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Music, Movies & Money

Apr 02, 2019Tyrone Wiseman

Music, Movies & Money

Catching the opening bars of a song, you are immediately transported to a memorable moment in time. Someone laughingly quotes from a movie and the next line springs instantly to mind. When it comes to the soundtrack of our lives, our visceral emotional response to movies and music become part of our personality. 

Much in the same way, our economic culture is reflected through the arts. Books, movies, music and visual art forms all tend to respond to social, political and economic change. The saying ‘art imitates life’ certainly rings true, especially when combined with the school of thought that hard economic times can lead to the creation of some classic music and movies.

Our recent ‘money movies’ blogs have shared some fantastic performances and stories, often inspired by actual social and economic events. Autobiographical confessions and tales of greed and financial failure are hauntingly apparent in movies such as:

Tower Heist

The Wizard of Lies

The Big Short

Margin Call

Wall Street

Traditionally, when it comes to music produced during times of economic downturn, song lyrics have highlighted cultural attitude and dissatisfaction towards political parties and the existing economic crisis. During the UK Summer (Is there such a thing?) of 1981, riots occurred in over thirty-five locations in response to their economic situation. Struggling through their second year of recession, inflation was rampant and unemployment had passed the 2.5 million mark.

It’s no surprise, then, that Simply Red’s cover of ‘Money’s Too Tight (To Mention)’ became their first national and international hit, reaching #13 on the UK charts in 1985. First released in the USA by The Valentine Brothers in 1981, the lyrics draw from the political and economic climate of ‘Reaganomics’, lamenting ‘I been laid off from work, my rent is due, my kids all need brand new shoes.’ Just like Eddy Grant’s ‘Electric Avenue’ and The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ these songs gained immense popularity because they resonated with the people. Their inspiration for lyrics was gathered from everyday experience and people felt connected through the words and music.

Fifty years prior to this, Bing Crosby sang ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’ Written during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, this came to be viewed as an anthem to the shattered dreams of the era.

'They used to tell me I was building a dream

With peace and glory ahead

Why should I be standing in line

Just waiting for bread?'

In fascinating contradiction, it appears that modern mainstream pop music has not followed the same pattern. Economic hardship post GFC hasn’t necessarily been reflected through commercial music. While ‘fringe’ music styles such as hip hop and country continue to express social concerns regarding economic instability and what this means to the everyday person, when it comes to chart-topping hits, people are choosing to embrace the fantasy of the uber-rich. 

As the gap of social and economic inequality increases with the rich becoming richer while '(the poor) can't go lower than zero', pop music has become more focused on luxury and the accrual of wealth.

Lady Gaga’s 2009 release, 'Bad Romance' certainly wasn't an anthem reflecting the difficult economy existing during the global financial crisis. This change in focus is potentially due to our growing preference to emulate wealthy people in our day-to-day lives, not to mention the 'perfect' social media profiles we are encouraged to share with the world. 


Maybe we now prefer to listen to uplifting songs that take us away from the reality of hard economic times? A heightened sense of escapism is apparent in the mainstream musical hits of the past decade. 

Redfoo, outlandish solo artist and singer with duo LMFAO, celebrated the lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous through songs such as 'Party Rock Anthem' and 'Champagne Showers' (both released in 2011). While certainly far from politically correct, the catchy lyrics about money, sex and extravagance became regulars on the radio, catapulting the artists to instant fame, particularly amongst the younger generation.

This shift could also have something to do with the people making these songs. Redfoo’s father is Berry Gordy, a highly successful American record executive, producer, songwriter, record, film and television producer. Growing up in luxury, Redfoo confidently shared his reality through his music – and it struck a chord with a society marred by financial uncertainty.

Similarly, Taylor Swift is not a country music singer from a poor background. One of the world’s most successful young artists, T-Swizzle, grew up in a privileged and wealthy environment. While there is no doubt she is a talented singer/songwriter with a world-wide following, there is very little (if any) economic discourse or reflection heard in her music.

Throughout this series of blog posts, we have explored financial concepts and discussed how some of them relate to previously challenging economic times. In years gone by, music typically provided the soundtrack for our lives through its depiction and analysis of social, political and economic change. At the moment, however, it appears that movies are the art form sharing the story of our current climate.

Source: Photo by Tracy Thomas on Unsplash