As part of my personal inquiry, I have decided to explore protest music from the 1990s onwards. The main aim of the inquiry was to find the most common idioms and words in order to generate the amalgam of all the protest songs – ‘the perfect protest song’. The importance of the inquiry mostly stems from sociolinguistic factors. In doing the inquiry, I was hoping to pinpoint the social issues in the past and to understand how and why protest music disseminates in the digital age.
Due to the sheer number of songs that feature protest lyrics in the past 30 years, I have decided to choose one song for each year, starting in 1990 and ending in 2019. The songs were chosen after a careful review of various websites and magazines, such as Billboard, The Rolling Stones, and Variety. Each one of them represents one year and they are chosen based on their overwhelming popularity or based on how representative and prominent lyrics were.
Initially, my goal was to write an academic-style research paper on this topic. However, talking with my supervisor and my coworkers got me inspired and I decided to make a website for my inquiry and showcase my work in this manner. Moreover, given that there are 30 songs in total, as well as the fact that this is my first inquiry, I figured it would be better if I learned to write a simple code that would return the most frequent words and idioms in each of the songs. Thus, after embarking on a completely unknown process, I wrote a short code that eventually helped me categorize the songs based on their lyrics and messages.
Initial screening of the chosen songs identified the following categories: police brutality, anti-war, anti-racism, LBTQI+, and gun control. Songs that did not fall specifically under any of these categories were classified as other. Content analysis shows a clear predominance of artists from the United States with all songs being sung in English. The prevalence of US artists was a deliberate decision in order to show the relationship between American society and its protest culture.
Although the project remains unfinished, it has provided me with valuable insight into protest culture and its most pressing issues. The inquiry, as well as the website, could benefit from more in-depth content analysis, as well as the creation of ‘the perfect protest song’. Lastly, the inquiry could also yield results relevant to the fields of music, linguistics, and sociology.
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Photo courtesy of Junne Alcantara/The Washington Post; iStock