British researchers have studied popular music from the 1930s until today, and determined that pop songs are often derogatory towards older people. Not only that – but musicians seem to stereotype the experiences we have growing older.
Out of 76 songs that were studied, 55 focused on the negative aspects of ageing. Works from The Beatles, The Who and Elton John all stereotyped ageing poorly. Although artists like Bob Dylan and John Lennon did celebrate the joys of growing older, and a little wiser.
According to lead researcher Jacinta Kelly, who is a senior lecturer in nursing at Anglia Ruskin University, music can be a powerful tool that influences mainstream attitudes. Ms Kelly has reminded musicians to use their creativity in positive ways.
Ms Kelly determined that music normally stereotypes ageing in three main ways: Either ‘contented and celebrated aged’, ‘pitiful and petulant pensioners’ or ‘frail and flagging old folks’. She says these messages are very powerful and can shape popular opinions.
“The message coming out of the negative songs is that the elderly are frail and a burden. It’s confidence-lowering”, Ms Kelly explained. “For example, The Beatles’ When I’m Sixty Four, is generally thought of as an upbeat tune that is quite light-hearted”.
“But the lyrics ‘when I get older, losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine’ are actually questioning whether someone who is old is still loveable – and that’s concerning”.
“While it may prove an impossible task, as well as an infringement on the freedom of expression, to censor negative portrayals of old age, it is important that awareness is raised and some efforts are made to reduce these negative stereotypes”, Ms Kelly added.