Stopping Prejudices in Music

U2 recently wrapped up their world tour in Dublin’s 3 arena. At a time like this surly Bono and the boys must find themselves reflecting upon their incredible careers to date. Not only are they by far the most successful band to ever come out of Ireland, but also one of the most successful bands ever. Sales figures aside, U2 boast a very impressive stat which they hold over every other band in music. U2 have received more Grammy awards than any other band in music history.

There is a lot of people have stated that one of the reasons for U2’s success is their nationality. These people say that because of Ireland’s heritage in traditional Irish music this has influenced U2 and given them an advantage in being musicians because they come from a country which is so musically rich. While this is a nice theory it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. In fact it actually perfectly illustrates an economic guideline for research called correlation doesn’t equal causation or (Correlation ≠ Causation).

This is basically a kind of rule for researchers when looking at activity in the economy and in society which stresses that just because two things are correlated with each other, it doesn’t mean that they have a causal effect on each other. For example in the case of U2 some people make the observation that they are a good rock band and they are Irish, but that doesn’t mean they are a good rock band because they are Irish. So the two events are correlated but one doesn’t cause the other.

Applying the correlation ≠ causation rule to the world of music can start to help breakdown some of the prejudices which exist within it. For example, until Eminem came out there was a prejudice in hip hop music that white people couldn’t rap. The only examples of cases where white artists had received success in the genre were with Vanilla Ice and the Beastie Boys. The former of which was considered a complete joke and the later more of a novelty act. The assumption here was that Vanilla Ice is the first white rapper, and he’s bad at rapping. Therefore, white people can’t rap. Eminem however, managed to become the most successful hip hop artist ever proving the prejudice to be incorrect.

There was a similar prejudice in rock music after the emergence of disco and R&B that the genre was for white artists. The assumption here was that white artists seem to be in mostly rock bands and black artists seem to be in mostly disco and R&B bands. Therefore, rock music must be for white artists. However, artists like Lenny Kravitz and Phil Lynott completely prove this one wrong as well.

Similarly to these specious prejudices, while the correlation ≠ causation rule is used by researchers, this doesn’t mean that only researchers can use it. It actually seems to be quite a good framework for all of us to apply to our thinking to avoid making incorrect inferences about people and activities.

By Daragh O’Leary


One thought on “Stopping Prejudices in Music

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  1. Very late coming to this one, but since I am trying to shape something at the moment around Songs of Innocence I said I would response. You are absolutely correct to caution against confusing correlation with causation – but you slip to being too definite on the other side – perhaps unconsciously – there may be something to cultural heritage – lets take away that Eminem is white or Philo was black – Philo was…paraphrasing Bono…the most Irishman and Eminem culturally is from a so called ‘working class area’ with a kinship to that experienced by NWA and Ice T … Martin Heidegger speaks of our sense of ‘thrownness’ i.e. we are embedded in a culture – we cannot escape it – it is in what Jung calls …our collective unconscious… maybe…just maybe…in this case there is something to the causation..dunno…but worth being circumspect.

    just a suggestion….




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