People can express their feelings and convey their thoughts through songs. Song lyrics reflect the culture of the society they are in and the culture they hope to cultivate. Professionally produced songs, especially by well-known singers, have the power to influence the listeners. This implies that the cultural beliefs of the singer, expressed through the lyrics of the song, can influence the cultural beliefs of the listeners.
For example, “Material Girl”, Madonna’s top hit in 1984, is about an American woman (could be Madonna herself) who only look for men who are financially wealthy.
Let us take a look at some extracts of the lyrics below and see what they imply.
- “the boy with the cold hard cash/ Is always Mister Right”
This line suggests that men who are financially well off should be the preferred choice when choosing a partner.
- “boys may come and boys may go”
Non-committal and short-lived relationships are portrayed as a societal norm. Men are seen as dispensable. They are termed as ‘boys’ instead of ‘men’ which seems to imply a negative connotation such as their lack of maturity. This can be interpreted as an insult and a reason to justify why women should not be too bothered when their relationships end quickly.
- “we are living in a material world/ And I am a material girl”
This line was repeated many times and seems to suggest a reinforcement of her identity as a material girl. By using the first person pronoun “we”, there was a generalization that everyone in the society was just as materialistic as the American woman. She was trying to justify her materialistic desires and pursuit by making it sound like a social norm
Listeners of this song may be influenced to perceive material pursuit as a goal in life. The portrayal of men as being dispensable, immature and to be made use of for financial gains may change female listeners’ view on men. The pop music culture always uses first person pronoun such as ‘I’ and ‘we’ which perpetuates self-centredness.
Through the advancement of technology, video-hosting sites such as YouTube and social media platforms have increased the accessibility of music. ‘Material Girl’, though produced in 1984, gathered close to 2 million views on YouTube since it was uploaded.
Imagine the scale of influence a song can have today. Music of different cultures can be viewed by people all around the world. The mindsets of people who belong to a more conservative culture can have their perception of social norms totally influenced by the choice of language used in a song to portray the social norms of a more liberal society. This is an example of how language can influence culture and vice versa.