An article titled “Stop Listening to Music, It Will Change Your Life” by Mil Hoornaert on Medium caught my eye. It resonated deeply because I’d observed a similar phenomenon in my son. His attitude seemed to shift depending on the music he listened to. This made me wonder if there was any scientific evidence to support my hunch.

Music, after all, is one of the most expressive art forms we possess.

As Joshua Knobe, a Yale University cognitive science professor, states, “There’s something about music that makes you think, ‘This is what music is truly about. This is what life is about”(Fast Company).
Here, on a cold, rainy Nairobi evening, while writing my response, I decided to sample some  of the different music genres in my playlist. A popular song by Chike and Mohbad titled “Egwu” comes to mind. While I might not fully grasp the lyrics, a single line resonates:

“Music needs no permission to enter your spirit’….
“Anywhere ,anyhow you know, say you go feel me…”

Perhaps this speaks to the power of African music’s underlying message, often requiring interpretation through a cultural lens. The music can connect with you on an emotional level even if you don’t understand the exact meaning.
The story of Mohbad’s tragic passing is a separate topic, but Chike’s dedication to his craft, even facing his own mortality, is evident in the song’s creation. This short piece exemplifies the profound impact music has on our human nature. It’s just one example of the countless melodies emerging from African studios.

digital age of music
digital age of music

Music and Mental Health: A Complex Relationship

There’s a growing concern that music is becoming increasingly melancholic. A Fast Company article titled “It’s Not Just You: Science Confirms Pop Music Has Gotten Way More Depressing” highlights research commissioned by Cloud Clover Music.  Their findings, utilizing IBM Watson Personality Insights API, suggest music has become angrier over time.  The report also explores how artists’ personalities have shifted over the years, with some expressing extreme anger in their music (see report).

Music: A Double-Edged Sword

While the argument about music’s growing negativity holds weight, particularly for Western pop music, it’s important to acknowledge music’s duality.

Take a look at the Billboard Top 20. Titles like “Blinding Lights,” “Before You Go,” “Break My Heart,” and “Savage Love” often hint at melancholic themes. 

Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Ideation on College Students’ Mental Health Empathy, Stigma, and Behavioral Intentions (PubMed) supports the concern about the potential impact of music on mental health.

However, it’s crucial to avoid a simplistic cause-and-effect interpretation. Kresovich’s paper carefully avoids claiming that music directly causes declining mental health. Instead, it highlights a correlation between the increasing presence of themes related to anxiety, depression, and suicide in pop music and reported declines in mental health among US college students.

However, it’s crucial not to solely blame music. Kresovich himself acknowledges the complexity, stopping short of claiming music is the primary cause.

Yet on the other hand, music power  to unite is undeniable. It transcends generations, fostering connection within communities and driving positive change. We see this in Kenya, where younger musicians are influenced by older generations. Even platforms like TikTok bridge the gap, using samples from “Boomer generation” music.

The power of Choice

This is where free will enters the picture. We can critique algorithms that feed us content based on our past choices, but ultimately, we have the power to choose.  The internet provides a democratic space, allowing us to explore music beyond what algorithms suggest. (once in a while, mix the algos up, watch videos from all over the world- see what happens)

Mil Hoornaert, as your article suggests, you can quickly move on to no music yet you may be missing out on the one thing that could be helping you well being .  Ancient tablets depict people using music to interact with nature, hinting at its power for millennia.  Great music uplifts the soul, inspires hope, and gets us moving.

Music isn’t just entertainment; it’s a powerful force that unites communities, shapes personalities, and sparks social change (see footnote for a deeper dive into music’s benefits). But the most empowering aspect of music lies in choice.

Unlike some external factors in life, the music you consume is entirely within your control. You can choose to uplift your mood with upbeat tempos or delve into introspective melodies. You can explore new genres, revisit old favorites, or join online communities dedicated to specific musical styles.

Take “Egwu” by Chike and Mohbad for instance – a vibrant example of music’s ability to energize.  Explore different genres, embrace the power of choice, and discover the music that truly resonates with you.

Enjoy my Playlist: The power of Choice: Suzie’s list

Categorized in: