Music is everywhere. Whether it be on the radio in your car, at work, or even through headphones on your own personal device, music is a constant in our society and is a huge part of the entertainment industry. It is hard to deny that music is an influential part of human life and can impact the emotions a person may feel. When a person is happy, they may listen to happy songs. When they are sad, they may listen to sad songs. There are songs about love and romance, songs about heartbreak and revenge on an ex-lover. But it seems that the most prevalent themes in today’s music is that of a degrading sexual nature, as well as the recreational use of drugs and alcohol. As mainstream music lyrics become more and more explicit in content, there is some evidence that exposure to these themes may have a negative effect on the sexual behavior of adolescents, as well as the normalization of drug use and overall reckless behavior on young adults.
Over the years, rap music has become increasingly explicit in nature. Studies show that from 2001-2011, approximately 74% of the Billboards top 25 rap music hits made reference to sex, sexual expectations, and/or sexual relationships. (Johnson,et al) This study concluded that there are three themes to rap music. The most prevalent theme is that It’s really about sex or nothing at all. In other words, sex is the only goal of male to female interaction. The second theme found being that substances are used as the precursor/enhancer, meaning that alcohol and/or drugs are used in abundance for the goal of sex. The third theme is performance, parts and brand, plainly put, this means that expectations for a female’s participation in sexual activity is based entirely on their visual characteristic and non-verbal behavior; like flirting or dancing. (Johnson, et al) For impressionable young adults, it is concerning that they are being exposed to such negative and unrealistic impressions of sexual communication and consent; maybe without fully comprehending the message being sent.
It is not just the music and lyrics alone that are sending inappropriate messages towards adolescents. With platforms like MTV and YouTube, we are now able to not just listen to music, but to watch it. Even a song that can be censored enough to be played on local radio stations can have an accompanying music video that is anything but appropriate. For example, the song Taste by the artist Tyga (featuring Offset) often plays on the local radio stations. This song can be censored enough to be played on the radio, however, the music video could never be deemed appropriate under any circumstances. A child could potentially hear the song and enjoy it, do a quick search on YouTube, and soon they will be viewing a music video that depicts a lot of sexual content as well as drug use. So how exactly could this kind of material potentially affect the behavior of a developing young adult?
In 2003, a study was published where 522 single African American females from the ages fourteen to eighteen were enrolled in a study. The study was to determine if the exposure to rap music videos played any part in predicting the occurrence of health risk behaviors and sexually transmitted diseases over a twelve-month follow- up. The median hours of exposure to rap music videos were twelve to fourteen hours a week. (Wingwood, et al) Of those enrolled, 92.2% of the participants completed the twelve-month follow-up assessment. It was determined that 37.6% of the participants contracted a new sexually transmitted disease, 4.8% hit a teacher, 12.1% had been arrested, 14.8% had sexual intercourse with someone other than their partner, 44.2% reported using drugs, and 44.4% had used alcohol. (Wingwood, et al)
It would be insensitive to the culture of rap to label the entire genre of music as bad and harmful; because it is not just rap music that has the potential to influence negative behaviors in adolescents. A college study was done that shows the correlation between sensation-seeking behavior and the genre of music one may enjoy. Sensation-seeking is defined as The seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experiences. (Zuckerman, p. 27) To put it simply, someone with a higher level on the sensation-seeking scale would be more likely to make risky or harmful decisions, like having unprotected sex or using drugs. The study concluded that participants who enjoyed heavy metal, punk, and reggae music rated higher on the sensation-seeking scale than those who did not listen to that type of music. (Weisskirch and Murphy)
There is not enough evidence to assume that preference of music causes sensation-seeking tendencies, but it is common knowledge that people tend to listen to music that they can relate to. Therefore, one could assume that those who do rate higher on the sensation-seeking scale enjoy music that may push boundaries; and it may be possible to believe that music containing violent or sexual themes, or lyrics that contain a positive outlook on the use of drugs, could enhance the already reckless tendencies of an individual. Music is very powerful and can make us feel the emotions an artist intended us to feel, consequently, if an artist is singing lyrics that are aggressive or violent the listener may feel more aggressive and violent. This could be a problem if the listener has violent tendencies or rates higher on the sensation-seeking scale.
Musicians need to be more aware of their influence on listeners, kids look up to their favorite artists and may adopt the qualities they see them have. For decades, musical artists have been dying from the very thing they have built their musical career on, the use of drugs. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to how drugs are perceived through music. Recently, the rap artist Mac Miller passed away from an accidental overdose of cocaine and fentanyl. Last year, the artist Lil Peep overdosed on Xanax and fentanyl as well. Although it is heart wrenching that so many musicians are dying due to a drug overdose, their unfortunate deaths could possibly bring more awareness to the stigma surrounding drug addiction in music; and hopefully the adolescents who look up to these artists can see how much they have struggled with addiction and how it has affected their lives.
It is widely known that adolescents are impressionable by nature; they want to fit in with the environment around them. Drugs like Ecstasy, Molly, and Marijuana, to name a few, are often prevalent at music festivals or raves. In 2005, a study was done at an Australian music festival that investigated the correlation between musical genres and drug use. The study suggests that illicit drugs are used more commonly at this music festival compared to the corresponding age groups in the general population of Australia. (Lim, et al p. 440) It is possible to conclude that because drugs are known to be common at music festivals and raves, there is a normalization surrounding the use of illicit drugs. When a young adult is surrounded by their friends and peers who are partaking in the use of drugs, they may feel pressure to join in, which could potentially be the reason drug use is so common at festivals and raves in the first place; it is like a vicious circle of peer pressure.
Some readers may argue that sheltering adolescents from the world around them is not beneficial to their understanding of things like sex and the use of drugs. However, what we are doing now is not beneficial to their understanding either. We do not teach children sexual education in schools until around the fifth or sixth grade. By this time, they have already been exposed to the concept of sex through music and music videos. Essentially, referring back to the three themes of rap music already discussed, what they are learning about sex before we even introduce them to it could potentially be harmful to their understanding of sexual communication and consent. We don’t teach kids about drugs and the negative effects they may cause until the fifth or sixth grade at least either. Through music, they may conclude that using drugs is normal or even makes you cool, before we can teach them that drugs tear families and lives apart, or that some drugs can potentially be fatal. With that being said, it could possibly be more harmful to let children listen to music with such explicit content without teaching them about sex and drugs first; than it would be to closely monitor the music they are listening to, or the music videos they are watching.
Music has many benefits. It is a great art that has the potential to bring people together or get someone through a hard time in their life. But like all things, there are negatives to certain types of music. Although there is not enough research done yet to determine exactly how much music influences behavior in adolescents, there is enough to conclude that it does. The explicit content in music should be more regulated, but it is hard to control the music an adolescent can listen to when they can find it on the internet at any time. With that being said, parents should be more aware of what their child is listening to or viewing. If a parent does make the choice to let their child listen to music containing explicit content, that is obviously their decision as a parent, but they should make sure that their child already has an understanding of sexual education and the consequences using drugs may have; so the derogatory remarks and normalization of drugs in music doesn’t teach them the wrong impression.
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