Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Media's Control Over Music: Shown Through Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Think about the song, "Hallelujah." Sing it to yourself, and think if you can remember the specific time or place you first heard the song.

After reading this article in Newsweek, I began thinking about the impact that a song can have on a generation, and how the way that a song is branded can help gain its popularity.

The article analyzes Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", and ranks 60 versions of the song. My favorite version, by Imogen Heap, is not even on this list, while the other two I remember from childhood are numbers 1 and 2.

After listening to a few of the versions posted, I was quickly brought back to the times I remember hearing the song growing up. The first time was John Cale's version from a very sad scene in Shrek at age eight. Then, I heard Jeff Buckley's version at age 11 in the season 1 finale of my favorite soap opera, The O.C. Two years later, I heard it again on The O.C. in the season 3 finale when main character, Marissa Cooper, is killed in a car accident. It took me less than 30 seconds to remember these iconic moments, and each time I was brought right back to the moments when I first heard them; that's how powerful this song really is. Personally, I have four versions of the song in my iTunes library.

The O.C. poster hanging on my bedroom wall
It is important to note the media's role in the spread of this song. I heard it first in movies and TV, as did many others in my generation. The power of a song can be entirely controlled by the media. The Imogen Heap version of the song is probably my favorite because the teenage version of me bawled my eyes out on the couch, while watching my favorite TV character tragically die. Had I just heard the song on the radio, I may not have thought it was as beautiful.

Depending on what generation you ask, you will get drastically different answers. Although it was written and originally performed by Leonard Cohen, many others, notably Jeff Buckley, have made the song more famous than Cohen ever did. By putting the song in different forms of media, it is stretched across all audiences and age groups.

This has happened with a number of other songs too. To bring up Shrek again, Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi"was made famous again with a version by Counting Crows featured in the movie. If I ask my mom who sings the song, she will say Joni Mitchell, and if someone asked 10-year-old me, I would say Counting Crows. Similarly, the media made the song famous for different audiences (millennials), and affected our lives so that we only remember that more modern version.

While this has happened with many songs, "Hallelujah" seems to be the one with the most media coverage. It has been done in so many different ways and seems equally beautiful whether its setting mood for a tragic death or a cartoon about ogres. An entire novel was written about the song, and listeners have been trying to understand the meaning of the lyrics for over 30 years now. "Hallelujah" is a perfect example of the media's power over a song. Jeff Buckley is credited for making the song famous, and the original version criticized for being off-pitch. Dear radio stations, thank you for playing Buckley's cover and getting the proper tune into people's heads for years to come.

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