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The Portrayal of Migraine in Popular Music: Observations and Implications

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Objective.— To describe the manner in which migraine and migaineurs are depicted in popular music.

Background.— Prior studies have elucidated the ways in which the popular perception of neurological disorders is shaped by popular culture, from the inflated expectations of the prognosis of coma patients in television dramas to the association of intractable headaches with demonic possession and death by violence in the cinema.

Methods.— We searched popular online music sites for songs with the word “migraine” in their titles. Song lyrics were studied for tone, content, and the light in which they portrayed migraine sufferers.

Results.— One hundred thirty‐four songs met inclusion criteria, representing the work of 126 artists. The majority of the recording artists were male (112 of 126 artists, 89%). One hundred seven of the 134 songs (80%) were recorded since 2000. Of the 79 songs that contained lyrics, 16 (20%) included explicit content; 43 (54%) make reference to hopelessness, despair, or severe pain; and 27 (34%) contained references to killing or death. Only 9 songs (11%) made any reference to successful treatment, resolution, or hope of any sort, the same number that made lyrical references to explosions or bombs.

Conclusions.— The portrayal of a disease in popular music can reflect the artist's perceptions, anxieties, and prejudices about the disease and its victims. The public, including patients, may accept these portrayals as accurate. Clinicians familiar with the portrayal of headache sufferers in cinema will not be surprised that popular musicians (both migraineurs and non‐migraineurs) portray migraines as intractable, violent, and all‐consuming. The lack of any balancing view is disheartening, especially in light of the advances in migraine awareness and treatment over the past decade. Perhaps the most surprising finding is that the vast majority of migraine songs are written and performed by men.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: From the Department of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, AZ, USA (D.L. Roberts); Department of Neurology, Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, AZ, USA (B.B. Vargas).

Publication date: July 1, 2012

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