An Exploration of the Music of Grand Theft Auto and My Own Journey of Changing Tastes in Music

A deep dive into the music of GTA the ways in which it has influenced my own tastes in music.


William Wu

Chelsea Leung ’22 and Hannah Kim ’22 feel the vibrations of a JBL speaker as they listen to “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder.

The infamous Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series, the most profitable entertainment product in history, has won awards and broken world records with its realistic graphics and innovative gameplay. What many people don’t know is that there lies a hidden gem within the series — its music.

The music of GTA is carefully curated to incorporate many different genres and to fit within the geographical and vehicular context of your in-game situation. For example, if you get into a pickup truck in Blaine County (the GTA version of the Nevada desert), the default radio station would be Rebel Radio, the country music radio station. In all, there are twenty-one radio stations in GTA. 

One of these stations, Rebel Radio, plays non-stop country tunes with a mix of sprinkled-in satire. Jokes aside, one of the songs, “the Highwaymen” by the Highwaymen, is an amazing collaboration between several country artists and one of the first country songs with which I fell in love. 

The story recounts several mens’ stories as ghosts, using different voices; the ghosts all meet unfortunate ends. Kris Kristofferson (the second voice in the video posted above) is my favorite artist in this song because his voice conveys a sense of distance, which bolsters the ghostly resonance of the lyrics. 

Rebel Radio introduced me to the old greats of country music and eventually modern country. When I had the opportunity to travel to Nashville last summer, I made sure to book tickets to the Grand Ole Opry where I had a thoroughly fantastic time. 

Here is a playlist that could be considered an average American high school student’s playlist. As you can see, it’s heavy on rap. (William Wu)

The first time I heard about Tupac, I thought it was some sort of joke that had to do with six-packs. My exposure to rap started off with modern, mainstream, mumble rappers like Lil Uzi Vert or Lil Yatchy whose lyrics you often cannot hear clearly and when you can, do not have much meaning. 

When West Coast Classics introduced me to old-school rap, I uncovered a whole new world. Tupac’s voice was hard and unforgiving, and his lyrics were clear and meaningful. Tupac spat out each word like he meant it, which was different from the type of rap that I had previously listened to. Through Tupac, I was exposed to Biggie, MC Eiht, and other great old-school rappers. Oftentimes, I find that I have a different interpretation of a line that I have heard numerous times before, so the songs never get tiresome. 

The Lowdown, a feel-good soul music station, brightens my mood when I’m having a bad day. 

Nowadays, soul still plays an integral part in making me feel better. The only difference is that I take my dad’s keys and drive to the docks at King’s Point and sing along with Bill Withers on the relaxing ride there. 

These three radio stations are just a small part of how the music of GTA has affected my tastes in music and made me a more open-minded individual. I have had many great real-life experiences that stemmed from the genres of music that GTA has exposed me to. 

From what I have observed, a majority of teenagers only listen to pop music and are hesitant to try anything else. Especially in New York City, where there is a large rap scene, a lot of students seem to see anything other than modern rap as old-fashioned or weird. I believe that if more people were exposed to the beats of West Coast Classics or the relaxing tunes of the Blue Ark, their music tastes would grow to incorporate more genres.

I asked three of my peers to listen to music from a genre outside of what they normally listen to. I started with Chelsea Leung ’22. Leung’s favorite genre is Indie Pop, so I selected a glam rock piece for her, “Los Ageless – Recorded at Spotify” by St. Vincent. Leung said she thought it was a “nice background song” and she liked its “slow pace.” Leung said, “there wasn’t much background music, so you can clearly hear the music.” 

This is my own playlist which contains a mixture of pop, old school rap, rock, drill, country, reggae, and soul. My diverse taste in music is influenced by the many different radio stations of Grand Theft Auto. (William Wu)

Hannah Kim ’22 was a little less interested in the music that I selected for her and more interested in the vibrating sequences of the speaker. As “All Mine,” a hip-hop song by Kanye West played, Kim laughed at the bulging sides of the speaker that oscillated with the music. Kim said, “This is not exactly my cup of tea, though I could see people listening to that.” After hearing three strong hits of bass in the song, Kim said, “I like the bass. This would be good for social settings in the background when you hang out with friends.” 

Interviewee Nafees Ahmad ’22 guessed correctly on the rather obscure genre of the song that I selected: ”If I Had a Heart” by Fever Ray. The song is under the genre of EDM (electronic dance music), but it is heavily influenced by Nordic and Viking music and was the official song for the Vikings series on the History channel. 

Ahmad usually listens to Bronx and Brooklyn drill, a local and relatively new form of music that sprouted and quickly rose to popularity within the last few years. Ahmad said that the song selected “was cool, but not something that I would be able to listen to for an extended period of time.” However, at the one minute fifty second mark, after three oscillations of a long ah, Ahmad said that he “liked that part” and at 2:08 where the song switches to the female voice and ends on a freakishly high note, Ahmad nodded his head. “I like this part too. This sounds like some Viking stuff.” 

Of the three interviewees, two of them were interested in listening to more songs in the same genre that I had selected for them. With the release of everyone’s Spotify Wrapped, I encourage all readers to try to diversify their Spotify Wraps for next year, from C-pop to Latin Trap, because opening your mind to different genres of music is the first way to open your mind to the world.

The infamous Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series, the most profitable entertainment product in history, has won awards and broken world records with its realistic graphics and innovative gameplay. What many people don’t know is that there lies a hidden gem within the series — its music.