As a lover of both the arts and science, the past few months have left me with a lot to nerd out over. From Tyler, the Creator producing the theme song for Bill Nye’s new Netflix series, to Pharrell having astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as a guest on OTHERtone; each collaboration between the two worlds have helped show their importance during a time when their value is being questioned.
In the first half of 2017, we’ve seen the American government neglect decades of scientific data while developing the country’s stance on environmental issues, as well as propose to cut federal funding for numerous arts programs across the nation. Some could say this is due to a change in the nation’s presidency, but who knows. The only thing we can be sure of, is that based off of recent actions by the powers that be, our government’s concerns do not lie with the arts or science. In what could be seen as a response to that neglect, both fields have come together in what’s known in biology as a mutualistic relationship.
Here’s a quick science lesson for you. A mutualistic relationship is when two organisms of different species work together, each benefiting from the relationship. A common example of this relationship is the one between bees and flowers. Bees fly to different flowers collecting nectar, which is later used to make food. When they land on a flower, pollen is attached on the bee by their hairy bodies. Continuing their search, bees land on the next flower and end up pollinating it with pollen from the first. In this mutualistic relationship, the bees get to eat the nectar from the flowers, and the flowering plants are able to reproduce.
The same could be said about some of the recent relationships being formed between figures in music and science. Take a look at the work done between Neil deGrasse Tyson and rapper Logic for the latter’s most recent album, Everybody. The project tells the story of a man who has died in a car accident, and upon meeting God, who is played by Tyson, learns that in order to move on into the afterlife, he must first be reincarnated as every human being who has ever lived.
Tyson’s inclusion as the role of God might seem confusing due to his identification as an agnostic, but is made clear in his interview with Logic for the May issue of Complex. Not only does he claim to have a soft spot for artists, but believes that they make life bearable, bring joy, and explore the full dynamic range of human emotions.
In that same interview, Tyson states that it was Logic taking inspiration from the universe and human psyche that drew him into being a part of the album. Tyson, willing to educate Logic on any scientific topic necessary for the creation of the album, based his decision to help in the belief that only when science becomes a legitimate topic for artists, does it then become mainstream.
Likewise, Logic was well aware of Tyson’s status in the world of science, and saw his ability to effectively communicate complex concepts to the general public as a key factor in developing the concept and story for Everybody. In their mutualistic relationship, both were able to see the value in one another, and realized the benefit that collaborating has on the progression of their fields.
Along with Logic, Pharrell Williams is another figure in the music industry that has a deep appreciation for science. So much so, that it has influenced his decisions all throughout his career. One of the more recent instances is his involvement in the 2016 movie, Hidden Figures.
Shortly after 20th Century Fox began principal photography on the film, not only did the studio have Pharrell join its’ team of producers, but they also asked him to contribute to the soundtrack and score. Along with creating a critically acclaimed and Oscar nominated film, the pairing introduced admirers of NASA, via science, to Pharrell, and vice versa.
Imagine how many fans of In Search Of… and “Get Lucky” went to see a movie featuring female mathematicians and engineers of color, just based off of the fact that Pharrell’s name was tagged onto the trailer. Similarly, just think of all the science buffs who may have never listened to a Pharrell productions in their life, tapping their feet and bopping their heads to the music in the film.
20th Century Fox saw the world-wide impact Pharrell had with creating “Happy” for Despicable Me 2, and knew that his involvement in the film and it’s soundtrack would attract a demographic of viewers that otherwise might’ve not gone to see the movie without his presence.
On the other hand, it’s no secret that Pharrell is a lover of science. From his frequent use of the Vulcan salute from Star Trek, to the astronomy influenced designs in his Billionaire Boys Club clothing line, Pharrell has always had a soft spot for science. What makes it even more special in this case, is that the science at hand revolves around three women of color whose story, until now, was left untold. The super-producer saw this as an opportunity to not only spark a new generation’s interest in science, but to shed light on the heroic and historic accomplishments of these women.
What the work between Logic and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and Tyler, the Creator, and Pharrell and the producers of Hidden Figures have in common, is that both sides realized the value in each other’s work, and saw of the societal benefit of establishing a mutualistic relationship. Because of that, we probably now have 16 year old kids who might hate science class, looking up videos of Neil deGrasse Tyson on YouTube, all because they heard his voice on a Hip-Hop album.
Likewise, there are probably long-time Bill Nye the Science Guy fans who have never heard of Tyler the Creator, googling his music after seeing him listed as the producer of the theme song to Nye’s new series. While not all of those 16 year old kids may grow up to become world renowned scientists, or vice versa with Bill Nye fans starting to rap lyrics about bikes and flowers, what the pairing of music and science did, was help develop an appreciation for the other side.
— Bill Nye on Netflix (@BillNyeSaves) April 15, 2017
Often times each side is pitted against the other. It’s the classic left brain vs. right brain debate (which, by the way, is a myth.) If you’re mostly analytical and methodical in your thinking, you’re thought to be left-brained. If you tend to be more creative or artistic, you’re thought to be right-brained. Even in school, the option to be interested in both fields is rarely presented. Students must pick one to focus on, while the possibility of finding value in the collaboration of both is left behind.
Unlike what has been experienced in the past, the most enjoyable aspect of the work being done between these two worlds is the mutual respect and admiration that can be seen. Neither side is trying to one up the other. Instead, they realize the importance of both in the progression and fulfillment of society. With global problems such as climate change, overpopulation, and world hunger threatening our existence, it is up to figures from all fields and backgrounds to develop innovative and creative solutions.
Recently, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and has announced plans to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in next fiscal year’s budget. In what seems to be a deprecation of science and arts from the federal government currently in place, it falls on the responsibility of the everyday people to fight for what they find of great value to society. While history has seen the arts and science battle against each other for the spotlight, it appears the key for the survival of both lies within working together.
There’s value in music. There’s value in science, but more importantly there’s value in a mutualistic relationship between the two. Just like the relationship between bees and flowers, bees do not intentionally mean to pollinate flowers, but by doing so they ensure both the bee and the flower’s survival.
Bees need pollen in order to survive. The flowers produce pollen, but need the pollen from different plants in order to survive as well. While establishing a working relationship between one another may not be a priority of musicians and scientists, it may very well help with their survival in the harsh environment that is America today.