Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Evolution of Popular Music Reflects The Change In Society

Alyssa DiGregorio
December 21, 2014
Research Study

Literature proves that the evolution of popular music reflects the change in society. Initially, different types of music were popular in different time periods throughout history. It is also obvious that the society changed throughout the times periods. Music lyrics seem to always, no matter what time period it is, go with what is popular in that moment. The tunes of the songs can also be similar to feelings people get from something that is caused by strong emotions in the world. Literature proves that the evolution of popular music reflects the change in society.

One way literature proves that the evolution of popular music reflects the change in society is shown in the article “What Can Songs Tell Us About People And Society”, and it says, “Historians sometimes consider songs as more or less straightforward “reflections” of the society and culture in which they were produced.” Some historians also believe that music can directly or indirectly reflect the current society. “History Matters” also includes, “These songs are then used to illustrate what historians already think they know about that society and culture.” Sometimes there is such a direct correlation between culture and music that historians can actually find out more about the past by just listening to the music from that time period. “Thus, an anti-drinking song like “Come Home Father” (1864) might be interpreted to mean that nineteenth-century Americans were concerned about alcohol and opposed to its abuse.” This is an example used in the article that shows a topic that probably got many people talking.

I found that some songs reflect society a lot better than others. It was not surprising that the songs that did reflect the culture seemed to be a lot more popular than the ones that did not. People want to hear songs that “understand their feelings.” A lot of times their feelings are caused by something that is currently going on in the world or society. The more people listen to those songs, the more popular they will get. I believe that this is the reason for how the evolution of popular music reflects the change in society.
The 1920’s was known as the “Roaring Twenties.” It was a very prosperous time and people had extra money to spend. The type of music that was popular in this time period was jazz and the blues. The people wanted to celebrate having a little extra money and they used music to do it. For example, in the article “The Jazz Age” on the website “Boundless” the author says, “The youth of the 1920's was influenced by jazz to rebel against the traditional culture of previous generations.”  Just like many generations throughout history, the teenagers wanted to rebel against society. Many households also had radios. Many African Americans moved to the northern cities from down south which encouraged the popularity of jazz and blues music. Another quote from the article “The Jazz Age” is, “Due to the racial prejudice prevalent at most radio stations, white American jazz artists received much more air time than black jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Joe "King" Oliver.” This shows that there was still a lot of racial prejudice during this time period. The music and society changed a lot in the 1960s. Boundless proved this by writing, “As the 1920's wore on, jazz, despite competition from classical music, rose in popularity and helped to generate a cultural shift “

Music and society in the 1930’s was very different to how it is now. Music was a way to escape their problems because this was the time of the Great Depression. Many people were unemployed and did not have much money and they would listen to swing music on the radio. Swing was a type of jazz music played in large bands and it tended to be upbeat and happy. It would put people in better spirits and make them want to dance along. This is shown in the article “The 1930s” and it says, The most popular broadcasts were those that distracted listeners from their everyday struggles: comedy programs like Amos ‘n’ Andy, soap operas and sporting events. Swing music encouraged people to cast aside their troubles and dance.” Music in the 1930s also greatly influenced the culture. The clothing styles were very unique to that time period, as well as the slang that was created. The slang was so unique that they actually had to create many books so that people know what the phrases meant. “By the 1940s there were several "dictionaries of jive" available to explain the special language of swing. Much of this slang grew from drug subculture; much of it seems to have had little to do with musicians, who often disliked it.“ This was stated in the article “Tap your Knowledge Box: The Swing Era” on the website “Between The Wars.”

The music of the 1940s was strongly influenced by World War II. Like the 1920’s and 1930’s, jazz and swing were the most popular types of music. The music was a way to work through the emotions and feelings of war. People would listen to this music and feel hopeful that they will pull through. As said in the article, “American Music Goes to War” by Tom Wolff, “American music served as a defiant hope for liberation and freedom, and in many ways served as the soundtrack for the war.” It is no secret that World War II stirred up a lot of emotions in people all around the world, and therefore it only makes sense that people would make music based on this. It can bring hope to people and comfort them while also getting emotions off the songwriter’s mind.

Music in the 1950s had a very big effect on the society. It had a great affect on people’s lives. Rock ‘n’ roll was a very popular type of music that changed how teenagers acted, the way families lived, and the civil rights movement. It greatly affected how the youth acted as shown in the article, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Influence On Society In The 1950’s” by Julia Czerhoniak by saying, “But this lead to unacceptable behavior, teen dances were shut down, rock 'n' roll records became banned, and all students were expelled for all of their horrible behavior.” It explains how teens started to rebel because they thought this type of music described their lives with crazy parties, high school relationships, and careless attitudes. Rock ‘n’ roll made the youth think that it was okay to do drugs or drink alcohol and over time it became normal at that age. The music of the 1950’s also had a big impact on the Civil Rights Movement. It reflected the feelings caused by the racial prejudice. The article,Music Played in the 1950's Popular Music From the 50s” by “The People History” says, “Racial tensions were being strained with the beginning of the civil rights movement and music reflected many of those tensions. Rhythm & Blues (R&B) and Rock 'n' Roll popularized "black" music and many African-American musicians rose to prominence and enjoyed success, but while some were able to reap the benefits of their work, many others were forgotten or denied access to audiences through segregation.” However, some people that “...the popularization of R&B and Rock 'n' Roll only helped to bridge the gap between blacks and whites and further the civil rights movement.The 1950s was a very big time in the evolution of music and change in society.

The 1960s was the psychedelic time period and it caused a big change in musical history. It was the time of hippies and the “British Invasion.” People seemed to either like folk music or rock ‘n’ roll. During the “British Invasion,” the Beatles were especially popular. They influenced the American Society greatly. Many people got the same hairstyle and wore the same fashions as the Beatles did. They influenced the styles and trends in American culture. At this time, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement affected people’s moods. Folk music reflects their emotional frustration while protesting the war. The article “Music Played in the 1960’s Popular Music From the 60s” by The People History explains the effect the music of the 1960’s had on the society by saying,“This music was often a reaction to social injustice, cultural changes, and news events. And, in many cases, it brought awareness to the younger generation who would then join the protest, therefore growing the movements.” This quote also shows how music helped the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement protests by getting more people on their side fighting for them. Many of the youth in the 1970s would consider themselves “hippies”. The hippie culture loved psychedelic rock and folk music which is one of the reasons as to why these types of music became so popular in society. There were big changes in music in the 1960’s caused by the events happening in society at the time.

Music in the 1970’s was a big transition from the rebellious society caused by music in previous decades. Disco music started to become very popular in America. This type of music allowed them to get rid of their negative emotions and just dance in happiness. Disco music was all about dancing. Their clothes and fashion were a big influence that disco music had on the decade. In the article “Popular of the Seventies” by “The People History”, the relation between the music and society in the 70’s is explained when they said, “If ever a musical style defined a decade, Disco was the definition of the 1970s. Although its popularity was relatively short-lived, the genre hosted a great deal of songs and artists that people are still dancing to today and had a large influence on the fashions of the decade, too.”  The 1970’s was a big transition into the society brought with disco music.

Music and society was very unique in the 1980’s. During this decade, music videos on MTV became very popular. There were many different types of music, but the most common ones were Pop, Hip Hop, New Wave, and Hair Metal. The styles of the youth would wear was influenced by these types of music. The obsession with pop culture started in the 1980’s. People generally had more money to spend in this time period, so they would buy portable music players. This is shown in the article, “Music Played in the 1980’s Popular Music From the 80s” by “The People History” in the quote, “It also was related to the public having an increased disposable income and a want to imitate celebrity affluence. Changes in technology also contributed to the availability of music (MTV), better ways to listen (CDs and cassettes), and portability of music (the Walkman and boom-boxes).” Overall, the 1980s was the beginning of music videos and pop culture.

In the 1990’s, music reflected a lot of the youths attitudes and feelings of hopelessness. Pop, Rap, and Alternative music became very popular in this decade. Computers and technology was really surged at this time, and therefore techno music was very popular. Alternative music, also known as grunge, was about the feelings of helplessness amongst the teens and young adults. This is said in “Music Played in the 1990’s Popular Music From the 90s” by “The People History”, “These songs also seemed to send a message about the status quo of society and the helplessness that was felt among the teens and early adults of the era. Songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” spoke about a teen revolution in a seemingly meaningless world.” The 1990’s music reflected the attitudes of teenagers and young adults.

The 2000’s took technology a step further. This is shown in the article “How Does Music Reflect Society?” by Sabrina Mendoza Malave in the quote “Technology has also had a major impact on music. It has made it much easier and cheaper to produce, but it has also made it exponentially more disposable and "same" sounding.”Artists use social media to gain fame. By putting their videos up on social media websites, more people can see them worldwide and become fans. They then gain popularity which makes their music known. With so much available to listen to through the radio and the internet, there are many types of music available for different tastes. Music and society in the 2000’s were greatly affected by technology and social media.

In conclusion, the evolution of popular music greatly reflects the change in society. Through my research I found that in most cases the feeling behind music had to do with something that was going on in society that had a great impact on people’s lives during that time. It was shown throughout the decades that their is a direct correlation between many of the feelings behind the music and what was going on in the world and in certain cultural groups. The evolution of popular music does reflect the change in society.

During the whole process of researching my topic, I have found out many things. I have learned that the emotions caused by major events in society are expressed through music by many musicians, and other people may agree. This shows the correlation between how popular music reflects society. However, through all of the research I have done with music in relation to society, there is one question that has yet to be answered: What do teenagers reveal about how the music they listen to reflects the same ideas they have about society?
When deciding between methods, I considered both quantitative and qualitative analysis. The definition of the quantitative method is, “...a research method that relies less on interviews, observations, small numbers of questionnaires, focus groups, subjective reports and case studies but is much more focused on the collection and analysis of numerical data and statistics.”(Paranormality! Quantitative Method). I then looked at the definition for the qualitative method, “Qualitative research is aimed at gaining a deep understanding of a specific organization or event, rather than surface description of a large sample of a population.”(Csulb Data Collection Strategies II:Qualitative Research). I found that using the qualitative method works better for my research question rather than the quantitative method because teenagers have different point of views of society and enjoy listening to many different types of music. I decided to write about teens’ feelings and point of view and there really is no way to put their feelings into a percentage.

In order to answer my research question, I conducted a short survey. I got the answers from several freshmen and sophomore students, both male and female, that go to Norton High School. The questions asked were:
1. What is your favorite music genre?
2. In your opinion, how do you feel about society?
3. How does this music portray society?
4. Do you believe what the lyrics are telling you about society?

From all of the questions that were answered by the teenagers I surveyed, I found that in most cases the music they listen to does reflect the same ideas they have about society. For example, the answers I got from a sophomore student stated that his favorite type of music is, “The blues.” He also adds his opinion about society by saying, “I feel we are a society that demands perfection and that we don’t really take the time to actually interact with one another.” He also feels that, “Music portrays society recently as a bunch of degenerates that have no clue what they say or do.” He completely agrees with what the lyrics are telling him about society. His favorite type of music explains society exactly how he sees it. When I asked a female, freshmen student what her favorite genre of music is, she answered, “My favorite music genre is rap.” She had a very different point of view on society. I noticed that a lot of times rap music portrays drugs, violence, and riches. Her point of view on society was, “For starters, I say there is a lot more hatred than ever. In today’s society we have a lot of drugs, violence, racism, and judgement of other as well as ourselves. Having social media websites that basically promotes and endorses it doesn’t help at all, and is the main cause. She believes that “Most rap lyrics in today’s time talks about how society has changed and the fall in our nation.” Another freshman female whose favorite music genre is indie/classic rock, explained how in her view, the society is messed up by saying, “I think society is inhuman and not the way it should be.” She also pointed out that she does believe in some cases about what the lyrics say about society, but it does depend on the song. “some of these songs portray society as insensitive towards real world problems, such as poverty and social class problems.” According to her, not all songs of the music she listens to relate to her beliefs about society.

All in all, I found that depending on what genres of music each teen listens to, they had an opinion on society based off what is talked about in their music. Out of all the different genres of music and teens that I surveyed, none of the students seemed to have a positive outlook on society.They just had different opinions on what is wrong with the current society.


"What Can Songs Tell Us About People And Society?." History Matters. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

"The Jazz Age." Boundless. N.p., 27 June 2014. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
"The Roaring Twenties." History. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
"Tap your Knowledge Box The Swing Era." Between the Wars. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
"The 1930s." History. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
Wolff, Tom. "American Music Goes To War." The Gilder Lehrman Institute Of American History. N.p., 2009. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
Czerhoniak, Julia. "Rock 'n' Roll Influence on Society in the 1950's." Prezi. N.p., 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
"Music Played in the 1950's Popular Music From the 50s." The People History. N.p., 2004. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
"Music Played in the 1960’s Popular Music From the 60s." The People History. N.p., 2004. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
"Popular Music of the Seventies." The People History. N.p., 2004. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
"Music Played in the 1980’s Popular Music From the 80s." The People History. N.p., 2004. Web. 22 Dec. 2014
"Music Played in the 1990’s Popular Music From the 90s." The People History. N.p., 2004. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

Malave, Sabrina M. "How Does Music Reflect Society?." Answers. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

This is where I got the definition for the quantitative method. -  Easton, Karyn. "Quantitative Method." Paranormality!. N.p., 2001. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

This is where I got the definition for the qualitative method. - "PPA 696 RESEARCH METHODS DATA COLLECTION STRATEGIES II: QUALITATIVE RESEARCH." Csulb. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.