Examination of Crime, Ethnicities, and Gender Violence in Punjabi Music

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According to the Cultivation Theory, “real-world attitudes about society are shaped by the messages and depictions portrayed on television” (Miller, 2019, para. 1). Cultivation Theorists argue that “[the] goal of cultivation research is to determine whether television viewers come to believe the television version of reality. vs. real life, based on the frequency and extent of [an individual’s] television watching practices” (Miller, 2019, para. 4). Nearly everyone in our society is exposed to music and, hence, watches televised music videos. Music is commonly known as a form of expression, yet has a significant ability to impact the behavior of its listeners (Sahota, 2017). The only problem with this is that because songwriters can pen down anything they like and video directors can further show whatever they please through their videos; it becomes difficult for naive people to differentiate between reality and what is shown on television. Miller (2019) states that “viewers who frequently witness violence on television eventually come to believe that the world outside their front door is just as vicious and dangerous as the scenes played out on television” (para. 1).

Punjab is a state in India, otherwise known for its rich heritage and culture (Sahota, 2017). Punjabi is a general term used to describe a language that people of “different hues, classes, castes, nations and sects [speak] to reconstruct the lost ethnocultural community, around the globe” (Roy, 2012, p. 112). According to Roy (2012), more than 185 million people speak Punjabi globally. Since the early 2000s, there has been a dramatic shift from traditional folk songs to westernized rap music (Sahota, 2017). In 2002, American-Pakistani Punjabi rapper Bohemia introduced his debut album Vich Pardesan De, which is believed to have entered the violent genre “South Asian gangsta rap” globally (Sahota, 2017, p. 3). That day forward, Punjabi music has evolved dramatically, and both the lyrical content as well as music videos have continuously been criticized for their adoption of western cultures, the glorification of violence, and misrepresentation of women (Sahota, 2017). Although there is abundant information available on specific genres, e.g., hip hop or country music and its effects on people globally, there is a severe lack of similar research that can be applied to Punjabi music. This study explores whether any patterns of racism, sexism, and violence may be evident in recent Punjabi music videos, using the lens of Cultivation Theory.

Literature Review

A plethora of studies have been conducted on the effects music has on a person’s aggression level, attitude, identity, and personality (Anderson, Carnagey, & Eubanks, 2003; Roy, 2012). Upon further research, it has been discovered that a number of music videos have several disturbing themes emerging, e.g. alcoholism, misogyny, racism, sexualization of women, substance abuse, etc (Bretthauer, Zimmerman, & Banning, 2006; Chakraborty, Upadhyay, & Agrawal, 2017; Conrad, Dixon, & Zhang, 2009; Cranwell, Britton, & Bains, 2017; DuRant et. al., 1997). This review will discuss the current literature available on the topic of crime, ethnicities, and gender differences in music videos. It will further discuss the limited research available on Punjabi music specifically and examine the emergence of similar themes in the community and music.

Cultivation Theory

Cultivation Theory suggests that an individual learns and develops their reality from what they see on television. It is believed that the longer the exposure, the stronger the association in real life (Miller, 2019). Cultivation Theorists also acknowledge the drastic increase in technology and are now applying the mass communications theory to the internet, social media, video games, etc. Similarly, in the past, the only source of music videos was television, but with newer technology, music videos are everywhere, e.g., television, online streaming, phone applications, etc. (Miller, 2019).

Violence in Music Videos

In a study conducted by Anderson, Carnagey, and Eubanks (2003), the authors found evidence that short-term exposure to violent lyrics increases accessibility to aggressive thoughts. The author further states, “repeated exposure to violent lyrics may contribute to the development of an aggressive personality” (Anderson, Carnagey, & Eubanks, 2003, p. 969). After conducting five different experiments, the researchers concluded that although there is a link between exposure to violent lyrics and aggressive thoughts, the hostile effects can disappear if one is subjected to non-violent songs shortly after (Anderson, Carnagey, & Eubanks, 2003). This study emphasizes that aggression due to watching violent music videos is only temporary and although not impossible, it will take repeated listening to violent music to condition an aggressive personality (Anderson, Carnagey, & Eubanks, 2003).

Representation of Social Issues in Music Videos

Colorism. A study of rap music found an exciting outlook on skin tone distortion and appearance (Conrad, Dixon, & Zhang, 2009). The study suggests that women are considered objects of sexuality, and only those that were considered “beautiful” according to the norm were cast in music videos (Conrad, Dixon, & Zhang, 2009). These women had light skin and eurocentric features, while darker black men were typically associated with criminal behavior (Conrad, Dixon, & Zhang, 2009). This study was the first to have explored the issue of colorism in rap music videos (Conrad, Dixon, & Zhang, 2009).

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Alcohol and drug consumption. The portrayal of alcohol in music videos is generally associated with positive effects, attracting youth towards engaging in similar practices. In New Zealand, changes in alcohol portrayal in music videos were analyzed in 2005 and then again in 2010 (Sloane, Wilson, and Imlach-Gunasekara, 2013). The results of this study suggested that music videos glorify alcohol but also showed that there was an increase in consumption in 2010. vs. 2005 (Sloane, Wilson, and Imlach-Gunasekara, 2013). Interestingly, the portrayal of alcohol was more common if the leading artist was international (Sloane, Wilson, and Imlach-Gunasekara, 2013). The use of alcohol in music videos was reasonably common in both years, indicating the need for developing policies against promoting drinking through music videos mainly because the attitudes were rarely negative, i.e. “only 2% in 2005 and 4% in 2010” (Sloane, Wilson, and Imlach-Gunasekara, 2013, p. 47). The findings of a recent study conducted by Cranwell, Britton, and Bains (2017) also emphasized that there is a need to develop new policies regarding the portrayal of alcohol in the media. This results from the themes generated while analyzing 49 top UK music videos, including alcohol’s association with sexual imagery, lifestyle/ sociability, and promoting certain brands (Cranwell, Britton, & Bains 2017). A man who drinks alcohol in these videos is considered more sociable, belonging to high class, and is given the right to objectify and inferiorize women (Cranwell, Britton, & Bains, 2017). These videos promote “excessive drinking and drunkenness, including those containing branding, with no negative consequences to the drinker” (Cranwell, Britton, & Bains, 2017, p. 66). Another study conducted by DuRant, et al. (1997) of 518 music videos from four different networks showed that MTV shows a significantly higher percentage of music videos demonstrating tobacco use, while alcohol consumption was consistent throughout all four channels (DuRant et al., 1997). An additional noteworthy finding of this study was that alcohol and tobacco use on screen was almost always coupled with sexuality (DuRant et al., 1997).

The Portrayal of Gender Differences in Music Videos

Research is readily available on the depiction of women in music videos. Bretthauer, Zimmerman, and Banning (2006) conducted a qualitative content analysis of the 20 most popular music videos between 1998-2002, according to Billboard’s Hot 100. These music videos were analyzed for power over, objectification, and violence against women. The results of this study suggest that these derogatory gender roles for women exist (Bretthauer, Zimmerman, & Banning, 2006). This study further acknowledges the problem is that although men are showing power over women, women themselves are adapting to these roles in music videos and song lyrics (Bretthauer, Zimmerman, & Banning, 2006). The researchers further compare violence against women statistics to the prevalence of violence and objectification of women in these music videos and argue that there is a connection between what “men who watch learn [from music videos] and their actions against women” (Bretthauer, Zimmerman, & Banning, 2006, p. 45).

On the contrary, a recent study conducted in India suggested otherwise. It analyzed the lyrical impact of rap songs on the attitudes of youth towards women and sexuality (Chakraborty, Upadhyay, & Agrawal, 2017). A sample of 216 teenagers (age 18-27), 108 boys and 108 girls, were asked to respond to several scales, i.e., Attitude towards Women Scale (AWS), Brief Sexual Attitude Scale (BSAS), and the Music Preference Scale (MPRS). A few respondents who listened to rap music for more than 35 hours were also interviewed (Chakraborty, Upadhyay, & Agrawal, 2017). The results of the study suggested that “youth of today had an egalitarian and positive attitude towards women and believed in the concept of responsible sex” (Chakraborty, Upadhyay, & Agrawal, 2017, p. 245). It also claimed that despite constant exposure to misogynistic songs, the content of these songs and music videos have “no adversarial impact on the attitude and behavior of the youth towards women” (Chakraborty, Upadhyay, & Agrawal, 2017, p. 245).

Crime in Punjabi Communities

Very few studies have been conducted in issues that affect Punjabis, but one of the largest problems that exist within Punjab itself is that of drugs. Four hundred people between age 11-35 were the subjects of a study, which analyzed the prevalence of drug abuse in a city in Punjab (Sharma, Arora, Singh, K., Singh, H., & Kaur, 2017). The results shockingly suggested that one out of every three people living in Punjab over the age of 30 are “hooked to drugs other than alcohol and tobacco” (Sharma, Arora, Singh, K., Singh, H., & Kaur, 2017, p. 558). Another significant concern was that in a sample of 400 people, 83 consumed heroine, “[almost] two‐thirds (n = 55) were taking the drug through intravenous (IV) route while [the] rest of them were taking it as sniff or smoke” (Sharma, Arora, Singh, K., Singh, H., & Kaur, 2017, p. 560). The drug problem has come to a point where a number of movies in Bollywood, e.g. ‘Udta Punjab’ are being made, portraying Punjab as a corrupt state where everyone is either drunk or abusing drugs on a daily basis (Sharma, Arora, Singh, K., Singh, H., & Kaur, 2017). An older study of drug abuse in a different city of Punjab showed that out of 701 people, 25.55% consumed alcohol, 18.9% abused opiates, and only 2.1% people smoked cannabis (Lal & Singh, 1979). These rates have significantly risen over time, and researchers believe promoting alcohol and drug use in modern media is one of the causes (Sharma, Arora, Singh, K., Singh, H., & Kaur, 2017).

Furthermore, a leading concern in Punjabi music today is the glorification of violence and gang lifestyle, which is being shown through media normalizing crime in our society (Deepa Mehta's Beeba Boys, 2015; Deol, 2018). In an article by CBC news, Sgt. Houghton of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) of British Columbia argued “[the force] take[s] a step forward, and then something like this comes along, and it's two steps backwards unfortunately” (Deepa Mehta's Beeba Boys, 2015, para. 4). The officer was discussing the aftereffects of the movie, Beeba Boys, which honored Punjabi gang lifestyle, celebrated the actions of a renowned Punjabi gangster and captivated immense youth attraction globally (Deepa Mehta's Beeba Boys, 2015). Likewise, in a brief video by Global news, parts of a Punjabi music video were played, and community members were interviewed to discuss their perceptions of the influence of the video. Many parents raised concerns linking the glorification of a criminal lifestyle to the ongoing gang violence in the Lower Mainlands (Deol, 2018). This correlation between music and gang violence is established due to the rising overrepresentation of Punjabi youth in BC gangs. In an interview, a Punjabi DJ- DJ A-Slam argued that “[News reporters] do not go after White rappers saying groups like Hell’s Angels listen to White rap music, no one makes that connection, and yet they go Indo-Canadians are listening to Indo-Canadian rap music, and that is why they are ending up in gangs” (Deol, 2018, 1:21). Since it is a relatively new topic that is being identified within the Punjabi community, some argue that singers do bear a responsibility to make socially appropriate music due to the influence of the cultivation theory, while others feel that music is a form of expression and Punjabi singers are being critiqued too hard.

Concerns about Punjabi Music

According to Kaur (2015), Punjabi music has shifted from being traditional folk to modern hip-hop. Kaur (2015) argues that “disguised by the heavy dhol beats are misogynist lyrics, featured in music videos, that objectify women and portray them as sex objects” (para. 2). This article by the Ohio State University student claims that despite song lyrics cannot solely cause crimes, e.g., sexual harassment, they do heavily objectify women and contribute to the worsening rape culture in India. Kaur (2015) interviewed her peers and one respondent states: “[In Punjabi music, Women] are always sexual objects, [singers are] talking about their appearance or their skin color, not about their relationships, and many times if they are talking about relationships, they portray women as gold diggers and shallow” (para. 15). This article uses excellent examples of Punjabi song lyrics to showcase the misogyny and sexual objectification, that has begun to be evident in Punjabi music videos. The article also points out artists that have had police complaints filed against them over their hurtful lyrics (Kaur, 2015). In a similar context, an article by Issac Oommen (2013) further sheds light to controversial songs sung by top Punjabi artist Honey Singh, which also got him in conflict with the laws of the country. These lyrics included: “Main Hoon Balaatkari (I Am a Rapist) and Choot (Prostitute), one of the tracks includes a lyric, which translated to English literally means, You will scream and run, but where can you go... I will take your life” (Oommen, 2013, para. 4). These lyrics clearly show that in the last couple of years, song lyrics have become very misogynistic, and women in the music videos are being objectified. This song released shortly after a gang rape story that gained recognition worldwide, adding fuel to an already burning fire (Kaur, 2015). The concern over the prevalence of drug abuse, gang violence, and misogynistic lyrics is what led to my inspiration for exploring this topic of research further. The objective of this study is to analyze a sample of recent Punjabi music to determine the presence or absence of any themes about crime, violence, and gender differences.

Research Design and Methods

I plan to utilize qualitative methodology in my project. For this research, the top-ranked Asian songs as defined by BBC will be selected. The BBC Asian Music Chart Top 40 is the only official music chart that ranks latest South Asian music by popularity, sales, and streams across the world. Only those songs that have an accompanying official music video on the internet, i.e., Youtube, will be used for the purpose of this research. If any song is on the charts repeatedly, it will only be listed once. I will employ purposive sampling to separate Punjabi language songs from other songs on this list. Those Punjabi songs from 2015 to 2018 listed on the BBC Asian Music Chart Top 40 will be used for this research project. Using random selection on Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), 15 songs from each year will be randomly selected for a total of 60 songs over the four year period, which will compile the sample (n=60). Data will be coded based on demographics and the presence or absence of specific traits. Quantitative data analysis will occur to analyze all the collected data through running frequencies on SPSS.


It is essential to research the prevalence of crime, ethnicities, and gender differences in Punjabi music videos because although research exists on the overall broad topic, there is little to no data available for Punjabi music videos specifically. As a result of the literature review, it is clear that there is an effect of the Cultivation Theory on people who are repeatedly exposed to something on television. Over 185 million people in the Punjabi society listen to music and have access to music videos. Therefore it is vital to research the effects it can give rise to. Although many argue that watching crime will not physically cause or motivate crime, the effects of constant exposure on a person’s attitude or behavior according to research, suggests otherwise. That being said, it is crucial to keep tabs on the content that is being shared with vulnerable members of our community, including children and young adults. Many news articles have claimed that Punjabi music show high levels of crime and violence, therefore this study aims to investigate any patterns of racism, sexism, and violence that may be present or absent in recent Punjabi music videos, using the lens of Cultivation Theory.

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