“Without music life would be a mistake” said Friedrich Nietzsche whose words still echo through stereo sets, head sets and ear pieces each time we play a bit of mood music. Music has always been an integral part of the Indian life. From lullabies and rhymes to folksongs, Karnatic and Hindustani to filmy, rock and pop, music colors every emotion, it charges every mood and it flavors every experience of ours. From the melodies we hum at work and sing aloud in the comforts of our bathrooms to loud music during festivities and musical festivals; music infiltrates into every corner of our lives.
Music has always been associated with better mental health and well-being. Bottiroli et al. (2014) found that listening to upbeat music improves processing speed while all types of music was associated with improved memory. It is associated with improved sleep and is an effective stress buster. Music is also an excellent mechanism to cope with pain and its therapeutic power is harnessed in music therapy.
With its potential and omnipresence, music can also shape our behavior. It has been found that mellow music accompanied by dim lights often reduced our food intake. Music has been found to improve mood as well. The behavioral implications of music makes us think if there’s any side effect, aside from obvious effects such as hearing impairments. Apparently, it turns out that music can have negative psychological consequences as well, at least certain genres.
Studies show that music with violent themes, lyrics or tone can adversely affect our behavior. According to a study conducted by Fischer and Greitemeyer (2006), music had the power to instigate aggression in our minds. In the study, men were made to hear men-centric songs and women heard women-centric songs before completing a word completion task. Finally, they were told that the study was over but were asked if they could assist for another research with an opinion on how long a torturous treatment must continue. This indicated the elevated aggression among those who listened to songs with negative attitudes as compared to controls.
Violent music like violent media, can instill negative stereotypes, reinforce unhealthy attitudes and prejudices and encourage aggression. Considering that the majority of consumers of the pop, rock, metal and rap music (which often has music) are often considered violent adolescents and young adults.
The anticipated consequences when a large section of the youth taps to the rhythm of music with derogatory content is that they could be subliminally as well as obviously influenced. The influence will manifest as perpetuating stereotypes, segregation and overt violence. Though clinical literature indicates a possibility for these things, a second consideration is always important. Music with derogatory lyrics, often found in rap music is frowned upon with contempt and doubt, at least by a section of the society. The raw, unabashed lyrics are often dismissed as obscene, sexually suggestive and violent. But what we often miss out is the reason behind the existence and popularity of such songs. Many rappers have come forward in support of the so called violent music, indicating how it is a form of creative expression, a sublimation, a path to healing. Its popularity might suggest how much people are able to resonate with the resentment in this song, suggesting how much suffering persists amongst us.
Also, such lyrics is not a product of the 20th century. Sexually suggestive and often swearing and other offensive language can be seen in ancient texts, some even catering to the divine. For instance, a part of Shilapadikaram, one of the classic texts of Sanga period is said to have coarse and extremely suggestive verses. Branding all these as ill and bad and our inability to accommodate them as works of art thus amplifies our narrow mindedness and insensitivity to the elusive nature of art. In other words, censorship of art might be a reflection of our insecurities. This also leads us to a grave reminder of the society that we live in, a society preoccupied with consumerism. We judge and evaluate things that we consume. We have every right to do that, since we are engaged in a transaction for the same. We “pay” for it. But isn’t bringing art into this paradigm degrading art in itself? Our views and fears regarding “violent” music, or better say, provocative music and the direction of research in this area, without doubt, has raised several important questions, many of which are still left unanswered. The most important thing here is to continue questioning things and to try to enjoy art rather than consuming it.