International Policy Digest

Culture /16 Dec 2020
12.16.20

Stan to Stand: How Music Influences Societal Transformation

If someone asks you “what is the most powerful force that can change society?” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a gun? Bomb? Political diplomacy? Economic policy? Well, those things do change society. However, let’s now talk about the “soft power” that can bring societal transformation: that is music.

From Jazz to pop. From Billie Holiday to BTS. Musicians have great power to move the hearts of millions of people, change policy, and speak on behalf of society as a whole.

First, we cannot talk about societal change without talking about Jazz. The genre gained popularity in the 20th century as it became an expression of freedom. Jazz became the medium for the oppressed, the ones who face racial injustice to express their anger, grief, compassion, and desire for societal change.

Jazz was, in a way, a vessel to preserve culture, to express something familiar in a brand new way, and as a tool to fight injustice by presenting a harrowing look at what the oppressed had to endure. And when there is a battle to fight, there is a win that results in a movement that can change history. Billie Holiday’s version of Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit” stirred a movement that changed U.S. history. The song described the heart-wrenching horror of observing a Black American being lynched. It did more than to ignite a conversation on lynchings and racial injustice. It helped persuade anti-lynching campaigners to encourage Congress to propose a viable anti-lynching bill.

Moreover, let’s look at among others, namely Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and Fred Ho’s work that expressed the real struggle and the societal landscape at that time. Jazz is not merely entertainment, it is a vehicle of change that, at the same time, brings comfort. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said about Jazz “It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail, it has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.”

Music also has the power to show us the “promise land” of the future, instilling hope in the midst of mistrust and riots. Let’s take an example of the Jackson 5 that not only has an impact on African Americans but also the world. With their performances, they proved that an African American family can be heard. The five brothers instilled pride in young kids in each performance they did. Though their era is long gone, their music and pride transcends generations and still moves the hearts of many. Their message of hope is everlasting.

We cannot separate idols from their fans. One of the reasons that artists rise to stardom is because of their loyal fanbase. Their fame and influence have the ability to bend the ear of the ones who have the power to shake the future. Let’s take an example of the lead singer of U2, Bono, who managed to get debt relief for developing countries. His power to bend the ear is like a melody that makes a complicated issue about world debt into something that is easily welcomed by the people out there in the real world. He makes people motivated to do something about it, and when people are motivated about it, then politicians will be.

Another musician who uses her powerful voice to influence is Lady Gaga. Remember the infamous meat dress she wore to the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards? That was beyond an attention-seeking outfit, it was a political statement intended for the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that banned homosexuality in the military.

Lately, I am inspired by the juggernaut K-Pop band BTS with their bravado to speak about teen angst and social issues. Take their albums “2 Cool 4 School” and “Skool Luv Affair” which helps teens to verbalize their frustrations with being trapped in a suffocating school system. Upholding their values to be the voice of the unheard, they speak about depression, self-esteem, and choices in life – marking their “Love Yourself” era.

Their music transcends genres. They went against the odds and became the first of many things. From being the first Korean artist to top the charts in Billboard 100 to being the first Korean artist nominated for a Grammy, they broke all barriers. They symbolize globalization. Their music proves that it is possible to blend cultures and languages.

Inspired by BTS, their music and empowering narrative gives me hope for a more beautiful future where people celebrate diverse cultures, languages, genders, social status, and everything else. A future that always repeats the history and achievements that many musicians have achieved to change the world for the better. A future where there is no prejudice and segregation. A future where music becomes the sanctuary for the oppressed and also for those who want to find comfort and share their happiness.

Stanning for music means standing up for something. You can be a part of societal change. As for musicians, how do they change the world for the better? One song at a time.