Killing me softly with his song

An initial investigation into the use of popular music as a tool of oppression

Martin Cloonan, Bruce Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Citations (Scopus)


Popular music studies generally celebrate the power of music to empower the construction of individual and social identities, a site of positive self-realisation. But such an approach risks overlooking a significant element in the musical transaction. How, for example, did the inhabitants of Jericho feel? Or President Noriega when musically besieged by US troops in Panama City? Or street kids in Wollongong, New South Wales, driven out of shopping malls by the strategic broadcasting of Frank Sinatra recordings? Every time we applaud the deployment of music as a way of articulating physical, cognitive and cultural territory, we are also applauding the potential or actual displacement or even destruction of other identities. On occasions that displacement may well be conducted as an act of extreme violence: music as pain. This negative side of the territorialism of music, however, receives little attention in popular music studies, even though it is potentially the dark side of any musical transaction. In attempting to redress the balance, this article is a 'trailer' for a joint investigation into the use of popular music as a weapon. It represents our initial attempts to think through some of the issues surrounding popular music and its use as a tool of repression and the deliberate inflicting of pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-39
Number of pages13
JournalPopular Music
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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