Are we really listening? Exploring the Media’s Social Construction of Drill Music Artists in the UK



Drill music has become increasingly popular in the United Kingdom. With the rise in popularity has come a moral panic due to the nature of the lyrics which often includes themes of violence and drugs. Due to this, not only have the songs been demonised but the artists who produce the music have been faced with government crackdown with many advocating for the banning of drill and custodial repercussions for the artists, as they are said to be inciting violence. Despite artists, listeners and human rights activists advocating for free speech and the right for artists to express their reality through in their art, the media continue to paint drill and its artists as a danger to society. By analysing print media such as newspapers, this researched examined the social construction of drill artists and has found that drill music artists
are demonised and constructed as a danger to the public in an attempt to legitimise the notion that they are undeserving of protection if they cause or endorse violence in society. This project emphasises how media perpetuate stereotypes of these young black and underprivileged males as ‘dangerous others’ in order to divert attention from the serious issues being highlighted in drill music such as containment, cuts to youth services in deprived areas and inequality.


Music has always been an art form notorious for sparking controversy, music and its scandalous lyrics, videos and premises is a phenomenon that can be dated back to the 1800s. The evolution of music has seen the birth of a variety of new genres and in recent years drill music has emerged from an underground genre and has been slowing entering the realm of mainstream music.

UK drill is a subgenre of rap music which was introduced to the London music scene during the early 2010s. Unlike grime music which is a distinct UK music genre (White 2016), drill takes its influence from the United States, specifically the south side of Chicago where drill music is said to have originated from, a city largely associated with high rates of crime and gang activity (Harkness 2013). Musically, drill shares a few similarities with the ‘trap’ music genre but arguably includes a more direct relationship to crime and violence. As drill music is a relatively new and underground form of music, it has relied on production and distribution technology such as YouTube and Spotify to flourish outside of mainstream label investments (Ilan 2020). Drill rappers overwhelming belong to a specific demographic of; young black males who come from socio-economically deprived areas in London and this demographic has had a long-standing tension with agencies of the criminal justice system. Therefore, it is not unusual that the formation of a new genre by this demographic that is seen to be catching the attention of many has now been at the centre of a media moral panic (Cohen 1972).

What people believe about crime and criminals influence the decisions of many aspects of society such as; criminal justice agencies, policies and the overall activities of individuals in society. Beliefs and attitudes regarding what a crime is and
who are criminals is often formed or influenced by what is projected in the media. This is because media is argued to be just as important to societies as family, church or economic institutions (Croteau and Hoynes 1997; Gergen 1991; McLuhan 1964). Ranging from the British Broadcast Company (BBC) to the local newspaper, individuals look to media outlets to acquire knowledge, information and entertainment, it has even been argued that some people spend more time
immersed in mass media than they do in real life interactions (Erikson, Baranek and Chan 1991) further highlighting how much of an impact the media can have over the beliefs and values of society.

As explored by many researchers of crime and the media, crime news has always been and continues to be a priority (Altheide and Snow 1979) and over the last five years drill music has become more prevalent as a crime news topic. The activities of drill artists and lyrics of their music have become a focal point of crime news specifically in the city’s capital London due the claim concerning the correlation between drill music and the rise in violence in the United Kingdom. This has been detrimental on the black community and this is because news coverage about drill music does not only provide information, but it can articulate negative ideological messages about the meaning behind drill and influences societies view on drill artists, who overwhelming belong to the black community.



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