Music & Media Shaping Behaviours

Music & Media Shaping Behaviours

Marcia Forbes PhD

The Bureau of Women’s Affairs in Jamaica partnered with the Blossom O’Meiley-Nelson Foundation to examine ‘The Impact of Public Images on Sexual Violence against Women & Girls’. The following is my presentation which specifically examined the influences of music and media in shaping behaviours. Some of the material here had to be cut from the presentation in view of time constraints.

The Power of Music & Media

Why are we talking about this, about music & media shaping behaviour? Mostly it’s because we are all aware of the Transformative Power of Music as well as the Power of the Media to influence decision-making. Music and media are forms of communication and common to ALL cultures. Music is especially important to Jamaica and to Jamaicans. Reggae and Dancehall are integral to our national identity.

Our children and teenagers are riveted to music and to media. As Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica highlighted, almost three-quarters of the teenagers surveyed knew all or most of the words for their favourite videos. One of their main reasons for watching music videos was to learn the words of the songs. This is especially so for girls – 86% of them said they watched videos to learn the words, compared to 82% of boys.

The merging of music and media in the form of music videos is one of the most powerful forms of message dissemination. We remember it when we sing it. We remember it when we see it. When we sing it and see it – it’s like WOW, Just WOW in aiding memory and recall.

We’re talking about music and media shaping behaviour because many of us realize that things have gone very wrong in Jamaica when it comes to much of our popular music. Too often the lyrical content of too many of our songs leaves much to be desired. Too many of our songs focus entirely on violence and on sex. Some of them combine violence with sex – Sexual Violence

Every day it’s a constant refrain:

‘Jack it up, Cock it up, Skin it up, Wine up, Wine Up, Wine pan de cocky gyal wine’ 

‘Aah yah soh nice, aah yah soh nice’ – Lyrics by Potential Kid where in this song he advocates that it’s better to be a rapist than to be gay. Tattoos of ‘aah yah soh nice’ are ‘emblazoned’ over the pubic area of females, sometimes with arrows to show the area of ‘niceness’ and boasted via pictures on Facebook & Twitter

This is what our children hear and see daily! So why are we surprized at our high incidence of rape? Why are we surprized at our rate of teenage pregnancy? Why are we surprized about sex in schools?

Media Proliferation

Jamaica has seen a proliferation of electronic media over the past 20 years. We now have Traditional Media as well as New Media or non-traditional media, as they are often called.

Traditional Media: Television - 3 Free-to-Air TV stations, about 40 cable systems each with over 100 channels, cable systems boast numerous local channels like Flow 100 and Hype TV and there are about 20 Radio stations in Jamaica.

Non-Traditional Media  are delivered via theINTERNET and are enhanced with new technologies like advanced types of TVs, Tablets, Mobile Phones and other devices. There is YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts and many more, in addition to numerous Internet TV channels. Many have their own TV channel online hosted by You Tube or elsewhere. My web designer even created MarciaForbesTV where he posted my TV and radio interviews.

Importantly, the Internet mostly intensifies the experience of music. Internet features and other technologies like new high definition digital TVs allow the viewer to pause, rewind and restart or continue without losing a beat. They make learning violence or sex more impactful – click and play over and over again.

Then there is the potential for something to go viral. Look at Gangnam Style (Gangnam is a district in Seoul, South Korea) sang and performed by Psy. It went viral in no time. Gangnam was danced by Chris Gayle and others members of the cricket team when the West Indies won the 20/20. Shaggy and others were also featured in the newspaper dancing Gangnam at Fiction. We all remember ‘ No Baddy Canna Cross it’, that too went viral but Clifton is no Psy.

About 55% of Jamaicans have Internet access (UWI, 2011) with only about 16% having this access at home but we know that eLearning provides access in almost 200 high schools. In STREAMING: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles, I explore some of the ways in which these new media technologies influence our behaviours.

Popular Music

It is mostly via some form of media that we consume music. Combined, the two can be like a marriage made in heaven. The flip side of that could be a dance with the devil. The marriage between media and popular music is where much of the debate takes place. Popular music is a contested expression but for this presentation, let’s agree that popular music is any musical genre that has wide appeal/mass appeal. In Jamaica popular music includes Dancehall, Hip Hop/Rap, Soca, R&B/Soul and Pop.

Power of Popular Music:

Two Examples

1)      The Commercial Power - Kartel’s music and how it has helped to sell Clarkes shoes noted on Wikipedia’s write-up of C. and J. Clark International Ltd, trading as Clarks

2)      The Emotional Power - Adele music &andhow it can make us cry – ‘Never mind I’ll find someone like you’ uses amusical device called an "appoggiatura". This“is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. This generates tension in the listener", said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. "When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good."

One drives you to buy a product, the other to feel a deep emotion. Ergo the Power of Music to Shape Behaviour!

I want to probe the power of music in general to shape behaviours because sometimes we’ll hear some people argue that Dancehall music has no influence on us – on our thoughts and behaviours.

The Power of Music in General

Let’s look beyond sex and violence. Please allow me time to make the case as to the various ways in which music influences our behaviours:

o   Music for health, healing & spiritual upliftment– e.g. Tibetan Buddhist Chants used for meditation

o   Music for sleep– the lullaby, the peaceful bubbling river, sounds of the waves packaged on CDs & sold as sleep aides

o   Music for work– Work songs going back to slavery & beyond especially in agrarian societies – Rhythmic a cappella songs to reduce boredom and increase productivity  – ‘Go down Emmanuel Road Gal & Buoy fi go bruk rock stone, Bruk den one by one, Gal and buoy’

o   Music for sex– Bedroom music – R&B/Souls (as noted in Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica over a half of adolescents who were heavy viewers of R&B videos said it put them in the mood for sex).

o   Music for exercise– The highly popular Zumba which is exercising to music – Latin & Int’l music

o   Music for Learning– Classical music - baroque classical music. One of the interesting effects of music on the brain is that at a tempo of a steady rate of 60 beats per minute, people seemed to remember the most.

So we see clearly that music can and does influence behaviours, a wide variety of behaviours, even behaviours we may not be aware of like the body healing itself from music therapy. Music can sooth the savage beast in us but music can also awaken that beast.  Whether for positive or negative transformation, music touches our very core.

Music, Media & Sex

Earlier I established the tight nexus between music and media via music videos. Jamaican teenagers are fed a Diet of Sex via the Lyrics of the songs they love the most. Dancehall and hip hop/rap are their two most loved genres. About three-quarters (73.4%) of them felt that dancehall videos mostly talked about or showed sexual behaviours. Approximately 60% of them felt this way about hip hop while only 39% of them felt this way about Reggae music.

In a review of 30 popular locally produced music videos on local cable TV, Yvette Rowe who lectures at CARIMAC found that:

86.6% contained images of ‘scantily clad women’

75% ‘contained sexual words or phrases’

41% contained visuals suggesting casual sex

Outcomes of Nexus between Music & Media:

o   Normalizes certain behaviours– many of us dress a certain way or behaving a certain way based on what we see in the media. This is how one girl described what children learn from certain music videos – “like how yu fi position and those things…lizard lap, back shot, wheel barrow” For the uninitiated, these are various sex positions. 

View of St Andrew High Girl in this week’s Gleaner - "Most of these songs are talking about aggressive sexual activities and aggressive relationships … this is a subculture. And why is it that we cannot change this subculture?"

o   Creates Pressure to Fit in– Peer pressure

o   Drives our Expectations of ourselves– males must be ‘stamina daddies’ and every female’s pum pum must ‘tun up’

And it’s not just dancehall:-


o   Turn it around and push it back in, Turn it around and push it back in

o   Gimme a suck off you Julie Mango, a suck off you Julie Mangoo

o   Too Much Biting In Sects, biting in sects               

We feed on this staple of sex and sexual violence via traditional media and most importantly via new media. New media technologies are far more powerful than plain old TV (as I like to call it, taking off on POTs – Plain old telephones.


1)      Create self-awarenessin boys and girls re issues of self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem – Help them to value themselves beyond just their sexual identity and their sexual prowess. We are more than sexual beings, as important as that aspect of our identity is.

2)      Break the Silence– let’s talk about it. Feelings of shame accompany sexual violence.

·         Donna Scott-Duncan and others talking up at WMW session on December 3rd. Those affected talk out to show that they are not alone. Only a fraction of sexual violence is identified and even less is reported.

·         Aloun Assamba, our Ambassador to the UK, spoke out about her experience of domestic violence

3)      Sensitize Entertainers – Circa 2007 Amnesty International Campaign to end violence against women titled ‘just a little sex’ captured the essence of how many feel about sexual violence.

A concerted effort from a wide variety of persons and groups is needed but beyond almost anything else is the need for us in Jamaica to get back to our core, the family, and get to work there.

November 23, 2012