Babylon’s Anthem: Why mainstream Music doesn’t address societal issues?


Was listening to Aint no giving In by Chronixx and I found myself thinking why it is the case that you rarely hear mainstream artists singing about poverty, oppression, persecution and other problems in society?

Maybe my musical influences and tastes are too narrow, but while I do like to listen to a wide range of popular music, including a selection of contemporary music by artists of all shades, to supplement my alternative/ underground …, it seems to be the case that it’s always the alternative  scene where artists sing more about hardship, persecution and oppression, than the mainstream??

That’s the first observation.

turntableThe second observation is that it seems there’s a disproportionate number of reggae and rap artists (which has long been dominated by black artists) who sing about the problems of society, than artists who create music in other genres?

Imagine for a second listening to Iggy Azalea advocating against teenage pregnancy? Or Taylor Swift dropping lines on poverty and inequality in American society? You won’t hear her flag the effect that repossessions has on poor families..

You don’t hear that kind of thing in the mainstream genres, do you?

And it’s not just about white artists. It’s not often that you hear for example Beyoncé sing about drug abuse in the ghetto? And the effects such has on young lives? She’s sang about relationships and marriage, but off the top of my head I can’t remember her doing a song on crime or drug abuse? Similarly, has Jay-z or Kanye ever done a song about police brutality?

Yet these artists have a lot of following. A lot of people look up and listen to them.

headphonesFrom my limited musical influences, it seems that when mainstream artists produce music about grief or hardship, it’s often about personal loss in the form of heartbreak, loss of a friend, a cheating partner, a gold-digger, interpersonal relationships, relationship problems or … alcohol, drugs, money and such like.

That’s how it looks like…

So, it’s either that I seriously need to broaden my musical tastes, and be redeemed musically….or my observations have some truth it in, in that the majority of mainstream artists don’t talk about the societal issues which matter. Certainly not as much as artists in genres such as rap and reggae.

paul-david-hewsonWhat about Bono? What about Coldplay? I hear you say. Bono is mainstream, sort of. So is Coldplay. And they’ve done tons of good.

Yeah Bono, Coldplay and the likes of Bob Geldof have in admirable activist fashion all fronted many a worthwhile campaign. But most of their music doesn’t address the same concerns or issues which say Damian Marley or Al Borosie talks about. The issues which Coldplay highlights are somewhat different to the kind of things which an artist such as Niyorah highlights. Here, I must point out that I’m not saying one issue is more important than the other, I’m just pointing out that the issues are often different:

It’s the industry and the audience, stupid. Artists create music which their audiences like, music which they crave to listen to. The entertainment industry is about ‘ent-er-tain-ment‘ . The clue is in the name!!??!!!. Further, record label executives have filters which sift certain content from getting past.

You’ve got a point. But considering that music is such a powerful medium, you’d have thought it would be put to a greater number of uses more than merely entertainment? Why not? For something that is so potent…?

Isn’t the silence on important issues what drives some to concoct conspiracy theories of certain musicians being paid up members of the illuminati? An organisation which under any sensible lens and scrutiny will be found to be as fictitious as Alice in Wonderland. Existing only in the minds of its detractors.

backgroundWhile I’m no expert, could it all be a cultural thing? That certain artists from certain cultures and sub-cultures are more likely to sing about certain issues than other artists? Or could it be localization. That artists based in Jamaica are more likely to address problems which Jamaicans face, than an artist who lives in East London?

Is it the genre? that because the roots of most reggae and rap artists (the majority of whom are black) is in deprived and poor communities, the genres have developed to contain more musicians who sing about the cards which ‘life’ has dealt the people living in those deprived areas?

bandPossibly, but I doubt that’s the only explanation because on the other hand we have punk rock artists, who are predominantly caucasian and of a wide range of persuasions and backgrounds, yet many of them identify with anti-establishment, equality, freedom and anti-authoritarianism ideologies?

What is clear is that artists who sing about the problems in society, be they punk rock stars, rappers or reggae artists get neither as much exposure nor recognition as those who don’t sing about the problems in society. And to support my claim, look at this list. Also, allow me to introduce a term which some readers will not be familiar with. Conscious Rap, which some people refer to as political hip-hop, a bundling together which I think is incorrect and gives it the wrong connotations.

I think the artists who highlight societal ills are just brave enough not to ignore the things which their fans have to deal with everyday. And for that they should be commended.



One comment


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s