This week’s blog considers the role of the teenager in society over the past 100 years and the importance of popular music to the teenager.
Popular music became a commodity in the early 20th century with the invention of radio and the mechanical reproduction of music. In 1927 the B.B.C created their music department, broadcasting new and different styles beyond community-based music into homes across the U.K. Music became a personal possession to be enjoyed at will, not just at church at other family events.
The concept of the teenager is relatively new. Before the 1940’s, children finished primary school and went straight into the world of work. 12 year olds were fast tracked into adulthood and responsibilities. Fun and free-time were unheard of. Only the privileged finished secondary school during the 1940’s and those who did attend school, had to work after school hours.
In the years following World War II, British popular music was nonexistent. Society had changed and teenagers had expendable income. The fresh, exciting music of white performers such as Elvis Presley became dominant on radios and television screens instantly. Rock n roll was a commercial product. Artists connected with young people by dressing like them and for the first time ever, young people felt they could relate with music stars. The performances of Elvis were broadcast on television with shots of the excited and emotional faces of the audience, young people were an integral part of the show. These pictures showed other fans how to respond to rock n roll.
But rock n roll was not without controversy. It’s musical origins were founded in African/American music and it was associated with devil dancing and black magic rituals. Parents were outraged, it caused damage to the moral fabric of white U.S society and record companies attempted to clean up the image of rock n roll.
The exciting nature of the music combined with the newly discovered artist/fan connection created a desire among teenagers to rebel against their parents, dress differently, go dancing, have fun.
This trend for desire for rebellion and opposition to parents continued every decade with new genres of music. Music became the voice for the youth generation and became very important with one’s identity and expression.
But does this still exist today? Is music still as important to today’s teenagers as a voice? My personal belief is no, music is not as important for expressing the desire for rebellion and parental opposition.
I have asked my 14 year old sister (on Facebook!) some questions regarding her feelings about music. She listens to all types of popular music, neither preferring one genre to another, her iPod holds dance, pop, rock, dubstep and indie music. She’s told me that teenagers can’t go a day without listening to music and that music itself is important to her and her peers. She doesn’t believe teenagers listen to music to rebel anymore, she adds that “loud” teenagers generally listen to dance and trance music because these genres are played in the discos.
Perhaps at 14 years of age, rebellion isn’t something teenagers have even considered yet.
When I was 13/14 I listened to the pop music of the charts (The Corrs and Robbie Williams pretty much sums it up!), I enjoyed the Corrs because I was learning violin and thought it was cool that a pop band incorporated Irish traditional style melodies with pop and rock and also the fact they were from Dundalk, only 20 minutes up the road from my house! I remember it was my Dad who gave me their first album “Forgiven Not Forgotten”.
But the first genre of popular music I became independently interested in was hard rock. I was 15 and just started Transition Year in school. I was making new friends (I was previously very shy and quiet and spent my lunchtimes in the library!) and these people introduced me to hard rock. I have already talked about this introduction to rock music in a post last week.
I liked the guitars (I had just started learning guitar) and the fast paced music. I remember loving the look of horror on my parents faces when I told them I thought Metallica were brilliant! They were shocked and thought it was literally the devil’s music! I remember watching a VHS (yes a video tape!) at home of Metallica and my Dad walking in, giving out that I was listening to such music. A week later the VHS machine broke and he blamed the Metallica tape for ruining the machine! He said James Hetfield was inside the machine and personally broke it on purpose! Of course, this was partly in jest (my Dad was not THAT crazy! haha!)
But this music became my identity for my teenage years and early twenties. My fashion was Metallica t-shirts, various dog collar necklaces, studded bracelets, fishnet tights, ripped jeans (flared of course) and of course long, long hair. It was very important to me to express myself as a rocker (or “Rock Head” my Dad used to call me!) and this was very apparent in my own creativity in music.
In my late teens I joined a girl rock band in Dublin and my rocker personality had a huge influence on the group. For my audition in the Temple Bar Music Centre (now called the Button Factory) I played Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” for them. I remember the look of pure surprise on their faces and that satisfied me, it was unusual 10 years ago for a girl to play heavy metal guitar and that made me feel unique.
It’s safe to say I still enjoy this kind of music. My musical taste has broadened a lot since then. I never purely committed myself to rock/metal as a teenager, I did secretly continue to listen to the Corrs and various other pop/dance artists. I still deeply love the music of Metallica and other hard rock artists but I do find myself seeking out new rock bands these days. My fashion sense has also broadened since! It’s actually pretty rare that I wear a band t-shirt these days, but I when I go out I still wear the smokey eye makeup, teased hair and rocker boots! I still keep photographs of Metallica on my wall.
The memory remains!