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Jakarta Post

Fear of music

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, March 2, 2019   /   07:55 am
Fear of music Bruno Mars (C) performs during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards show on January 28, 2018, in New York. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

There is a long history of an irrational fear of music.

Blues, created as an expression of freedom by African-Americans, was initially deemed satanic. A much-touted myth surrounding blues was that Robert Johnson, one of the genre’s pioneers, traded his soul for out-of-this world guitar-playing prowess. When the blues were appropriated by white performers in the 1950s and became rock and roll, Elvis’ pelvis was condemned as a symbol of asocial behavior and sexual promiscuity.

The same moral outrage was again recycled in the 1980s, when Tipper Gore, wife of then-senator and eventual US vice president Al Gore, led a campaign by a group called the Parents Music Resource Center to limit the distribution of music they believed could corrupt the souls of the American youth for its promotion of sex, drugs and occultism. The campaign resulted in the decision by the recording industry to slap “parental advisory” stickers on some records. (These days, cutting-edge musicians consider the warning to be a badge of honor and proudly wear the sticker as a marketing tool to boost sales).

The West Java branch of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission became the latest party to jump on the melophobia bandwagon. The commission issued on Feb. 18 a directive limiting the airtime of 17 songs on radio and television. Most of the songs are hits from some of the biggest names in music, including Bruno Mars’ “Versace on the Floor” and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”. The argument was that the songs violated the 2002 Broadcasting Law, which prohibits the broadcast of songs and music videos with titles or lyrics with sexually charged themes.

This ill-advised move might have had a shot at being effective had it been done in the 1980s. What people at the commission probably do not understand is that, since the turn of the new millennium, the music industry has undergone a sea of change, making it more difficult for anyone to be an arbiter of taste, let alone act as the moral police by deciding which songs listeners can enjoy.

Unless the broadcasting commissioners live under a rock, they should be well aware that, these days, radio and television have become a less and less appealing medium for listening to music. Streaming services, music download sites and online video platforms like YouTube are now the go-to channels that people turn to in order to satisfy their musical needs. So unless there is a complete shutdown of all these platforms, no policy to limit the broadcast of “problematic” songs will succeed.

Furthermore, why should the commission stop with English-language songs? What about the hundreds of obscene local songs that are played on local radio stations or performed at dangdut koplo concerts at traditional weddings throughout West Java? Without being too condescending to the Sundanese-speaking population in West Java, do we really think that people pay attention to Bruno Mars’ lyrics and not the catchy hooks?

Music, from Bruno Mars or others, is one of the greatest sources of joy for humanity. No authority should prevent us from enjoying such art to the fullest.