Psyops in an Ever-Changing World: The Power of Music

10:57 22.12.2020 • Emanuel Pietrobon, University of Turin (Italy)

Music is the tool people tend to resort to when they feel specific emotions and experience some states of mind, like anger, happiness, sadness, anxiety and excitement. People listen to music because of its relaxing effect – it has been scientifically proven the power exerted by music on the human brain, which may be stimulated to produce dopamine – but scarce attention has been devoted so far to what we could name the “weaponisation of music”.

Music is not only about happiness and sadness, is not only about dancing and having fun at a party, music – some scientists and sociologists are starting to argue – can be a powerful instrument of mind control, whose power stems from the fact of being apparently harmless.

Latin America is being observed the birth and spread of anti-reggaeton movements, led by social and political activists claiming that reggaeton is having a very negative impact on Latino people in terms of social conduct, values, morality and even intelligence. Reggaeton and its surrogates, indeed, do exalt toxic masculinity, adultery and sexual objectification – and the way of life promoted by their female and male artists seems to show they like doing what they preach. The first and recent research conducted on this issue have apparently confirmed the fears of the activists and provided them with scientific legitimacy: people who listen too much reggaeton, that is on a daily or weekly basis let’s say, show levels of increasing cognitive impairment which is manifested in higher drug-addiction, depression, lack of self-esteem, attachment to material things, and so on.

If we study more in-depth the topics “music and brain” and “music and culture” we can find a lot of articles and research claiming that the more the lyrics are violent and empty – in terms of moral message – the higher is the risk of emulation among the listeners.

In short, some (or many?) listeners don’t merely listen to music because of its relaxing effect and of the positive atmosphere it can create during a party, music is – for this kind of listeners – comparable to a brain-affecting addiction.

In Latin America social activists are at war with reggaeton, in the United States and Western Europe they are at war with gangsta rap and more recently the so-called “trap”, whereas in the Balkans they are at war with gypsy music. In Romania, where social and interethnic tensions are set to increase dramatically over the next years due to the so-called “Roma revolution”, gypsy music is at the center of a culture war.

There are several “anti-Manele” movements in Romania (manele, plural form of manea, is the name with which this genre is called in the country) lobbying to the authorities to ban this music genre and they are having quite a success. Truly speaking there are manele about love, friendship and other harmless topics, but the large majority of them is about very specific topics: drug-addiction, materalism, crime, easy money, machism, sex, prostitution. The musical videos tend to provide the lyrics with semi-pornographic description most of the time, a reason why most manele are actually excluded from the ordinary television broadcasting.

Manele, due to their content and the lavish lifestyle promoted by its artists, are object of non-stop attack from conservatives and, conversely, object of growing idolatry by the more liberal youth. The former are behind initiatives like the exclusion of manele from pop-music festivals and the introduction of heavy fines for whoever listens to them in public and open spaces; the latter see manelists as role models and try to emulate them as much as possible. Manele are matter of political and cultural controversy and social research in Romania the same way reggaeton provokes discontent and polarization in Latin America. In fact, the effects would be the same: cognitive impairment, growing tendency to adultery and toxic masculinity, adoption of unhealthy lifestyles (drug-addiction, alcohol-addiction) and of asocial behaviors, etc.

Why are we speaking of manele and reggaeton should be clear at this point of the analysis: music, if properly exploited, can prove an instrument of mind control, emotional conditioning, namely it can be used to shape and change values and attitudes of a public opinion – ours or theirs.

Music has been historically used by dictatorships, from Europe to Latin America, to spread patriotic values and forge a loyal mass and it has been weaponised by the West, especially during the Cold War, against the Communist countries. Accordingly, what are we trying to prove and show is no conspiracy theory nor pseudo-science: music can be actually weaponised due to its powerful effect on the human brain.

In today’s world, where people – especially the young – tend to worship VIPs, socialites and influencers as if they were god-like creatures whose mouth says nothing but the absolute truth, the political consequences and effects of music have more than doubled, they have increased a hundredfold.

The West used musicians to spread the so-called “protest songs” in the Soviet-influenced countries of Eastern Europe, and it mustn’t be excluded completely the existence of a cultural hegemony plan behind the global spread of socially pernicious music genres like gangsta rap, reggaeton and trap.

It is no secret, for instance, that Russia’s rap scene is extremely Western-loving, Kremlin-critic and anti-Orthodox. We should ask ourselves: why Russia’s rap scene is so unidimensionally politicized? The Russian President Vladimir Putin had a point when, two years ago, suggested “to reform” the music scene, especially the rap environment, in order to avoid the spread of disruptive values within the society.

How to do that? By approaching artists and musicians, possibly the most popular, and explaining them what kind of (positive) role music should play within the society; by explaining them that they are public figures and accordingly they have a social responsibility. Last but not least, let’s never forget that censorship has always proven counterproductive: it encourages people to go underground. The most successful strategies are based on soft and smart instruments. Musicians, just like influencers, mustn’t be a government’s foe; they should be the government’s best friend.

Indeed, musicians, due to the fact that they belong the social category of influencers – whose power in terms of psyops we’ve carefully explained –, could use their lyrics to undermine top-down social and cultural policies and can weaponise their popular following by inciting the listeners to sedition, cultural revolt and civil disobedience. On the contrary, a regime with government-friendly and government-loyal influencers and musicians can count on them to promote its social and cultural agendas.


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