Why I Don’t Listen to Music – A Musician’s Perspective
Some may argue that popular music offers a decent insight into life. Who is not tempted to randomly scream James Brown’s “I feel good” when something amazing happens to them? And who does not quote Adele lyrics when they sense a heartbreak near? We use music to express the way that we feel; our joy, sadness, envy, and pride. Furthermore, many musical artists may be seen as bleeding their personalities into their irresistible melodies. We can tell Falz is funny from listening to the comical satire in his lyrics. We also know that rappers like Eminem and NF have had a lot of anger issues because they are very explicit about them in their songs. It would be no surprise if angry people out there would listen to these artists. We all have found a friend in artists who express on our behalf what we fail to put in words.
Music is great. Besides, we have an abundance of research that shows that music helps us process emotion, helps predict our personalities, and it can boost our memory skills (Cooper, 2013). There are so many incredible musical fun facts that show us how vital this priceless art is. However, in such a society, it is easy to spiral down a pop music rabbit hole, binging on its benefits and ignoring that there may be a dark side to it. After all, there is no silver lining without a dark cloud.
Don’t Dare Depress Dem
Many have fallen victim to the trap of Electronic Dance Music. The loud synthetic sounds that take over your body and synchronize your heartbeat with the heavy kick. The highly anticipated beat drops that leave entire crowds in a frenzy with melodies and 808s that seem to be persistent earworms. However, very often, you will find pure heart-wrenching depression masked behind all these dopamine infusing rhythms and melodies. For some, it is highly cryptic, as was the case of the 2009 song Fireflies by Owl City. When one listens to the song, the experience is pure joy. The joy is so abundant, in fact, that it takes the listener an extra effort to hear the singer screaming for help in the blatantly spoken “please take me away from here” refrain.
A more recent case of subtly chilling lyrics is DJ and producer Illenium’s song, Takeaway which features the Chainsmokers and Lennon Stella. The song describes a struggling relationship in which one person decides to break the other’s heart before they are broken. As if the idea is not cringe-worthy enough, the persona goes on to say that “even if I’m not here to stay, I still want your heart for takeaway.”
Exciting and ironically depressing songs are particularly toxic because many times, the listener is not keen or even aware of what they are listening to. It just sounds nice. In his text concerning the harmful effects of music on body and mind, Assagioli (2019) states that sad music “is likely to act as a psychological poison on the listener who allows its depressing influence to permeate him.”
Sex, Sex, Sex
Today’s popular (and sometimes not so popular) music often tags along explicitly sexual words and images. There is no telling how long you can listen to popular music without hearing sexual references and, and if you like to accompany the music with videos, then you will most likely see people engaging in some sort of sexual activity. When this is coupled with Dr. MacDonald Hastings’ findings, it creates a rather disturbing reality (Cooper, 2013). Explicitly sexual music and the videos that accompany the music negatively affect our relationships (Floorwalker, 2016). Dr. Hastings found that music could induce various reactions in susceptible people. Not only urging very passionate people to act on their passions, but his research found that some music went as far as bringing on epileptic seizures (Assagioli, 2019). In fact, a 2006 study showed that teens who frequently listened to “highly sexual” music were more likely to start having sex earlier than those who did not; by a margin of about 2:1 (Floorwalker, 2016).
Particularly at risk are women and young girls. According to Stacey Hust, frequent exposure to the images portrayed in music videos could affect women’s relationships because of how the videos are scripted – particularly for young girls. Hust says that women’s perceptions of heterosexual scripting tend to inform and influence the way they think that men and women should behave towards one another (Floorwalker, 2016). In an extreme case, this may keep humanity in a perpetual loop of inequality and fervent trust in women having to “give something” in exchange for what they want.
Pop the Bubble
Finally, above all of pop music’s evil superpowers, I find that indoctrination may be the worst. Sloan (2014) explains that popular songs are not played because they are popular; instead, they are popular because they are played. The idea is fascinating, and to a certain degree, it explains why pop music sounds the same. The more people hear the same thing, the more they want the same thing. The more people want the same thing, the more people create the same thing, and there lies the popularity in the music. It is not necessarily because the music is particularly special.
We have all heard those “mashups” that crammed the internet and set our ears on fire. It sounded like the whole world was trying to count how many songs could be sung without changing the instrumental. And we found out that we could sing a lot of songs because the songs are fundamentally the same. Anyone who pays attention to the Afrobeats genre can understand that it is the lyrics, not the instrumentation that tells us which song is playing. Otherwise, most songs sound like the same song.
If the realization puzzles you enough to question whether pop music inhibits creativity, you are not the first to ask. Sloan (2014) continues to reveal that a study was conducted, and it concluded that pop music lovers showed a genuine and significant lack of creativity. According to Sloan, it does not mean that pop lovers are stupid, it merely means that pop music has taught us to expect less from our creative lives.
But then again…
It is safe to say, however, that not everyone views these issues as challenges – and with good reason. Some listeners have occasions for listening to the songs that they listen to. For example, a person who has recently left a toxic relationship may feel the sadness of a broken relationship and the joy of being finally free. What better music to listen to than EDM, which has sad lyrics and a happy beat?
Also, it is crucial to make a note concerning the sexualization of music. It can be used in different ways. Therefore, what could be seen as objectifying women to one person may be translated as women being empowered to another person. Think of the music video of Sauti Sol’s song, Melanin. Surely someone can easily make the case that beautiful women are being objectified and are exposing their bodies to promote the song that men made – thus perpetrating unhealthy perceptions of male-female relationships. On the other hand, others may applaud their efforts to empower the black women who may have felt like their skin tone is inferior.
So yes, the perception of popular music varies significantly from person to person. As a musician, I do my best to run away from pop music, ultimately because it brings unnecessary pressure. Artists seem to be increasingly depressed, consequently depressing their listeners. Worse still, the lyrics no longer have to make sense for a song to top the chart – they just have to be sad or sexual. The content is increasingly explicit, and the songs sound the same. Pop music fundamentally kills creativity. So to protect my own creativity and authentic musical expression, it is essential that I only hear pop music when there is absolutely no option but to suffer it for a short time.
It is unlikely that the world can successfully boycott whatever music is considered popular. However, every person should be more conscious of the musical content that they consume. Music has implications beyond mere temporary enjoyment.
Assagioli, R. (2019). The Harmful Effects of Music on Body and Mind. The Unbounded Spirit. Retrieved 1 March 2020, from https://theunboundedspirit.com/the-harmful-effects-of-music-on-body-and-mind/
Cooper, B. (2013). The Surprising Science Behind What Music Does To Our Brains. Fast Company. Retrieved 1 March 2020, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3022942/the-surprising-science-behind-what-music-does-to-our-brains.
Floorwalker, M. (2016). 10 Surprising Ways Music Can Be Bad For You. Listverse. Retrieved 1 March 2020, from https://listverse.com/2016/06/25/10-surprising-ways-music-can-be-bad-for-you/.
Sloan, J. (2014). Scientists Prove That Pop Music Is Literally Ruining Our Brains. Mic. Retrieved 1 March 2020, from https://www.mic.com/articles/98310/scientists-prove-that-pop-music-is-literally-ruining-our-brains#.3BEkQraoa.
I would like to understand, What do you describe at pop music?
As someone who recently started listening to music that doesn’t date in the 80’s and 90’s I would say peoples reason for making music changed and with that a lot on the content changed. I think it Would be fun and insightful to explore music withing the social, economic, and political climate of the artists. I enjoyed this piece 🙂
thanks for reading the article.
Firstly, everybody gotta love the 80s and 90s music. Issa vibe. And I very much agree with you; the reasons for making music has changed along with the content and the music itself. Which is not actually a problem though. I guess its about the direction the music takes maybe. But AFTER I wrote this article, I stumbled upon this podcast episode that you might like. It is short and interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF14HPXlH1A
Now about what I define as pop music. First of all, I must say that I took a rather oversimplified definition because I did not want to bring in too much complexity. But pop music here is a type of music that is regularly played either on a global stage or in certain regions of the world.
So an example for global stage kind of music is “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion. TikTok has pushed that song to everywhere. On the other hand we know that Afrobeats is regional pop music for Africans. It does get to the world stage, but even if it didn’t, Africans jam to it anyway.
But oh well, I am rambling…
coolies I get it now and I see what you mean about pop music. Based on your definition Id say a lot of the music sounds the same or has diluted content and while there are a few great songs and artists generally its become harder to find epic music all at once. I constantly feel like I’m digging through a pile of rubble to find that one good song that is also mainstream.
All in all the 80s are a safe bet so I’ll stick to that Ahah.
also, the podcast was great…. more clarity
I love His ability to present his opinion on mainstream pop music without disregarding the public’s different opinions.
I wanted to hear more about what healthy music would be or what his recommendation would be on what is better music as an artist.
Thank you so much for this comment.
And yes, people are so different. We can all look at the same music differently. So it is important for us to acknowledge that.
About healthy music and recommendations… wow, that’s a massive topic. Maybe I can write something about it later. Otherwise this article would have been too long. But concerning that this is what I can say:
I think people should decide for themselves what is the best music for them. My encouragement would be that people should be careful about the content they consume. We should all just be aware and deliberate.
What do you think?
I really enjoyed the article.
I guess you are also pointing out the content of today’s music. The reason I think today’s music is full of bad content is to attract more people. This is one of the reasons why I also don’t listen to it.
I completely understand you Peter.
But isn’t it strange that “bad content” is made to attract people? It suggests that today people are generally being attracted to “bad things”. Or maybe that people only have “bad content” so they don’t have an option but to consume the “bad things”. It’s crazy.
Great article Jeremiah, thank you for expressing your opinion at the same time considering all sides. What do you suggest musicians should do then so that they can be able to bring a variety of music without being explicit?
Thank you for the article, I loved it.
I think that’s a great question. I mostly talked about listeners and not musicians so I appreciate your asking.
I think musicians should consider what they value and the kind of impact they want to have on listeners. I think that could be a good guide to creating good content.
Really interesting article Jeremiah.
I, to a certain degree, agree that popular songs sound the same. I also think that that’s the reason why different kind of music, the not popular alternative kind of music that is much more complex in terms of lyrics is neglected and not ‘popular’.
I very much agree with you. Actually, I once came across this interesting quote:
“Pop music is not played because it is popular, it is popular because it is played”
Unfortunately I forgot who said it lol
But maybe the human mind also prefers the simpler and familiar things so most people don’t want to hear complex stuff.
I like your point of you and I can connect to this perspective as I consider music language as one language that connects and feed the soul, it is right to chose the type of music and the message it brings in order for us to feed on it though we are a musical person.
You are very right. I think it is important to exercise our choice for the content we listen to. And yes, music is a language that even affects our emotions. That’s deep
I love reading your article😍if anything for your talent for writing. Beyond that, this was quite informing and cautionary. Thank you!
I have a question on the first point. Does listening to sad music with a happy beat psychologically affect the listener on a subconscious level or is it happening without the consciousness of the listener. On the problem of pop music’s propensity to indoctrination, I couldn’t follow you. Is the problem that we have been conditioned to listen to one type of thing? If so, have we also been conditioned to like one thing or is it the failure of other genres to appeal to a bigger mass?
First of all, thank you so much for the kind words :-). I really like the questions that you have asked. I must say, they are pretty complex. But I will have a go at them as concisely as I can.
Q1. Research did show that yes, sometimes people integrated the lyrics without really noticing it on a conscious level. Fascinating study. When conscious about it, the listener is actively thinking about it so the effect is more pronounced but it does affect listeners subconsciously too.
Q2. The simple answer is “yes, we have been conditioned to listen to one type of thing”. A quote I read said “pop music is not played because it is popular, it is popular because it is played.” That shows that someone makes pop musiic popular deliberately. This ties into your 3rd question.
Q3. We have been conditioned to like one thing but some genres have also failed to appeal to a bigger mass. So it is a healthy blend of both factors. The complexity of some music causes the genres to be “minority genres.” But at the same time, pop music is still being deliberately promoted.
Thank you for the answers Jeremiah! It’s quite interesting.