Researchers from the neurology department at Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, Arizona recently published results from a study looking at how migraines and migraineurs are portrayed in popular music. Believing that popular music is mostly the territory of young people, the researchers hoped the medium could be a window into the musicians experiences, perceptions and anxieties about migraine.  The authors stated in their article:  “our hope was that a better understanding of the ways in which migraine is portrayed in popular music may help clinicians who care for migraineurs better understand the assumptions and expectations that their patients bring to the disease and its management.”

A total of 139 songs with the word “migraine” in the title were found.  After some exclusions, the researchers were able to look at 134 songs, represented by 126 musicians.  The researchers found that migraine is a common subject in popular music, and it appears often in song titles by artists in the electronic category.  Two examples are “Migraine” by Cobra Killer, and “Aura,” “Nausea,” and “Resolution” a suite written specifically about migraine on the album Absolute Truth by Cult Of The Individual.

The study authors found it significant that the artists characterizing migraine were almost solely male, and were singing about migraine as it related to themselves.  One exception was the song “Her First Migraine” by The Opposition. Why was there such an underrepresentation of female artists singing about migraine, when the actual sex distribution of migraine sufferers leans towards women? The researchers theorized that working in a male-dominated industry, female migraineurs may believe they would be labeled with a female-predominant disease.  It is also possible female artists might describe their migraine experiences in less literal ways, which would be more difficult to tease out in a study.

It was also noted that the music written about migraines lacked hope in the sense of treatment success.  In a song called “Migraine” by The Coral, the lyrics described a doctor’s lecturing to the narrator that his migraine was tied to calcium deficiency, and recommended he eat apples!  While the researchers believe more investigation is needed into the various ways migraine is portrayed in popular music, they do believe the results from this study are instructive.  They concluded: “an understanding of the impression a new migraineur whose knowledge of migraine comes from popular culture brings to the therapeutic encounter may provide the opportunity for the refutation of myths and the introduction of a new, more hopeful narrative.”     Headache   The Journal of Head and Face Pain   July/August 2012

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