Music, for thousands of years, has been a limb of life. It is a vital art form that can relate and affect nearly every part of our lives in a variety of forms. However, I believe that music has reached a new level of importance in modern culture. Think art, fashion, film, advertisement, television, politics, business, race, sexuality, relationships, socialising, motivation and inspiration. Music impacts all of these things in extraordinary ways. But what I want to explore is how much music influences the new generation, and how it has the potential to mould our identity.
Whether it’s the continuous bombardment of new media, the constant connection to the internet, or the chemical imbalances of just growing up, adolescents are always searching for something to communicate with and/or relate to. We are constantly following the trends of others which can cause us to have characteristics that are not truly our own. Everyone wants to find the balance of individuality and belonging, with music being the primary tool teenagers have to achieve this (or at least help along the way).
In an age when musicians have the potential to be more influential than world leaders or religious figureheads, I personally believe that music, as both a product and art, is best used when paralleled with strong societal messages. Probably the most active message being pushed in the industry at the moment is gay rights. It’s true, LGBT rights are the social movement of this generation and it’s incredible that artists, both mainstream and small-time, are fighting for the day we have full equality. One of the best examples of an artist pushing boundaries is up-and-coming rap/hip-hop artist Mykki Blanco.
Mykki Blanco is an electronic rap artist that uses transgender identity and overpowering androgyny to capture his audiences and project his image. The rap genre is infamous for being anti-gay and using insensitive, and ultimately offensive language in lyrics and imagery. Blanco is one of the first R&B artists to be openly gay and to use trans-sexuality in a serious, thought-provoking way. The best thing about Mykki is that the industry and fans are gravitating towards him, not because of a gimmick, but because of his talent as a writer and performer. The fact he is wearing a dress or putting on make-up, or his sexual attraction to men is totally secondary. This is a huge leap for hip-hop and this sort of message is exactly what teenagers surrounded by an urban environment should be exposed to, as they are stereotypically less accepting of homosexuality.
Another artist paving the way for youth (and it would be incredibly wrong not to mention her) is Gaga. Lady Gaga has been fighting for full equality for the gay community for years, pushing messages of acceptance through her music, fashion and performance art. Gaga was also a powering figure in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (A US law preventing gay men and women to serve openly in the army). She has had a huge impact on young people on a colossal, international scale. However, whilst Mykki’s image is an obvious nod to LGBT rights, Gaga’s message is much more boundless. She talks about the acceptance of people’s individuality whatever that may mean. It can cover anything from your race, style, interests, disability, sexual orientation or career. I believe that this is ultimately more powerful than targeting a certain trait of someone, because it relates to everyone and still remains personal.
Music with this kind of underlying context can mean a lot to young people. It creates a sense of security and meaning. For me, music was the imperative factor in piecing together the puzzle of who I am today, as well as coming to terms with my own sexuality. It also allowed me to find a way to project my style and even my education. A lot of artists are starting to understand this, but is that a good thing? Are they just targeting a product to an audience? I don’t know. What I do know is that however it is marketed, music is a healthy form of expression for teens.
However, there is one question I continue to ask myself: Is it better for musicians to target gay rights as an issue to fight for or to take the ‘Gaga’ approach in promoting loving your own personal identity?
Singling out the gay community as a minority that needs support, even in a positive way, may not be very 2013. We are still fighting for equality, and I truly believe we will get there. But finding a sense of pride in your sexuality (and in any other part of your life for that matter) is a private issue that can create public growth in self-esteem. Any emotional music has the power to evoke this, so maybe society, and the industry, will start to focus on creating art without the boundaries of a ‘pro-LGBT’ message in an effort to make a pro-LGBT attitude more of a natural instinct.