Love Heavy Metal? You Must Be Rich — Study Finds Fascinating Link Between Wealth & Music
Looking at the gentlemen pictured above — the former lineup of Norwegian black metal band Ragnarok — it's likely that a few descriptors jump to mind, along the lines of "menacing," "morbid," "malcontent," other unfavorable adjectives (even some that don't start with "m"), an impression that tends to dominate our overall understanding of heavy metal. Apparently, however, appearances can be deceiving: According to a recent study from City Lab and the Martin Prosperity Institute, heavy metal springs forth primarily from wealthy countries reporting high quality of life.
Researcher Richard Florida created a map in 2012 charting the diaspora of heavy metal bands across the globe — spoiler alert: they're predominantly in Scandinavia — and recently, he was moved to reexamine that data in light of the most metal-heavy countries' net worth. What he found, surprisingly, was that the highest instances of heavy metal groups occurred in countries with high "economic output per capita," "share of adults that hold college degrees," and "well-being, and satisfaction with life," among other positive factors. Or, as Florida concludes in his analysis:
Though metal may be the music of choice for some alienated working-class males, it enjoys its greatest popularity in the most advanced, most tolerant, and knowledge-based places in the world.
Of course, as we all learned in our Freshman year bio class, correlation does not imply causation — that is, just because two things happen together doesn't mean that they're related. It's why, as much as you might like to believe you have a "lucky shirt" because you wore it when your team won the big game, the shirt didn't actually make you succeed (see: The Red Shoes). As such, one could argue, the fact that heavy metal tends to flourish in wealthier countries is essentially a coincidence; most people have already connected its popularity in Scandinavia to the area's Viking history, the pagan tradition on which metal lyrics tend to draw, the stark, cold winters making residents prone to dark imagery, etc.
However, Florida does make some compelling observations that point toward national affluence as a determining factor, the primary one being those countries' initiatives for compulsory music education — a luxury that even the U.S. is slashing in most public schools. Indeed, though often written off by detractors as just angry noise, the majority of metal is incredibly complex, technically speaking. Punk music tends to pride itself on brash 3-chord simplicity, sure, but metal often incorporates arrhythmic, alternating time signatures and riffs that test the speed of human fingers.
So, in short, a few early in-school guitar lessons couldn't hurt. Or, in Florida's florid prose:
Strange as it may seem, heavy metal springs not from the poisoned slag of alienation and despair but the loamy soil of post-industrial prosperity.
Okay, is it just me, or does this guy totally want to be a metal frontman? Because those are some pretty sweet lyrics.
"Loamy soil" indeed, dude.