Music as Advocacy

One of my favorite discussion topics thus far has been the “Music as Advocacy” discussion. The discussion gave students the opportunity to share many different perspectives, and I enjoyed learning what my fellow classmates considered advocacy through music.

In my initial post, I shared that in many ways I have found contemporary music to be lacking advocacy components. The deep, emotional songs that used to be so common have become increasingly less so. Lyrics used to tell a story or take a stand, offering commentary on the social norms at the time. I think contemporary music has lost some of that flavor, particularly in the Pop music genre. If you turn on the radio, you will likely hear songs about sex, drugs, and heartbreak. While some songs stand out among the rest, most are lackluster and essentially meaningless. Yes, these songs express emotion or desire, but their execution is predictable. Nothing new is being brought to the music scene.

To a certain degree, music can even inhibit change. Rather than encouraging positive change, music can perpetuate cultural norms and stereotypes. Music is still being created that degrades women, makes racial jabs, and otherwise entertains at the expense of others. While we like to think we are rather cultured in our musical tastes, the dissemination of this kind of music continues to maintain negative — and sometimes even harmful — ideals and norms. In these ways, I do not believe music acts as an agent of change.

However, despite music’s shortcomings, there is still reason to be optimistic. There are ways in which music acts as an agent of change, spreading positive and uplifting messages as well as changing social norms. Music can break stereotypes and disseminate new ideas, changing the way we think about various subjects. Some of the songs I saw in the discussion forum includes “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, Grace and G-Easy’s cover of “You Don’t Own Me,” and “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé. Messages of female empowerment, self-love, body positivity, and others are expressed through music, and the number of people those messages reach and affect is staggering.

One song that I have always associated with advocacy is “Prototype” by Viktoria Modesta. Viktoria is a Latvian-born, UK-based pop star with a prosthetic leg, and her song — along with the accompanying music video — is striving to change our perceptions of beauty and disability. The disabled community is a minority that is constantly overlooked in favor of race and ethnicity. “Prototype” sheds some light on disability and shatters preconceived notions of what being disabled looks like. You can view Viktoria’s music video below:

My hope is that contemporary music can rediscover its meaningful, purposeful roots. Too many artists are afraid of controversy and are unwilling to set aside their popular, predictable music in favor of sending a message. I think music has so much potential for good, and I hope to see more artists create music that makes a statement.