Now the Day's Losing Light
There are two reasons that someone chooses to engage with a piece of art be it literature, music, painting, film, or any other form. The first is that the viewer has a personal interest or attraction to what they believe the art will impart to them. Heartbroken adolescents listen to Olivia Rodrigo's new record to hear someone empathize with their experience (GUTS is great). Americans go see Oppenheimer to learn about and reflect on a critical event in their country's history. I read Camus and Dante for the wisdom they deliver. People know their emotional and intellectual interests and actively seek out art that speaks directly to those interests. Artists take advantage of this to adequately craft their art such that it attracts a large group of people. I'm not here to argue this is bad. In fact I think it's great. Genuinely connecting people will always be one of art's gifts to humanity.
The other reason that an individual chooses to engage with a piece of art is that the artist has convinced them to. You're channel surfing and suddenly a show catches your eye. Maybe it's the way the characters are talking. Maybe it's the cinematography, how the camera moves and surveys the subjects. Maybe it's the show's dramatic score, sonically delivering danger and suspense. Either way you set down the remote and forget that just a few seconds ago you were bored. This method is used not only in standard art and entertainment, but also in seemingly unrelated areas such as academic and legal writing. In the abstract, the scientist must convince the reader that the paper is worth the time and thought it requires to consume. The lawyer must convince the judge and jury that their argument has merit and is worth considering. In this fight for an individual's attention there is no middle ground. Either the audience is convinced to spend their hoarded attention on the art, or it simply goes unseen.
In music, conveying a sense of urgency can effectively convince a passive listener to engage. Years ago I found myself listening to lots of Evanescence. Like many of the early 2000s rock and metal bands their music is loud, dramatic, and almost cinematic. However I've never listened to any of their contemporaries. What sets Evanescence apart is Amy Lee's profound ability to convey an intense urgency and desperation in her voice. It's her voice that convinces me the world is caving in around her and the song itself is critical to her survival. It's impossible to not pay attention when it feels like someone is facing an impending demise. I simply have to listen. And she does this on every song. Pick any song from across their discography and it's likely that you'll hear my point. One of my favorites is the lesser known track "Farther Away".
Another popular example of this utilization of dramatic urgency is Muse. Across the band's exceptional record Absolution, Matthew Bellamy pulls immense agony, desperation, and urgency out of his vocals. With matching lyrics on Hysteria such as "I want it now, give me your heart and soul. I'm not breaking down, I'm breaking out...", Bellamy lyrically and sonically delivers a striking existential urgency that borders on insanity and is sure to absorb a listener.
This ability to immerse a listener through a sense of urgency does not only apply to sonically intense and loud music. Here we can consider my favorite Coldplay song, Amsterdam. On a mostly acoustic track, Chris Martin delivers light, fragile vocals to impart his desperation, his grave need of change. "My star is fading and I see no chance of release ... I'm dead on the surface but I am screaming underneath". Who could turn away from such a moment.