Propaganda in Pop Music Term Paper

Pages: 7 (1867 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Music

Communications - Pop Music

Propaganda in Popular Music

Propaganda exists in more than government publications and specific public relations pieces. Propaganda and mass persuasion are present in all forms of media, including "pop" music. Though most people are not aware of it, propaganda in pop music reaches us, most often without our own awareness of it. By looking at the history of propaganda, mass media, and pop music, it is possible to see how and why mass persuasion exists in pop music. Additionally, identifying those who listen to pop music and why they are attracted to the medium makes it possible to understand the messages conveyed.

Propaganda is the mass persuasion of people. Often used for political gains or simply to make an individual more popular or blameless, propaganda has a history as long as humanity. Modern propaganda, however, is different. Modern propaganda, aided by technology, has allowed for mass communication and, in turn, mass propaganda. Larson cites the communications researcher Jaques Ellul, who identifies the characteristics of modern propaganda: it happens in industrialized and "depersonalized" societies; it works through forcing individuals into masses while also isolating them as individual people; and it exists to integrate people into a common way of thinking rather than agitating them to action.

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Technology remains a large part of modern propaganda. The last 150 years in particular have produced so many new sources of media that it is no longer clear where people receive their messages; Americans, for example, are likely to experience hundreds if not thousands of advertisements in the form of billboards, Internet ads, television spots, and radio just on the way to work. Previous to this period of modern propaganda, individuals were limited to print media and limited audio. This could not produce the same affects, as individuals were able to filter what they chose to hear or read. Today, however, many of us are not even aware of the mass media messages that we receive every day.

Term Paper on Propaganda in Pop Music Assignment

The use of mass persuasion and influence in music exists because corporations and individual artists can profit, both financially and otherwise, from the dissemination of information through the media.

The clearest use of this is through product sales and placement. In other words, companies endorse music stars to wear or support products. Even if the actual media (the songs) do not mention brands, they set the tone for how a person should act. This results in the "branding" of pop stars, whereby they are clearly associated with a certain look and feel.

Product support and placement is apparent in the case of The Spice Girls, whose media produced "girl power" allowed them to advertise dozens of products in Europe and the United States. In this case, music was a tool of propaganda from the corporate labels that produced The Spice Girls. "Branding" The Spice Girls was purely a corporate decision, as The Spice Girls were signed and promoted only for corporate gain. As a result, the "look" and portrayal of the group was produced in such a way that marketing them and their endorsed products would be as easy as possible.

Though it is the most obvious, product sales and placement is not the primary way that pop music influences a mass audience. Pop music is also responsible for setting cultural norms and trends. Further, the values and beliefs of a nation or group are espoused by the most popular of pop music and stars.

While to some extent individual stars become popular because their message fits into the current social climate, it is possibly more true that such stars set the social climate.

Like novels and television, pop music often portrays the feelings of a nation before they actually feel them. That is, they must do that to be popular and to meet their goals of affecting their audience. This is tricky. In the past, those who had real talent basically competed for attention from media executives who could put money behind their acts.

Those who seemed new or cutting edge were expected, to some extent, to be popular; otherwise, they would not have been signed by their perspective labels.

Pop music has come a long way since the beginning of the 20th century. Though different areas of music have been generally popular for centuries, it was again technology that aided in the mass production and appeal of music. Pop music as it is currently understood is a 20th century construction, as that was the first time that people could react en-masse to the popularity of an individual and their music. Pop music is generally associated with the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s and 60s. Rock and country responded to the generation of post-WWII America with musicians that were, for the first time, sexy or edgy. Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard were a few of those who claimed mass popularity in these early years.

In the early 1960s, a more family-friendly wave of music both responded to and created the culture. Rock and roll continued to shock older generations with its style and loud sounds. Yet, the messages were still very much about falling in love and other socially acceptable ideas. Bobby Vee, Franky Avalon, and the early Beatles were groups of this era.

The hysteria over The Beatles, Elvis, and even Madonna defined generations. Yet, when looked at closely, these groups / individuals appealed to people because of their media image. Ellul's identification of propaganda is clearly evident in these cases. Rather than hearing a song and thinking about it as an individual, the most popular music stars are part of a greater media campaign. The Beatles, for example, were shown chased down the street by a group of young girls. This sort of imagery made others who saw the Beatles react similarly; they became part of the frenzied environment played up by the media. Elvis, too, was portrayed as being a sexy young man in his many movie hits.

The same sort of overall media use is used today, with music stars being cast a certain way by television, magazines, and their own videos. Britney Spears during her teen years, for example, was portrayed as a sex object in her own videos. Yet, in interviews she appears as the sweet southern girl who is religious and close to her parents. Popular music is additionally supplied with musicians who feed their political and social sentiments; this explains why some popular music today harshly criticizes the government and the Iraq war while others react in a patriotic manner.

In general, much of Westernized popular music and culture is shaped by the United States media giants who produce music, television and movies. Other countries and markets are hard-pressed to compete, as the United States has the financial power to back individual stars and programming. American media relationships make it possible for music to pervade film and television so that we are familiarized with stars and their music before we ever hear it on the radio.

Because so much of the world media is American based, much of what is available reinforces traditionally American ideals. Alternately, it can take on the cause of the undercurrent ideals (the opposing view). Patriotic music, for example, has been more prevalent since the beginning of the Iraq War. What is most interesting about this trend is that music labels are actually stepping back from the promotion of some of this material; though they support the patriotism in music, they have sensed (correctly) that too much promotion of patriotic music makes it seem as though they are profiting too much from the war. In either case, it is American music and culture that pervades so many foreign markets and contributes to a more global, unified culture.

Pop music will continue to affect the culture it exists in. This is especially important for individuals to understand as the world grows more toward a global culture. While in some ways it reacts to and addresses what is already going on in a culture or nation, it additionally provides consolidation of those feelings, reinforced ideals, and strength in the convictions of those who were previously undecided. It can sway and reinforce political ideals. Popularity also gives it power in the financial spectrum. Pop music affects consumer purchases and decides for many people how they look, what they wear and, to some extent, who they are.

With the popularity of the Internet, it is difficult to tell how pop music will fair in the near future. Due to the lack of a physical product in online sales, music companies will have to more heavily brand their products if they aim to reach the goals of creating culture and popular stars. While this may be more difficult for companies who want to establish name recognition for their stars, it is probably much better for the consumer. We may get bombarded with media on a daily basis, but it is likely that we are becoming more and more resistant to its… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Propaganda in Pop Music" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Propaganda in Pop Music.  (2006, December 20).  Retrieved April 3, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Propaganda in Pop Music."  20 December 2006.  Web.  3 April 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Propaganda in Pop Music."  December 20, 2006.  Accessed April 3, 2020.