Music, Lack of Substance, and Society

I wrote a post about absolute truths last week, and it got me thinking about a course I had taken in my last semester of college, Analyzing Style. Some would argue that this course is a testament to the fact that college is definitely a left-wing enterprise these days, and I have to agree that that particular course was. What we learned about was postmodernism, style versus substance, and something called the “attention economy,” which I wrote about in this post. The course wasn’t useful in a practical sense, but in a philosophical sense it really did make me think.

My last paper for the course talked about music, and how artists and songwriters appear to be all glitz and glamour on the surface, when at times, their lyrics can be rather substantial, or at least can point to the lack of substance in society. I was going to post the entire paper here, but it’s 7 pages long and I don’t think anyone wants to read through all that. (I don’t even want to read through all that.)

Rammstein was one of the artists I mentioned in my paper. Their appearance, the pyrotechnics they use at their concerts, and their style of singing is intended for shock value, because anyone looking at them will think that they are neo-Nazi. I focused on one of their songs, “Amerika,” because of the way it mocks American society. The English translation goes something like this:

Freedom is playing on all the fiddles,
music is coming out of the White House,
and near Paris stands Mickey Mouse.
We’re all living in America…

I also mentioned Bad Religion, which is known as being a rather anti-society, anti-establishment band. They have a song called “No Substance,” which was fascinating to me when I wrote the paper and is still fascinating to me today.

History doesn’t make something right

Consensus is not a fact-based exercise

You’re tied and bound to the self-indulgent enterprise

We call America

And I certainly couldn’t write a paper about music with anti-society messages without including System of a Down. On the surface, like Rammstein, their music is purely for shock value. Listen to something like “Chic ‘n’ Stu” and you’ll see what I mean. But under the bizarre lyrics and vocals, there are important messages, as in “Lost in Hollywood”:

Phony people come to pray

Look at all of them beg to stay

You should have never trusted Hollywood

System of a Down’s members are of Armenian descent, and they feel at liberty to critique American society, which they consider to be materialistic, controlled by a too-large government, and focused only on style, not substance.

My point is that music, fashion, pop culture, and all sorts of different surface-level “styles” infiltrate our lives on a daily basis. I believe that musicians have a unique power to influence society, and that they can and should use this power to change the world in a positive way. I’m not exactly sure that Rammstein, Bad Religion, System of a Down, and countless other similar bands are exerting a positive influence, but it is an influence, nevertheless.

6 thoughts on “Music, Lack of Substance, and Society

  1. I agree. I also think that, as we bloggers express our thoughts through our blogs, they express their thoughts through their songs. However it is when they don’t really mean the lyrics they are singing (obviously they may not mean every single word) that I don’t agree with – it’s just a way of making money, and not a passion.

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    1. Not all lyrics have to be profoundly meaningful. It’s OK to have a nice, cute pop song that’s there to make you happy but doesn’t have profound meaning. But when the artist doesn’t mean what they say, then yes, that is a problem.

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