Music is a form of life; it’s a cultural, societal and personal way of living and understanding. The critical consumption of pop culture is something we subconsciously take part in on a daily basis. It’s assumed that we are exposed to around 3,000 advertisements a day. We glance at all of them, our subconscious mind takes all of them in. This theory applies to music as well.
There is this thick cover on music that I feel many people fail to recognize. Music is not music without the influences from the artists and it’s record labels. Every artist subconsciously sends out messages through their songs and advertisements through their persona. An example of this would be a political band who strongly supports a certain political group through their lyrics. Another example would be a band that is always seen with Newport cigarettes in their hands- your subconscious mind keep a mental tab on this. Despite what we say as individuals, what we see is what we in turn interpret. They will always be that band who is, for example, politically involved or chain smokes Newport’s like they are going out of style. For those who are politically involved might find themselves loving or hating what the band has to say about politics- the lyrics have the power to persuade people to see their view from a different light. A prime example of advertising through persona may happen without acknowledgment from their targeted audience. If a teenager constantly buys Marbolo’s at the gas station, but on this particular day they are sold out, they may find themselves picking up Newport’s unbeknownst that this influence may have been due to an artist’s subconscious advertising.
Due to media’s constant influence on our minds and on what is released to the general masses is what we are being exposed to on a large scale. Allan Bloom makes it understood that music once was interpreted, understood and always pondered; music was more than an empty form of entertainment. The music in which was part of everybody’s lives were musical pieces which they were able to recognize and relate to. Now music hits us so fast we do not have the time to interpret music as a whole piece. As soon as a song comes out, by the time we learn the words to it, another new hit becomes available to us and takes priority. I am not saying that all music is misunderstood by any means. I am, however, positive that we often assume a message and roll with it.
I am most familiar with the band Green Day which consists of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre’ Cool. I have watched Green Day become more vocal with their political views over the past decade. Green Day has made a large political statement in Bush’s re-election and most recently, Obama’s election. Due to this, Green Day has caused critics and fans alike to separate into two categories- love or hate.
Billie Joe has made several remarks about the state of the United States due to the Bush Administration, He states: “A lot of people were born into an unlucky time, the era of George W. Bush. There is an optimism now with Obama…be aware. Don’t look at this guy as the answer to our prayers. You still need to be involved” (Frike).
Green Day first started in 1987 when they signed with Lookout! Records, an independent record label. Due to this they were mainly recognized as an underground punk rock band and they attracted rebel listeners who were also part of the underground scene. At the time the underground scene was cult-like and an escape for those who needed a break from the real world. The band had no pressures or pseudo persona holding them back, they were able to play what they wanted and how they wanted- it gave them the freedom to develop their attitude in which is still overtly clear in their music today. Eventually when Green Day signed onto a mainstream label which exposed them to a whole knew crowd entirely. Their new songs were subdued and honest, easily relatable, however many of those who were part of the underground scene considered them sell outs for making the switch to a mainstream label.
As Green Day gained the respect of their mainstream fans, they were able to push their lyrical limits. They started out as an edgy band and with each growing album they have became more lyrically honest, opinionated and cruel. They touch on issues that many have feared to touch on. This is what makes Green Day who they are- their willingness to put forth music that speaks the pure, harsh and honest truth. Green Days most controversial lyrics come from the song American Idiot which is on the album American Idiot. Billie Joe sings:
“Don’t wanna be an American Idiot. Don’t want a nation under the new media. And can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind fuck America. Welcome to a new kind of tension. All across the alien nation. Where everything isn’t meant to be okay. Television dreams of tomorrow. We’re not the ones who’re meant to follow. Well that’s enough to argue. Well maybe I’m the fagot America. I’m not a part of a redneck agenda. Now everybody do the propaganda. And sing along in the age of paranoia.” (Green Day).
Green Day used their mainstream label, which exposes them to an extraordinarily large audience, as an easy-in, pushing their limits with their lyrics. At the time this was very risky, many of their lyrics were geared to the Bush Administration while Bush was still in office! This rewarded Green Day with a copious amount of respect from others, and gained back the once lost respect of those from the underground scene who labeled Green Day as sell outs. They truly made a name for themselves in this act all within one main album; American Idiot. The crowd was divided, and depending on who you asked, you got an extremely different answer. Those who were anti Bush Administration were proud of what Green Day put on the American Idiot album, however, others felt offended by the music, which, in-turn, granted Green Day with a bad name.
Frank Zappa explains in Junk Food for the Soul how he makes music primarily for amusement. Green Day makes music because it is their passion, but they have realized that they are able to in-turn motivate others through their music, in which they have been doing- especially politically.
Through the example of Green Day I have found that artists can drastically influence their audiences. Green Day gained a lot of respect for saying what they said in their album American Idiot, however, they also lost the respect of a lot of fans and a lot of critics. It is no coincidence that mainstream music is most popular when it has a minimal input on current matters and conspiracies. By making such extreme accusations in their songs they are targeting a smaller audience, the less neutral their music and message is, the less of an audience will relate. Mainstream music is all about one thing: Making money. The record label will make sure their artists do whatever it takes to make the most of it, and you can’t blame them- it’s business.
It is no surprise that they have felt the pressure of their mainstream label in the past. Green Day is famous for creating side projects and not telling anyone. In the past they have had a total of four side project bands. The most recent side project was called Foxboro Hot Tubs which had a myspace, an official website, and a 12 song LP titled Stop Drop and Roll; in addition, they also had a mini tour. They have played in small local venues wearing masks or costumes so their identities remain hidden. Foxboro Hot Tubs wrote a song titled Highway 1:
“I’m on a midnight death trip. I’m on a mission from God. A stolen car and a death wish. To hell on Highway 1. Four on the floor, a hundred miles per hour. I’m gonna fly til the tires can’t fly no more. C’mon! I’ve got my blues, gonna make a racket. Nothing to lose but this straight jacket on too tight. I’m alive! As the wind comes off the ocean. And my hair is combed just right. I’m in a stolen locomotion. Straight out of 1965” (Foxboro Hot Tubs).
Such lyrics would never fly in today’s main society. No Green Day fan would pick up this said album and enjoy it as they have Green Day’s past eight albums. These lyrics aren’t edgy, they have no ‘stick it to the man’ persona in which most of their songs underlie. The song may be good, but it isn’t “Green Day good”. This is an example of the pressures media (subconsciously) puts on the artists, which in turn makes the listener’s expectations at an impossible level leaving no room for change. Like the popular saying goes with hair-dye it can also be applied to the music world “Once you go black, you never go back”. Once an artists puts out edgy, hardcore, deep lyrics, they will never again be able to put out empty lyrics with hollow messages- and if they do, it will most likely be rejected from society.
Green Day has stated before that making side projects takes the pressure off of them since they are able to freely write, knowing whether there songs are a hit or miss, it won’t effect them financially or in regards to their reputation. This assures them that they won’t upset any fans, or get punished/ dropped from their current label. They are able to write and sing whatever it is they feel like- without the critique from the media. Eventually the side project covers get blown and they ditch the band only to make a new one later on in the future. This act from Green Day proves how messages are limited when it comes to mainstream music, and how lyrically they are pressured and restricted to a certain category.
Mainstream music and mainstream artists are about what sells- with the exception of some edgy artists who are willing to push that limit. What each label puts on their artists, makes their artists say or sing, or who they interact with is who the artist becomes in the masses eye. It is all a business deal- despite the efforts of making pure, honest, edgy music.
Bloom, Allan. “Rock and Rap: Musical Controversies.” 2-14. Web. 19 Oct 2009. .
Brooks, Jennifer. “Green Day’s Political Project.” andPOP 21 MAR 2009: n. pag. Web. 18 Nov 2009. .
D’Ambrosio, Antonino. “Green Day Never Gives Up.” Progressive AUG 2009: n. pag. Web. 18 Nov 2009. .
“Green Day’s Succesful Political Mission.” 20 JAN 2005: n. pag. Web. 18 Nov 2009. .
“Green Day.” Wikipedia. 18 Nov 2009. Web. 18 Nov 2009. .
Zappa, Frank. “On “Junk Food for the Soul” In Defense of Rock and Roll .” 2-7. Web. 19 Oct 2009. .