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Music and Identity

Whether you write it as the 6ix, the 6, or the Six, you probably know what we mean. The popularity of this nickname for Toronto has skyrocketed since it was coined by rapper Drake in the lead-up to his 2014 album, Views from the 6. The worldwide use of this nickname demonstrates the power that artists hold. Through their music, artists can influence and shape personal and collective identities around the world.

©DRAKE AT THE SOUND ACADEMY BY THE COME UP SHOW: ATTRIBUTION 2.0 GENERIC (CC BY 2.0) COPYRIGHT 2011
©DRAKE AT THE SOUND ACADEMY BY THE COME UP SHOW: ATTRIBUTION 2.0 GENERIC (CC BY 2.0) COPYRIGHT 2011

Many Canadian artists struggle to gain popularity in Canada and often look to the U.S. in search of stardom. While there may be different reasons for their individual success, these artists all develop and portray their personal identities effectively. The appeal of some celebrities has to do with their affiliation with a particular place or cultural group. The Weeknd, for example, as a first-generation Canadian born to Ethiopian parents, appeals to many immigrants, especially those in Scarborough and the Greater Toronto Area.

What Is Personal Identity?

The term personal identity refers to your self-image, your beliefs about the sort of person you are and how you differ from others. Your identity also includes how others see you, and how you want to be seen by them. Your identity, therefore, develops as a result of things you can control and things you can’t control. Personal identities typically develop and evolve through situations, relationships, and the experience of simply being in the world. They refer to who we are, who we are not, and who we want to be.

Musical Taste and Identity

The hard lines between popular music genres tend to shift over time. Some new country music, for example, includes elements of electronic music and hip hop. Despite such fusions and syntheses, many music fans still associate with particular genres as a way of signalling identity. Associating with particular genres or artists is a way for fans to express individual and shared attitudes or beliefs.

Music Creation as Expression of Identity

Making art is one way to create a sense of self. Like photography, writing, painting, and other art forms, making music can shape and nurture a sense of self. Music can express a wide range of human experiences, the very experiences that inform a sense of self. Songs may signal feelings, attitudes, beliefs, intellectual concepts, and opinions, including overtly political messages.

Popular Music and Politics

There has always been a connection between popular music and politics. For decades, musicians have used music and celebrity as a means of broadcasting their personal politics and rallying political action. Just as concerts are sometimes organized in support of a particular cause, they can also be cancelled as a way of protesting political actions, such as discriminatory legislation or military involvement occurring at a local, national, or global level. As a force of political and social activism, music can carry powerful messages to initiate and influence change.

©ALESSIA CARA PRESS PHOTO 2015 BY UMUSIC: CC BY-SA 4.0 COPYRIGHT 2015, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, ALT
©ALESSIA CARA PRESS PHOTO 2015 BY UMUSIC: CC BY-SA 4.0 COPYRIGHT 2015, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, ALT

Canadian Music and Identity

What role does Canadian music play in our collective Canadian identity? When we consider Canadian music and identity, some may think of veteran artists such as Neil Young, Shania Twain, Blue Rodeo, and the Tragically Hip. Others many think of younger Canadian musicians such as Drake, Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara, and Dallas Smith. Are these artists representative of Canadian music as a whole? Do Canadians think of themselves as uniquely Canadian because they listen to Canadian artists such as these? It depends on who you ask.

How Do You Relate to Music?

How does music shape your identity? Think about the ways that music has influenced your identity. Who do you listen to? Whose albums and merch do you buy? Do you identify with a particular music community? If you create music, think about how you express yourself in your songs. Think about particular songs that you especially identify with. Write out the lyrics and think about why, and in what way, you feel they represent you. Try this again a few months or even a year from now. You might be amazed at how your sense of self changes over time.