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Arts and Humanities | Communication | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | Music | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Terry Check, Communication


Language and music work together in popular songs to portray messages that help construct listeners' reality. As humans, we understand and interpret the world through the language and images provided for us in our symbolic universe. Mass media – particularly those forms that distribute popular music – help to create and reflect the ideologies, or common sets of beliefs, within a culture. Thus, popular music is an important artifact for examination. Popular music is a mass media form in which messages concerning romantic relationships abound. This study's examination of the Billboard top eight popular songs from 1990 to 1995 provides insight into widely distributed messages about romantic relationships. The specific messages in the lyrics and musical content of the eight songs portray realistic, unrealistic, healthy, and unhealthy accounts of how "normal" romantic relationships function. Some of the observations elicited in the texts include portrayals of gender inequality, power imbalances, codependency, a focus on physical aspects, and utopian idealism that create "normal" accounts of romantic relationships. Such unrealistic and unhealthy portrayals convey dangerous distorted images of romantic relationships that help to form listeners' reality. Thus, beliefs about romantic relationships are reflected, reinforced, and created through popular songs.