The coded messages in hit songs

While a catchy tune can grab our attention, subliminal subversive ideas are often what really connect with us, writes Arwa Haider.

US musician and author Ted Gioia argues in his excellent book Music: A Subversive History (2019): “At every stage in human history, music has been a catalyst for change, challenging conventions and conveying coded messages – or, not infrequently, delivering blunt, unambiguous ones. It has given voice to individuals and groups denied access to other platforms for expression.” Pop music has often been dismissed as “lightweight” given its young audience, simple snappiness and mainstream status, but those elements are really where its strength is concealed. Pop songs don’t originate themes of mental wellbeing, equality, liberty, activism – but they do transmit them to the broadest platforms possible.

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