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How Music Plays a Role in American Culture

The ubiquitous Stratocaster design remains an icon of American popular music.
American Music image by Edward Stephens from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Music is mass marketed in the United States, resulting in a strong influence throughout the nation's culture. Youth culture, in particular, has been impacted since the explosion of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s. As the market continued to expand with each generation, an increasingly wider demographic felt the impact of music on daily life. The introduction of new technology contributed as well, with music becoming easier to obtain and distribute.

Race Relations

The massive ongoing popularity of hip-hop music, beginning in the late 1980s, increased awareness of inner city life throughout suburban America. Hip-hop lyrics often contain harrowing details of lives dominated by drugs and violence. This provided an eye opening experience for a middle class that was largely unaware of these realities. Hip-hop artists such as Wyclef Jean, Jay-Z and Diddy have used their success to donate to charitable organizations. These organizations have in turn benefited low income communities that might not have received such help without the high profile of hip-hop music.

Gender Equality

Serving as an inspiration to countless females throughout the country, women began taking a more active role in the management of their careers. During the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, many female artists began writing and performing songs dealing with formerly taboo subject matter. Loretta Lynn explored issues of birth control and divorce. Joan Baez has written material about political and gay rights. A gradual evening of the playing field within the male-dominated music industry has given female artists more options in career management.

Political Views

Protest music has often led to increased participation in political debate and demonstration. During the Vietnam War, performers such as Bob Dylan inspired large numbers of people to take a stance on the war. Folksinger Pete Seeger was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, writing politically-charged protest songs designed to give audiences relevant issues to think about. Sometimes topical music ends up polarizing audiences, leading to boycotts of specific artists. The youth demographic is especially influenced by political views expressed in song, as their ideologies are usually in the formative stages.


Without music, there would be no music television. The advent of MTV in the 1980s had a palpable impact on the way Americans dressed. As young people sought to emulate their idols, clothing trends followed what the most popular stars were wearing. This influence began in earnest in the 1950s when television sets started becoming common in American households. Initially, audiences wanting to view live music were limited to shows such as American Bandstand. There were also variety shows that featured guest appearances by America's favorite stars. In recent years, the Internet has made visual representations of music even more readily available.

Expert Insight

Dr. Renford R. Reese, a political science professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, has written about the proliferation of hip-hop music’s influence on American culture. In his article "From The Fringe: The Hip-Hop Culture and Ethnic Relations," Reese argues that the promotion of positive social messages through hip-hop music has the potential to bridge cultural gaps in society. He asserts that the genre has touched all aspects of American society, right up to the largest corporations in the country. According to Reese, Nike, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have all utilized hip-hop as a means to market their products.

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