tricia Rose (1994). Black Noise. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

[1] Nielsen Music. (2017). EVERYONE LISTENS TO MUSIC, BUT HOW WE LISTEN IS CHANGING. Available: https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/everyone-listens-to-music-but-how-we-listen-is-changing.html. Last accessed 16th Dec 2018.

[2] Brown, Volgsten (2006). Music and Manipulation: On the Social Uses and Social Control of Music. New York: Berghahn Books.

[3] Brown, Volgsten (2006). Music and Manipulation: On the Social Uses and Social Control of Music. New York: Berghahn Books. x.

[4] Tricia Rose (1994). Black Noise. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

[5] Dick Pountain and David Robbins (2000). Cool Rules – Anatomy of an Attititude. Islington: Reaktion Books

[6] Mark Anthony Neal. (2004). PostIndustrial Soul, black popular music at crossroads. In: Murray Forman, Mark Anthony Neal That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader. Hove: Psychology Press. 363-386.

[7] Sivanandan (1990). Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. New York: Verso.

[8] Benjamin, W (1936). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin. 222.

[9] Cohen, A (1955). Delinquent boys: the culture of the gang. Michigan: The University of Michigan. 59.

[10] Hall and Jefferson (2006). Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. 2nd ed. London: Routledge

[11] Hebdige, D (2003). Subculture. 11th ed. New York: Routledge.

[12] Adorno and Horkheimer. (2002). Enlightenment as Mass Deception . In: Noeri and Jephcott Dialectic of Enlightenment. 15th ed. USA: Stanford University Press. 2.

[13] Marx. (1867). commodities . Capital Volume 1. 1 (4), 46-60.

[14] Adorno. (1991). on the fetish character in music and on regression of listening. In: Bernstein The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. London : Routledge. 38.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Find out more

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please:

McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams Prices from
£124

Undergraduate 2:2 • 1000 words • 7 day delivery

Order now

Delivered on-time or your money back

Rated 4.6 out of 5 by
Reviews.co.uk Logo (199 Reviews)