The Power of Song Lyrics 

Social change, political uprising, emotional impact, and behavioural influence



Social Change and Political Uprising 

You don’t need to look far to find the songs that were anthems of social change for major historical movements in history. The 1960s and 70s America was a place of anger, confusion, segregation, war, and uprising for its citizens. From the Civil Rights Movement that saw the revolt of African Americans and other minorities against the violence, inequality and segregation they were subjected to, to America’s role in the Vietnam War. A myriad of musicians and poets scribed lyrics of peace, resilience, empowerment, and social change that became anthems for these messages. They drew like-minded people together in unity, and provoked thought in previously untapped minds; awakening their senses to the impact of activism versus passivism.  

Emotional Impact

We can identify sad music using many key identifiers from tempo to tone. But, the lyrics to that music amplify emotions even further and add to the number of feelings one might have throughout a song.

We tend to most enjoy songs where the lyrics resonate with us on a deeper personal level. Sadness, despair, melancholy, and happiness are just some of the emotions tied to lyrics (sometimes in the same emotional rollercoaster of a song) that we attribute to events in our lives. The songs that strike you in the feelings are often synonymous with the plethora of emotions you’re experiencing or have experienced in the past. Ever gone from Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ over a few drinks to Nirvana’s ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ the next morning while you’re throwing a tantrum about having to move your limbs? Your song choice can often be a subconscious soundtrack to your life.

But, what happens when the mood of music and lyrics doesn’t match up? You’re listening to a fun, happy beat and melody, but the lyrics are saying something about murdering people and loving it. This big ball of emotional conflict is called ‘Lyrical Dissonance’, and yes, they do it on purpose.

Behavioural Influence

Heavy metal will make you worship Satan.

Rap music will make you go on a crime spree with your pants about 2 inches past your crack.

Rock and roll will make you move your extremities around suggestively and attract unwanted attention.

Jazz will turn you into a booze-addicted, cigarette-smoking harlot that steals husbands.

Throughout the times, people (mainly middle-aged white men with superiority complexes) have shouted bloody murder at the sound of anything outside the good, pleasant and god-fearing melodies of their era. Claims were thrown around that certain genres of music would negatively influence and affect behaviour.

Countless studies have been conducted on the correlation between music preference and behaviour, each with mixed and conflicting results. It is argued that if lyrics have the power to trigger emotion, that emotion may influence particular behaviour. The songs of history that have affected social and political issues have certainly demonstrated the power of a seed of thought leading to motivation and ultimately, action.

Whatever the answer may be, history dictates that the power of song lyrics cannot be doubted.