It is widely accepted that to make art, or at least good art, an artist draws on and is inspired by certain feelings and emotions, be them positive or negative. After all it’s these emotions, conveyed by artists, which make us, the wider audience, relate to and be moved by their work. Therefor it comes as no surprise that when it comes to music most songs out there are about love; arguably the strongest of our feelings. Less expected however, is that the second most sung-about theme is money.
From wanting more money, to not having enough of it, feeling angry about it to delighting in riches, money certainly provokes our sensitivity, and artists have sure “capitalized” on those feelings. Money can make us happy, sad, angry, desperate and proud. Money as pride for instance, has been a constant theme in rap, a music genre arising from marginalised communities who equated having money to a celebration of success against the odds. While the accumulation of wealth was sung about in aspirational ways in many rap tunes, rock bands of punk and other counter-culture origins often denigrated money’s power in an act of rebellion to the yuppie times they flourished in.
Perhaps one of the most famous acronyms about money ever sung was done so by the New York hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan in 1993, when they observed that “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” in one of their highest charting singles, C.R.E.AM. Madonna also summed up the cash-driven 80s when she sung “Cause we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl” – which also became the motive of much debate surrounding the connections of money, female empowerment and feminism.
Donna Summer talked about the perhaps more commonplace worries about money, portrayed by the struggles of average Americans, working hard for little pay when she sung “It’s a sacrifice working day to day, for little money, just tips for pay” in her 1983 track ‘she works hard for the money’.
Daydreaming about wealth has been another strong motif for pop songs. Afterall, who hasn’t asked themselves at least once “what would I do if I won a million dollars?” and gone off into an imaginary spiral of thoughts? From Gwen Stefani who hypothesis about being rich and independent in “if I was a rich girl” and concludes that “No man could test me, impress me, my cash flow would never ever end” to Abba’s hit ‘Money, Money, Money’, which muses about a wealthy life of fun sponsored by a man “where In my dreams I have a plan If I got me a wealthy man I wouldn’t have to work at all, I’d fool around and have a ball” to Kendrick Lamar who equates having money to a desired sense of comfort and relief when he said “money trees is the perfect place for shade”.
On the other hand, there have been artists who have pointed out some of the troubles wealth and riches might bring – from Notorious BIG’ famous verse “It’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see” to more recently, Kanye’s “Now, I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger, but she ain’t messin’ with no broke niggas”- rap has been a genre to vastly explore the hypocrisy and deceit that comes hand-in-hand with money. On a macro level, Pink Floyd, whose lyrics often get political, also highlighted the adverse effects of money in society in their 1973 hit ‘Money’; “Money, it’s a crime, share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie. Money, so they say Is the root of all evil today”
At last, there have also been artists who have chosen to explore the two most sung-about themes in music together; love and money. It’s comforting to know, that in a world where we place so much emphasis on dollar bills, love still seems to triumph, and move us more. Just ask J-LO how she sees the two, and she will respond that “Even if you were broke, my love don’t cost a thing”, or let the Beatles, perhaps the most successful bands of all times, tell you that they “don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love”.