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The term popular music first appeared in a publication by William Chapple titled Popular Music of the Olden Times in 1855 but it was not until the 1930s and 1940s until the term gained wider currency (Shuker, 1998). Since then, the definition of popular music has been heavily debated by scholars in the musical community due to the genre’s complexities and ambiguities, which create challenges when deciding what music can be regarded as popular (Middleton, 1990). A broad description of the genre is provided by Shuker who explains, “essentially, all popular music consists of a hybrid of musical traditions, styles, and influences, and is also an economic product which is invested with ideological significance by many of its consumers” (1998). This essay discusses three fundamental points everyone must know about popular music. Firstly, popular music is a reflection of society; secondly, there are many benefits to engaging in popular music culture; finally, the genre is currently under threat.
It is important for everyone to know that popular music is a reflection of society because people can learn about history through music, which serves as an invaluable medium for documenting the evolution of society. A fantastic example of this is the song Over the rainbow is where I want to be, which was renamed to Somewhere over the rainbow. The song was written by Harold Arlem with lyrics by Yip Harburg and released in 1939 with July Garland as the vocalist. The lyrics perfectly capture the mood of the 1930s, which was a time of widespread unemployment, misery and despair known as the Great Depression. The first stanza transports the listener to the past, most likely the 1920s when it was a happier and more prosperous time. The second stanza furthers this idea by imagining a utopian fantasy, which was sought by many during this era. The final stanza of the song contrasts with the previously established mood as it reinforces the reality of the time by emphasising society’s frustration and hopelessness. Somewhere over the rainbow was exceptional in its ability to connect with its audience by engaging with their emotional state and capturing the essence of the 1930s. Smith-Brindle supports this argument in saying, “Music is the child of its social environment, which in its turn is moulded by the major events of world history.” (1975). From this example, it is evident that popular music is a powerful tool for documenting historical events and the evolution of society throughout the ages. Therefore, popular music must be regarded as an important art form and should not be disrespected by those who do not understand its true value.
It is important for everyone to know that listening to popular music improves health because it will increase people’s awareness of the genre’s benefits, leading to a healthier and happier society. Some of the health benefits include increased antibodies, which strengths the immune system and reduced cortisol levels, which decreases stress. These correlations were discovered in 2008 by researchers at Sussex University and the Marx Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. The experiment involved 300 people split into two equal groups. The first group were played 50 minutes of happy and joyful dance tunes while the other group was played 50 minutes of randomly played 12 tone music as a control. In one trial, blood samples were taken every 15 minutes and in the second trial, saliva samples were taken every 15 minutes. In addition to this, participants were given a Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire before and after the experiment to determine the effectiveness of music in improving mood. The results of the experiment showed significantly decreased levels of cortisol in the music group in comparison to the control group. Also, the IgA (Immunoglobin A) levels were significantly heightened for the music group, meaning the immune system was boosted. Furthermore, the music group reported a switch to a more pleasant mood state after being exposed to the happy and joyful dance tunes whereas the control group saw no noticeable transformation (Enk et al., 2008). The results of this experiment express the significance of popular music in boosting immune responses, reducing stress and improving mood, which is crucial in contemporary society. Therefore, popular music must be understood to be a worthwhile and constructive genre of music.
It is important for everyone to know that the popular music genre is currently endangered due to increased piracy, illegal downloading and file sharing so they are aware of the consequences of their actions to resolve this issue. Robert Easley supports this argument when discussing ethical issues in the music industry and responses to innovation and piracy by stating, “This may be holding back the evolution of the music industry towards an ultimately beneficial embrace of the possibilities inherent in electronic distribution of music (2005). While live performance remains a large part of the popular music industry, not everyone has access to this so they are reliant on digital sources. This statement is supported by a report released by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) on digital music in 2015, which states, “In 2014, for the first time, the industry derived the same proportion of revenues from digital channels (46%) as physical format sales (46%)”. Further evidence of the growing digital media culture is present in another online publication by the IFPI in 2016, which shows a decrease in physical format sales to 34% and increase in digital revenues to 50% for the recording industry’s global revenues. The shift towards digitalisation has allowed for much illegal activity in relation to music theft as confirmed by a report released by Professor Juan Montoro-Pons and Professor Manuel Cuadrado-Garcia from the University of Valencia, which explains, “Lost digital goods sales amount to 131% of the legal market, even though there is a wide variation between counties” (2006). Artists and record companies are becoming more mindful of music theft so are more reluctant when making music available online. There is a strong possibility that in the future, the publication of digital material will be ceased for this reason, which will leave many people without access and deprived of the benefits of engaging with popular music. Therefore, popular music must be sourced legally by consumers so everyone can continue to access it and reap its benefits.
In conclusion, popular music is one of the more modern genres of music, which continues to evolve alongside its followers. The purpose of popular music is to reflect society by capturing the attitudes of the time and documenting history. This objective was proven through the deconstruction of the song Somewhere over the rainbow in relation to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Popular music has many associated health benefits including increased immune system function, reduced stress and improved mood. This was demonstrated by the experiment conducted by researchers at Sussex University and the Marx Planck Institute. Unfortunately, the popular music genre is threatened by piracy, illegal downloading and file sharing, which risks the future of digital music distribution. This was supported by multiple sources from Easley, the IFPI and Professor Montoro-Pons and Professor Cuadrado-Garcia of the University of Valencia. Therefore, popular music is an extremely relevant and important genre that everyone must know about.
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