Introducing British Images FSU
in the Limelight
Vol. 7, No. 1
Feb 2000

Introducing British Images through Popular Music

Diah Kristina


The first day I entered my class of British Studies I learned that Britain to my students, who are at their early twenties and in the fifth semester, is identical with Princess Diana and Mr. Bean.

The illustration above inspired me to find a way to, first, locate Britain in the mind of my students before providing the list of topics for discussion. It is believed to be necessary because by having the object as close as possible to our imagination any discussion about the object would be more concrete.

Different ways might be used for this purpose. However, finding the closest way to the nature of the target audience will probably be most beneficial. Since participants of the course as stated above are young people at their early twenties I have the assumption that popular music is generally familiar to them. In addition. this paper is believed to be relevant to the effort of rebranding Britain for more convenient perceptions and image. It will therefore try to explore how popular music is used as a means of introducing British image and see its effectiveness.

The Britishness of Britain

Britain under Tony Blair is a nation that tries hard to create her new image in the fast changing world, a grandma who wants to reincarnate as a young, fresh, beautiful girl. The English rhetoric of national pride Rule Britannia and Britons Rule the Waves were too ancient to identify Britain with. Besides, it is no longer relevant. Only the long history of freedom and democracy inherited from the Anglo Saxons most probably remains impressive to Indonesian students in line with the spirit of reformation nowadays. Cool Britannia is the new slogan attached to modern Britain, hopefully the best place to live, the best place to bring up children, the best place to lead a fulfilled life and the best place to grow old (Newsweek:1998).

In terms of technology, Britain, the trend-setter for technological innovation since the Industrial Revolution is acknowledged by the students only after the teacher explains elaboratively the historical background of Britain. The reality seems to suggest that they are more familiar with Mitsubishi, Suzuki or Daihatsu than with any products of Britain. In fact, many British companies have found the British image so damaging that they have dropped the British from their names. The largest British consumer electronics retail chain, Dixons, even calls its own brand Matsui to make it sound Japanese (Time:1998).

Economically, the role Britain plays needs to made more active, especially during the crisis which is taking place right now. Otherwise, our students will only recognize Britain as an expansionist that received good profit from the occupied countries in the past.

In the field of sport, Indonesians idolized David Beckham and his team during the World Cup. However, something that is attached closely to the mind of the students is the Hooligans who bring terror and are frightening. Mc Kibin argued that the culture of football was still aligned to the ruling civic culture in which public violence was strongly deprecated (ibid:29) and it will certainly contradict with the myth of order of the upper English. The international and highly reputated tennis championship in the Wimbledon stadium and the Thomas Cup are expected to balance the previous image though.

Politically, the popularity of Britain is getting down. People will generally see the much greater roles played by the United States, Japan and Australia.

In the university where I teach the only access to Britain is provided by a course on Cultural Background to British Communities that we try to redefine and reconstruct to be as close as possible to British Studies and it weighs 2 credits. The limited number of resources in terms of books and audio-visual aids has made the teacher to be creative. Her literature background has taken some time to adjust after some trial and error in the syllabus construction. Only after attending the first seminar on Teaching British Studies in Indonesia in Bandungan, Semarang (1995) that the teacher gained a solid ground to establish the course in the department, through reconstruction of the history by focusing on Contemporary Britain, employing various methods of identity formation and cultural analysis, providing themes/topics, applying various modes of communication in the form of texts, films and songs (adapted from Kramer:1995). A certain degree of confidence is gained after knowing that the goal of British Studies is:

To develop a sense of richness and diversity of British culture through an examination of some of the keys texts-written, spoken, musical, visual-that reflect and produce the social, economic and political realities of contemporary Britain, but with due recognition of the significance of history (Bassnett & Mountford, 1994:64).

Popular Music: A Means of Understanding and Enjoyment

Historically, the emergence of popular culture was triggered by a great leap in population growth in Europe and the United States and the subsequent concentration of people into cohesive urban or near urban units with common social, economic and cultural characteristics. Since then what is called the entertainment industry came into being and that was sometime in 1750 when marketable cultural goods began to be manufactured in great quantity to meet the need of the mass community and for the profit of the producers (Nye in Hammel, 1977:8).

Popular art confirms the experience of the majority, in contrast to elite art, which tends to explore the new. For this reason, popular art has been an unusually sensitive and accurate reflector of the attitudes and concerns of the society for which it is produced.

The popular audience expects entertainment, instruction or both rather than an aesthetic experience. The relation of the popular artist to his audience is unique. Consequently, a popular artist cannot disturb or offend any significant part of his public, though the elite artist may and should be a critic of his society, a popular artist cannot risk alienation.

Popular music, one form of popular culture is a product of modern technology and its new techniques for duplicating and multiplying materials. The twentieth century, however, has opened other channels of cultural communication to even larger audiences by introducing revolutionary methods of reproducing and transmitting sound and image, namely the phonograph, film, radio, television and internet.

Instead of providing a chronological study of musical development in modern Britain I propose a comparative study between two leading musical groups, each of which has played a significant role as the representative of the musical movement in each of its age, though an address to other musical groups with their musical products will be unavoidable.

The Beatles, a popular music group established in the 60s is recognized as the Swinging Britain who revolutionized many facets of young people's lives, namely their musical taste, fashion, lifestyle and even their beliefs. Indonesians will normally identify those love poets, an image drawn at their early musical carrier, as nice and dandy performers with a particular hairstyle copied all over the world who devote a fun loving type of life with lively, romantic and easy listening type of music.

It's been a hard days night
And I've been working like a dog
It's been a hard days night
I should be sleeping like a log
(#Hard Days Night - The Beatles)

The lyrics suggest an image of young British people as hard workers, though like a dog is a bit disturbing because this animal portrays a lazy type of pet and to Indonesian setting a water buffalo or a horse would be more appropriate. The habit of working hard itself will be interesting if it is presented to the students as a concept inspired by the puritan ethics where working hard is highly appreciated in British culture. In addition, another part of the song suggests similar situation to Indonesian context, especially with the lower class and less educated people who strictly follow after patriarchal social system where males are expected to function as bread winners and females as financial organizers (or unfortunately money-spenders).

You know I work all day
To get you money to buy you things
And it's worth to just hear you say
You're gonna give me everything

The music reflects a lively, energetic and optimistic nature of the young people, a temporary nice escape from the chaotic situation outside the campus. The romantic image that the Beatles brought has been strongly accomplished by Koes Plus, an Indonesian popular music group of the 60s (#Pagi yang Indah Sekali - Koes Plus).

In his work, a musician extrapolates the spirit of his age and community. Being sensitive to the concerns of the community and an accurate reflector of the people's attitude, a product of musical work can be used as a factual record of the actual issues.

John Lennon who is reaching maturity after two decades of his career has brought a global cry of longing for peace into attention in his Imagine, a reaction against America's involvement in Vietnam war. This is certainly a wise advice going directly to the heart without losing one's face.

Nothing to kill all guys for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Livin' life in peace, yoo hoo...
You may say I am a dreamer
But I am not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world would be as one
(#Imagine - John Lennon)

A completely different contextual setting of the 90's has triggered the establishment of Spice Girls, a female pop music group from Britain. Virgin Records argues that, "No pop group has had such a major impact globally since the Beatles" (Time:1997). This group has been recognized as having female aggresiveness, eroticism, positive messages with a famous slogan: girl power who idolizes Margaret Thatcher. They mix rap (a typical music associated with youngsters) soul and attitude in Wannabe, the first single released in Japan (#Wannabe - Spice Girls).

A group with a certain attitude is the image close to Spice Girls, an attitude showing commitment to the young generation as a highly motivated generation who are supposed to avoid the NATO (No Action Talk Only).

Let me tell you 'bout a thing, gotta put it to the test
It's a celebration, motivation generation next
Well sow me the seed, every colour every creed
Teach never preach, listen up and take heed
#(More Over - Spice Girls)

Spice Girls might have come at the right time to respond to the forecast that the 90s is the beginning of female leadership era when many women are having crucial positions in public lives. The information era that we have now is perceived as an era where knowledge and information industries play signification roles (Newsweek:1998). Those spirits are best represented in Spice's songs, either the lyrics that describe a life full of optimism, high spirit and lively-identical to the spirit of the young, and the melody that is full of gayness and enthusiasm in the form of rap, house music or soul with a touch of classic (#Viva Forever-Spice Girls).

In Indonesian context, AB Three might have a similarity in terms of gayness, popularity and achievements in their musical career. The native culture however does not lead them to the image of being aggressive or playing the role of girl power symbol (#Lagi-AB Three).


British Studies will certainly get enthusiastic response from the students if it is not only theoretically demanding but also entertaining. The geographical distance can be made shorter indeed by the availability of sufficient resources with the back up of professional human resources. It is high time therefore to take an action in terms of providence of the teaching aids (aural and audio visual) and the training for the teachers in genuine British setting. The learning and teaching process will certainly take place not only in the class but also in the SAC (Self Access Centre) located at the Language Centre, a dual process of understanding and enjoyment.


Bassenett, Susan. 1994. Teaching British Cultural Studies. Journal for the Study of British Cultures, 1(1) : 63--74.

Kawanku. 1998, 26 July. 28 (3).

Kawanku 1998, 26 August. 28 (6).

Kramer, Jurgen. 1995. British/Cultural Studies: Ideas for a University Syllabus. Leipzig: University of Leipzig.

Mooney, H.F. 1977. Popular Music since the 1920s: The Significance of the Shifting Taste in Popular Arts in America. (William Hammel, ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.

Newsweek., 1998, May 18.

Newsweek. 1998, July 6.

Nye, Russel. 1977. The Popular Arts and the Popular Audience in Popular Arts in America. (William Hammel, ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.

Time. 1997, February 3.

Time 1998. July 6.

Dra. Diah Kristina is a lecturer at Universitas Sebelas Maret, Surakarta.

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