Songs are such powerful things: they can reassure, soothe, inspire and educate us – and that's just for starters. Perhaps one reason for this is because they are performed by real people […]. Songs have always held a mirror to the world, reflecting the things going on around us, and, arguably, music changes society like no other artform.
Traditionally, songs were passed down through the generations by being sung, like oral histories. Come the 20th Century, however, technological advances quickly made the world a much smaller place and, thanks to cheap, widely-available audio equipment, songs could suddenly be distributed on a much larger scale.
Before long, records became agents of musical revolution. […] The advent of
recording technology significantly broadened people's musical horizons. Now powerful spirituals were being recorded and distributed widely and quickly, enabling singers to share their experiences with ever increasing audiences, forging emotional connections with listeners in ways that sheet music found impossible. Songs could shape listeners in new ways, challenging people's preconceived ideas of the world, shining a light on things that weren't spoken of in the news of the day. […]
Make your voice heard
Pop music has the ability to encourage individuals to think about where they're going in the world; to inform the decisions they make; to help forge an identity. But while music might be consumed in solitude, taking a hold on imaginations as you listen in bedrooms and on headphones, it has a unifying effect. An individual touched by music is not isolated. They are one of millions of people affected by those moments, and in turn that has a huge effect on society. […]
Artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Solange, D'Angelo, Beyoncé, Blood Orange and Common, among many more, have released albums in recent years that have tackled America's struggle with race relations head on. […]
Stars have also harnessed the power of video to tell their story, Beyoncé's Lemonade was effectively an album-long expression of the black woman's experience in America […]. In the clip for ‘Forward', the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown – the young black men whose deaths launched the Black Lives Matter movement – are seen holding photographs of their sons, while the video for ‘Formation' is a commentary on police brutality, self-love, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and black wealth. […]
Paradigms of their age
While music played a vital role in changing attitudes towards race and sexism in the US, it challenged the status quo elsewhere in plenty of different ways. The impact of The Beatles is a perfect example of the transformative power of pop music. It requires a deep breath before listing the ways in which their music helped change society: earning their own songwriting credits; bringing regional accents into popular culture; their utter delight in irreverence; their haircuts; their hold over screaming fans; their popularisation of esoteric ideas and foreign cultures… […]
The Beatles – and the 60s as a whole – encouraged people to think outside the norm and to challenge accepted wisdom, something that has since been integral to the ways in which music changes society.