If music were your teacher, what would it be teaching you?
BENITA LIM reveals why discernment matters when listening to music.
Growing up, my favourite girl group was the Spice Girls. They defied conventional pop group stereotypes of being just cute, pretty, or sexy (or all of the above), and were singers with unique ‘personalities’. Their songs were catchy and fun, and often celebrated ‘girl power’.
As pop stars heavily marketed by one of the biggest global music labels, they
became heroines of girls both young and old in many parts of the world.
However, they also had songs that were a tad bit mature — one of their most popular songs contained euphemistic lyrics like, “Cause tonight is the night when two become one.” My friends and I would sing these words with gusto and giggles whenever the song was played on the radio. We obviously knew what they were referring to!
But at that time, we definitely didn’t think too deeply about how the music we listened to was teaching us something about ourselves as girls, and how they subtly shaped our beliefs about womanhood.
THE MUSIC EFFECT
Studies have shown that music influences our emotions, and lyrics, when we connect with them, have the ability to impact our well-being. What makes things more complex is that music today is more than what we listen to. It has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry and a multi-sensory experience. Artistes do not only write and perform music; they also try to create viral music videos, appear on different visual platforms such as TV programmes, become brand ambassadors, and create social media profiles so as to connect with their fans on a more ‘personal’ level. Music these days takes on a new meaning when we get to ‘know’ the people behind them. The question then, is what does the music that you hear, see, and scroll through, tell you?
WHAT DOES THE MUSIC THAT YOU HEAR, SEE, AND SCROLL THROUGH TELL YOU?
WHAT A GIRL WANTS
It seems that popular music often teaches us that what a girl really wants is sex and intimacy. A survey of U.S. top-40 hits between 1960 and 2010 showed that 67.3 percent of the lyrics referenced relationships and love, and 29.9 percent referenced sex and sexual desire! I wouldn’t be surprised if those percentages have gone up even further in the past ten years— songs about sex in particular have only gotten more explicit.
I must admit that I love a good love song. I cannot deny that I, too, desire to hear the guy that I am attracted to one day whisper things like, “You are the only one I’ll ever love,” and “You want me like I want you tonight, baby” (+50 points if he sings it while playing the piano or guitar!). And yet, there have been times when consistently listening to music like that has led me to feelings of intense sadness and even anger at what I seem to be missing out on.
I want to acknowledge though that even though the content of most popular music today does not align with the values we find in the Bible, the message that love and sex are desirable isn’t exactly wrong. Girls desire intimacy, relationships, and romance. There is nothing wrong with that, as God has created human beings to enjoy these things — but at the right time (Song 2:7)! If the time isn’t right, we need to ask ourselves honestly whether the songs we listen to are intensifying these feelings to the point that our sadness at missing out and anger that we don’t have it yet overwhelms us on a daily basis. We also need to ask whether what we listen to, see, and scroll through are creating more envy and dissatisfaction in our hearts than keeping us content in all circumstances (cf. Phil 4:12).
If the answer is yes, then we need to be wise and make the right decision based on our circumstances. Discernment leads us to avoid indulging in music that fuels those thoughts at this point. Unfollow or unsubscribe to certain social media profiles if you need to. In its place, you could always create a playlist with music that promotes healthy lifestyles and friendships — or stick to Christian songs or even classical music and lo-fi beats for now. There are plenty of options out there without depriving ourselves of good tunes! Of course, just as God’s people throughout time have expressed emotions of all kinds through song, you could write your own song as a prayer to God. And do seek out a mature friend or mentor to share your struggles.
MUSIC IS INDEED A POWERFUL GIFT FROM GOD TO ALL HUMANKIND.
WHAT A GIRL NEEDS
The second thing I’ve observed in today’s music scene is an emphasis on girl power. What does a girl need? Apparently, not men! Let me be clear: music that celebrates empowerment of girls is important. In an analysis of Billboard’s top 600 songs from 2012 to 2017, out of 1,239 performing artists, only 22.4 percent were women. Seeing the success of female performers and listening to lyrics that highlight the capabilities of girls surely gives us inspiration and encouragement.
However, discernment calls us to notice that messages on girl power may not always be edifying or provide the best advice on what it means to be empowered. For example, some songs go to the extreme by completely disregarding the need for any men at all, or boast music videos that flaunt bodies (both male and female) in sexually charged scenes to declare that one should have the freedom to do anything they want with their bodies.
While these artistes are highlighting the important fact that women have often been placed at a disadvantage in many parts of the world, such hostile responses often prevent meaningful dialogue even about important matters.
We need to think deeper about what it means to foster good relationships between men and women, since both males and females have been created in God’s image (Gen 1:27), and God’s desire is for us to love one another (John 13:34–35). In other words, we should aim to speak and use our bodies in ways that open the way for helpful conversations on issues such as gender inequality and sexuality, rather than dismiss or downplay the importance of anyone, male or female!
As the 16th-century Reformer Martin Luther once observed: “Next to theology I give to music the highest place and honour; and we see how David and all the saints have wrought their godly thoughts into verse, rhyme, and song.” Music is indeed a powerful gift from God to all humankind. It connects with us on many levels and can even help us with our well-being. However, as we have seen, it also teaches and communicates different messages about our needs and wants as girls which may not be fully aligned with what God desires for us. As you enjoy this gift, may you stay attuned to the Spirit’s wisdom for discernment as to what you listen to, see, and scroll through regarding all things music!