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Joshua Holdaway

Mr. Jorgensen

English 2010


The Rhetoric of Music

Rhetoric messages are everywhere. The clothes we put on and the songs we listen to give

out rhetorical messages. The best rhetoric is portrayed in music. Both the beat as well as the

powerful lyrics are rhetorical. We all have our favorite band or song based on the persuasion

used through the rhetor in that song or band. Through the beat of the song, or the lyrics, or even

the music video or live performances the rhetoric can be so powerful. The rhetorical message in

a song has the ability to move hundreds of thousands of people into singing along with that

particular song.

Music uses rhetorical devices such as Ethos, Pathos and Logos all the time to appeal to

all. They are referred to as the three artistic proofs. These terms came from Aristotle and are

from Greek words. Logos is the basic logic that people can gain from something. It appeals to

our logic and is a way of persuading an audience by reason. Ethos is the credibility. It is an

appeal to ethics, and it is a means convincing someone of the character or credibility of the

persuader. Pathos is the emotional factor that touches people in some way, good or bad. Pathos

is an appeal to emotion, and is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an

emotional response. This is what makes each individual song such a work of art.

While listening to the three different albums I realized that most of the songs are talking

about waking up and realizing what's going on around us. In today’s world, with the way the

government runs, we are at times blind to the things that go on or the fact that times may be
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about to change drastically. We are in “the land of make believe.” The signs are leading to no

end. “Everyone's so full of shit, born and raised by hypocrites.” Meaning everyone is taking the

wrong path leading them to nowhere. Government is always a big topic in conversations. The

intensity and passion in the song lyrics about our government is an indication of how fired up a

dysfunctional government can make people.

Appealing to emotions such as sadness, anger and depression are a really good way to

persuade because it’s likely that everyone has felt these feeling. Giving people a song to listen to

when feeling these emotions gives them something to identify with. This identification makes an

individual feel better. Everyone of these albums have at least one song that appeals to to these

emotions in ethos which is a very powerful persuading tool. Green Day’s album American Idiot

has at least three songs in the album that appeal to these emotions. The one that hits me the

hardest is “Wake me up wheN September ends.” The music video along with the lyrics to this

song just hit you right in the “Feels.” I almost can't watch the music video and listen to the song

at the same time without shedding a tear. To me, that shows how powerful the rhetoric of music


Most these songs make you want to get up and move or do something to make a

difference. These songs seem to insist that you don't just sit around being unproductive. All the

albums have a correlation in some way. They are all similar and appeal to individuals to to take

a stand for what you believe. They sing encouragement for those who date preach about the

government and politics.

U2, Greenday, and Nirvana along with many other artist have used their fame and public

platforms to create and perform songs that expose issues that either aren’t well known or are

considered taboo. Music has always had the ability to reach many different people from all
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different walks of life. The rhetoric of these songs can bring people together who otherwise

would not find any common ground. This also could divide people who would usually consider

themselves to have the same point of views and beliefs.

A lot of people believe that it is wrong for the artist to use their fame and public access to

exploit their views, especially when it involves politics. However, if it has a catchy tune, beat, or

lyrics it’s hard for most not to listen.

The official definition of rhetoric is “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or

writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques” or “language

designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on it’s audience, but often regarded as lacking

in sincerity or meaningful content.” Whether or not you agree with what the music is presenting

it’s all about the persuasiveness of the lyrics and melody.

U2’s album War changed their music style significantly. Their albums formerly known

as being focused on adolescence and spirituality to turning pacifism into a crusade. War proved

that political motivation and rock credibility can be bedfellows after all. This allowing the

rhetoric of the album to influence all who listened. Sunday Bloody Sunday was said to have

grabbed listeners by the throat. By releasing the songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday and New

Year’s Day U2’s fame grew enough to heavily influence people and shoot at many topics that

were not comfortably talked about. Sunday Bloody Sunday stands out as one of the bands finest

songs. It was written in part as a response to the events in 1972 when the Paratroop Regiment of

the British Army Killed 14 people and wounded another 14 during a civil rights demonstration in

Ireland. To this day, Bloody Sunday has come to be known as the only one act in a cycle of

violence claiming many innocent lives. Not only is the lyrics potent in the topic of Bloody

Sunday but the music reminds us with the beating of drums of soldiers marching, tanks and guns.
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These strong beats grab your attention from the beginning. It’s rhetoric is successful because of

its simplicity, not despite it. This gave a connection between the audience and the band that

were permanently locked. U2 has always been said to have produced rhetorically powerful

songs. They do not stick to one style and their music has evolved into many forms. Many words

have been used to describe their songs including complex, unsurpassed and sensory overloads.

Green Day’s album American Idiot came out when the bands success had began to

decrease. The song American Idiot was opposed by some people because they believed it was

expressing negativity towards President Bush. However, others believe that the song exudes

highly patriotic views. The song is expressing the dissent and misguidance of a certain

generation. The author’s opinion is that politicians and the media are telling us what to do, what

to buy, and what to believe in. By doing this they are subliminally messing with our minds

through commercials, campaigns, and reality TV. This was the overview of the album with the

most important idea being, don’t let these things take away your personality and turn you into a

idiot. The songs Wake Me Up When September Ends and American Idiot were just a couple of

the hugely successful singles on the album. This album and the rhetoric which it contained are

highly believed to be the reason for the return to success of Green Day.

Smells Like Teen Spirit from Nirvana’s album Nevermind has been praised as one of the

greatest songs in the history of rock music according to Wikipedia. The rhetoric of this song was

dubbed as an “anthem for apathetic kids” of generation X. Kurt Cobain said he wrote this song

because he was feeling “disgusted with my generation’s apathy, and with my own apathy and

spinelessness.” Kurt Cobain was said to really despise the mainstream and what it was all about.

He hated the mass mentality of conformity. In a interview with Cobain he was asked about

being a spokesperson for Generation X when the song became a hit. He responded by saying “I
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don’t have the answers for anything. I don’t want to be a f--cking spokesperson.” Smells Like

Teen Spirit is a song like others listed above by other artists that catapulted Nirvana into

mainstream and gained the artist popularity.

I believe that these artists have succeeded in informing, persuading and motivating

people with the rhetoric of their music. Throughout history human emotions and concerns has

been given to us through songs. Many people have said that the beat of the music pulled them

in. It wasn’t until later that they realized that even though the beat was uplifting and exciting the

lyrics of the songs contained a darker meaning. This would not have been appealing to them if

in the beginning they had realized the songs lyrics. Because of the initial beat and rhythm that

pulled them in they continue to listen to the song. This could be contradicting to the idea that

because of the words of the songs people embraced the song. However you choose to look at it

the artist has successfully made their point whether it was by the initial lyrics of the song or the