Many genres of music have accommodated various themes over the centuries. The theme that holds possibly the greatest contention of all: violence. It is commonly debated whether music should glorify violence; if it is morally right that violence as a theme sells within the music industry, and whether should we give exposure to artists considered as ‘violent people’. An even more polarising question: does listening to such music speak to our character and make us violent people? Does listening to such music amplify our potential for violence? This debate takes place in almost every genre you can think of, however, they all have a common denominator.
By highlighting one particular genre, I can put this debate into context. Rock and its various sub-genres. Punk-rock and violence are often viewed as synonymous with one another, and as a result, people are judgemental about punk bands. However, the “Rock Bands” of today, and even those of the last few decades, seem to have moved away from using the genre to express anger in a manner of which can described as violent.
The popularity of bands such as The 1975, Mumford and Sons, and Kings of Leon has resulted in a shift from other bands in the same broad genre (but vastly different sub-genre) such as Linkin Park, Paramore, Slipknot and Fallout Boy, to more positive themes. This shift in the industry can be explained by a particular premise embraced internationally, and you may have said this exact sentence yourself…“Music should be positive”. Do you remember that terrible Paramore album that we all mutually agreed never to speak of again? This might explain why that album existed in the first place.
It’s the idea that music should be something enjoyable because it makes you feel good, and therefore the themes within it should encompass “good things”. I picked out those bands above since the latter few have been popular due to highlighting themes that are “negative”, but hugely resonated with their huge international fanbase. It expressed them in a violent manner, especially in the case of Slipknot, which meant that such themes became attached to their music and their identity as artists, and arguably themselves as people. And what is wrong with this?
The answer is absolutely nothing. This premise that music has to be positive does not work either in a moral sense or as a financial strategy, as Linkin Park and Paramore were known for expressing their troubles with anxiety and depression in their lyrics, with aggressive riffs and lyrics – never mind a violent approach to the rock genre. This only proved to be an inspiration to many fans, and fans commonly respect when an artist expresses the themes that are truly prevalent in their own lives, whether they are negative or positive.
A theory as to where this comes from is the growth of the pop music genre. This starts off by the need to except a difficult premise for many; the reputation and image of your favourite pop artist is 70% of what makes them popular, only 30% is the music. By this I mean that the music that the pop industry of the UK has been putting out over the last 20 or so years we have been alive, have all embraced the same themes of young love, happiness, partying hard, and enjoying sexual promiscuity. Generally, these are themes that society has decided to be “positive”, or themes that record labels, A&Rs, promotional firms and mainstream radio stations in partnership with the whole showbiz industry has convinced you are acceptable. This is probably why you may hold the view that music has to be this way, it has to be positive, simply because that is what the Pop industry has been selling to you for decades.
This might come from different lines of argument about why we listen to the music we do in the first place: we may listen to music to feel good or to comfort us, some argue we listen to certain music because it exposes us to different reality than we are used to; others argue it’s exclusively about the content, rather than the emotions they give us. All of these are missing vital pieces of each other, but they all agree that all music is created with a purpose. That purpose widely varies and as a result, as do the themes, so yes, violence is going to feature. At this point we should ask is there any particular purpose that we make music for? The answer to that is simply no.
Because music does not have to have a particular purpose, it doesn’t have to avoid any themes either. As a result, one can safely say music does not have to positive, the quicker this premise is ditched, the more you will enjoy music as a whole.