Using Music to Portray and Emphasize Identity

Updated on: March 1, 2023

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A cross-cultural universal, music permeates every community on earth in one guise or another. It is a ubiquitous activity present in every known society. Manifestly, individuals demonstrate variable musical preferences that help them portray and emphasize their identity without saying it aloud. Surprisingly, scientists know little about the underlying structure and influence of these individual tastes. Nonetheless, the relationship between music and identity continues to thrive, and an investigation of personal preferences across time reveals a consistent trend.

My Buddy” Henry Burr 1922

Description of the Music

Henry Burr did a rendition of “My Buddy,” originally composed by Walter Donaldson and Gus Khan in 1922. The sentimental song has a poetic appeal with carefully organized lyrics and rhythm. It has a total of four quatrains, two of which are choruses. It is calm and gentle and although the verses have different words, they feature the same melody. There are no bridge sections, and instrumentals occur more predominantly during the transition.

Artist Backgrounds

Henry Burr was born Harry Haley McClaskey on January 15, 1882, in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, to a tobacco and candy store owner. He had many pseudonyms, including Henry Burr, which he used to produce more than 12,000 recordings, but no one has confirmed this claim. Burr performed in quartets, trios, duets, and individually as a tenor artist. He died on April 6, 1941, in Chicago, Illinois, from throat cancer.

Social Context

The social context of the song is the separation of best friends. The artist laments that, in the book of life, it was written that he and his buddy must part. In the chorus, he admits that he thinks about his buddy all through the day and that nights have become long since they split. The song, though melodic and sentimental, addresses the issue of pain and suffering associated with parting.

Its Significance to Me

The song is significant because it reminds me of people that we once were close but are no longer in contact. Every time I listen to the composition, it gives me nostalgia. I also love the song because its mellow factor, consisting of a smooth and relaxing style, represents my mood when reminiscing about my past. Notably, personalized music is a more central and prominent fixture in many people’s lives (Nave et al. 1145). It is my go-to song when thinking about my childhood years and past life in general.

We Belong Together” Ritchie Valens 1959

Description of the Music

Ritchie Valens released a gentle, natural, and harmonious rendition of Robert and Johnny’s song “We Belong Together.” The original version – an American rhythm and blues (R ‘n’ B) hit was released in 1958. The rendition’s sound has an urban factor defined by percussion and rhythm thanks to its four short, similarly-sounding verses. It qualifies as a refrain because it has the same melody and almost the same words in every stanza. Instrumentals appear in the beginning and during verse-to-verse transitions.

Artist Background

Richard Stephen Valenzuela, commonly referred to as Ritchie Valens, was born in Pacoima, San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, the USA, on May 13, 1941. Musicians and musical historians generally consider him one of the pioneers of rock and roll and the Chicano rock movement’s forefather. He released the “We Belong Together” rendition aged 17 in 1959. Unfortunately, he died the same year in a plane crash in Iowa.

Social Context

The song is about an artist expressing his feelings to an unidentified person that they are meant for each other. The artist is almost obsessed with the other person, writing that they belong to only them for eternity. He even swears by everything he has that the other person – probably a woman – will always be his.

Its Significance to Me

The song is significant to me because it represents my feelings when I am in love. It is characterized by an outpouring of love and affection bordering on obsession, and I admit to feeling this way sometimes when deeply in love. Indeed, listening to the song during a breakup elicits deep emotional reactions characterized by restlessness and crying. Indeed, it is possible to predict a person’s emotional stability and conscientiousness from music listening behavior (Anderson et al. 8). The work always reminds me that when people fall in love, they should strive to protect their bond rather than have external forces separate them.

My Girl” The Temptations 1965

Description of the Music

“My Girl” is a piece of soul music that The Temptations recorded for the Gordy record label (now Motown Records). It is a combination of rudiments of African-American gospel music, jazz, and rhythm, and blues. Its funky, secular testifying coupled with catchy rhythms and extemporaneous dancing create an urban factor that made it The Temptation’s signature song and their first number-one single in the United States.

Artist Background

The Temptations was founded in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan, by David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Eddie Kendricks. Of the five members, only Otis Williams still survives and carries the group’s name. The group was most active in the 1960s and 70s, during which time they released numerous successful albums and singles. Their collaborative work with Norman Whitfield contributed to the evolution of rhythm and blues and pioneered psychedelic soul.

Social Context

The song is about the appreciation of a girl by the artists. It tells the story of an individual mesmerized by a girl that makes him feel he got sunshine on a cloudy day and the month of May when it is cold outside. Although five band members perform the song, the message is personal and affects an individual. The artist further claims that his girl has given him much honey (that the bees envy him) and a sweeter song than the birds in the trees.

Its Significance to Me

The song is significant to me because it expresses a seemingly genuine and heartfelt love confession. The artist is elated by his girl and feels that she gives him everything he ever wants. In this regard, the song expresses my thoughts about love and being in love. The feeling of having a trustworthy partner brings a lot of joy to me.

Purple Rain” Prince 1984

Description of the Music

An iconic power ballad, “Purple Rain” is a title track from an eponymous 1984 album. Prince and the Revolution – his backing band – produced and performed it in 1984. It is on the list of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” The song is rich and raucous sounding with a distinct mellow and a somewhat deep shrill. It falls squarely under the soft rock genre, given its rhythm and lyrical appeal.

Artist Background

Prince Rogers Nelson, commonly known as Prince, was born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was a singer-songwriter, guitar virtuoso, record producer, director, and multi-instrumentalist. Today, most people regard him as one of the most influential musicians of his generation. Music lovers remember him for, among other things, his eclectic work in various genres, flamboyancy, androgyny, and wide vocal range. Because of Prince’s passing, it is difficult to listen to his music without looking through the prism of his absence (Tudahl). He died on April 21, 2016, from an accidental overdose of fentanyl.

Social Context

“Purple Rain” is a love song about a seemingly troubled relationship. The singer admits that he never meant to cause their lover any sorrow or pain. Instead, he wanted to see them laughing in the purple rain and that it is such a shame that the friendship had to end. However, the artist hints at willing to reunite with the estranged friend or lover to guide them back to their happy place.

Its Significance Me

The song is significant because it represents many modern relationships where misunderstandings lead to separation. Listening to it often reminds me of the importance of having good intentions in every relationship and communicating clearly and coherently to avoid doubt and ambiguity. The song also reminds me of the importance of practicing restraints to avoid regrets later. Indeed, prevention is better than cure as some things we do may cause permanent damages.

“American Idiot” Green Day 2004

Description of the Music

A protest song, “American Idiot” is the title track from Green Day’s seventh album. It falls under two general genres; popular punk and punk rock. Written in the A♭ major key, the song has four chords and the I-IV-♭VII-IV-I-♭VII progression. The solo and the chorus share the IV-I-V-I passage.

Artist Background

The American rock band Green Day has existed since 1987 following its formation in California’s East Bay. Members include Billie Joe Armstrong – the lead vocalist and guitarist – and Mike Dirnt – a backing vocalist and bassist. A drummer – Tre Cool – joined the band in 1990 as a replacement for John Kiffmeyer.

Social Context

“American Idiot” is an explicitly political song that contends that public idiocy and paranoia result from mass media activities and cites the cable news coverage of the war in Iraq as an example. The lead vocalist laments that the broadcast of violent content intercut with advertisements crossed the line of effective and responsible journalism. The song was also inspired by “That’s How I Like It,” another piece that seemed to glorify what Joe Armstrong loathes.

Its Significance to Me

I like the song because it is addressing political issues in society. Listening to it reminds me that sometimes we are blinded by the media content we consume. It helps me sieve through information and be more careful about what I believe in or promote.

Works Cited

Anderson, Ian, et al. ““Just the Way You Are”: Linking Music Listening on Spotify and Personality.” Social Psychological and Personality Science vol. 11, no. 5, 2020, pp. 1-12.

Nave, Gideon, et al. “Musical preferences predict personality: evidence from active listening and facebook likes.” Psychological Science, vol. 29, no. 7, 2018, pp. 1145-1158. DOI: 10.1177/0956797618761659

Tudahl, Duane. Prince and the Purple Rain era studio sessions: 1983 and 1984. Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

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