Quite often the best ideas for a blog just seem to pop up out of nowhere when you least expect it, and that was certainly the case in this instance. I had commented to my 14 year old granddaughter that I was struggling to come up with an idea for my next blog and she asked me what I had already written about. I proceeded to tell her and explained what my blog ‘Trump Trumps Weinstein’ was about. To my amazement she came out with, “well why don’t you write about the influence music has on young people because musicians are leaders with a lot of power to influence other people”! Then she followed up with the statement that much of the music these days is about sex, drugs and violence and degrades women. She was even able to give me numerous examples of musicians and songs to support her statement. According to her all the other kids she knows only listen to that music because everyone else is listening to it.
Dave Miranda, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Ottawa specializes in music psychology and adolescent psychology and has written numerous papers on the effects of music on adolescents. His paper ‘The role of music in adolescent development: much more than the same old song’ supports my granddaughter’s previous statement in saying that “Adolescents understand how to listen to music to please their friends (North et al.,2000), which may foster their reciprocal liking. Music tastes thus involve impression management among peers (Finna¨s, 1989)”.
My granddaughter said that her peers don’t seem to care that the lyrics of certain songs are violent and degrading or that they have the power to create a negative influence. She told me of one female singer an artist known as Cupcakke who released overt sexual songs titled “Deepthroat” and “Vagina”, that she believed were very degrading to women. I decided to listen to these songs myself in the interest of good research and I have to say, I was disappointed and disgusted for young girls everywhere. Don’t take my word for it, have a listen yourself and draw your own conclusions. I have to say, this granddaughter of mine never ceases to amaze me with her resilience, strength and wisdom because she has been through more in her young 14 years than most adults. The more I talked to her about the subject the more I realized that if she feels so strongly about the effects the music is having on her generation, then I owe it to her and her generation to speak up about it.
Musicians, whether they are aware of it or not have the ability to influence their listeners and fans in a very powerful way especially where youths and youth culture are concerned. They can do this in either a positive or negative way. I believe they have a huge responsibility to be good role models and have a positive effect on their young fans. There is an increasing body of research suggesting the effects music can have on young minds. Dave Miranda, says in ‘The role of music in adolescent development: much more than the same old song’ that adolescents’ “exposure to music occurs during a life period of plasticity in which they experience (and need to resolve) numerous developmental tasks, transitions, and issues”. and that during this period of their development “the transaction between music and adolescence – opens a critical window in which music can influence at least seven major areas of development: aesthetics; identity; socialization; emotion regulation and coping; personality and motivation; gender roles; and positive youth development.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics in their journal Pediatrics, Volume 124, Number 5, November 2009, p. 1489 state that “Lyrics of some music genres, such as rock, heavy metal, rap, and new emerging genres such as reggae ton, have been found to revolve around topics such as sexual promiscuity, death, homicide, suicide, and substance abuse….. Most recently, some rap music has been characterized by the presence of explicit sexual language in its lyrics as well as messages of violence, racism, homophobia, and hatred toward women.” Volume 98, Number 6, December, 1996, p.1219-1221 has stated that “Numerous studies indicate that a preference for heavy metal music may be a significant marker for alienation, substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, suicide risk, sex-role stereotyping, or risk-taking behaviours during adolescence”.
There are many examples of musicians sending negative messages to our youth. Other than the artist Cupcakke who I have mentioned earlier there are a number of female singers providing lyrics that are degrading to women and send a message that women are objects of sexual gratification. Examples include the lyrics in Lady Gaga’s song Poker Face, “When it’s love, if it’s not rough, it isn’t fun.” Her Bad Romance video contains metaphors of forced sexual encounters where two women are seen holding her down and pouring white fluid into her mouth. Another artist, 14 year old Danielle Bregoli promoted her These Heaux (Ho’s) video on Instagram by saying “Watch the These Heaux video or I’ll beat ya duck ass,”. So sad to see a 14 year old girl acting much older and using explicitly sexual and violent references in her lyrics and video.
Controversial lyrics and musicians with the power to influence adolescents are not new to the present generation. Even Elvis Presley was controversial in the 1950’s. But honestly, Elvis’s gyrating hips make him seem like a saint compared to some of our present musicians and lyrics. Since the 1960’s with the success of bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones the boundaries have been pushed more and more as to what is acceptable. Nine Inch Nails released Big Man with a Gun in 1994 with the lyrics “I am a big man yes I am and I have a big gun, got me a big ole dick and I like to have fun, held against your forehead, I’ll make you suck it, maybe I’ll put a hole in your head”. Another example is Big Pun’s 2001 lyrics from Brave in the Heart. Present examples of male singers producing songs with the power to influence their fans negatively are Yo Gotti’s Rake it Up video which portrays women as second class and objects for men’s sexual gratification. Another example is Tyga’s Rack City video with its themes of gang warfare, violence and sexism towards women.
Adolescents are easily influenced because they are still in the process of developing their own identity and are not really sure who they are yet. I remember having conversations with my own children 20-30 years ago about the negative effects certain music could have on them. At the time my eldest son laughed it off and said it’s just music mum we’re not going to do things like that, we know right from wrong. My son’s response highlights the biggest issue around negative lyrics, images and role models in the music industry. What about those young people who are at risk because they haven’t had a stabile, loving upbringing or suitable role models to teach them the difference. These at risk youth are naturally going to look up to their musical heroes and role models and take on their life style choices, look, actions and belief systems.
Many artists, whether they be visual artists, performance artists, musicians or actors have used the power to shock to develop a following and to influence. Many adolescents take up their role models persona as a means to rebel against things they are not happy with. When their role models advocate behaviors such as violence, sexism, hatred, drug use and racism, society as a whole is in deep trouble. The music of our times has always reflected the culture of that era. What I find deeply disturbing, is that the reflection I am seeing now in the music world of our adolescents seems to contain more shocking and negative lyrics and images than ever before in history.
I understand there are many musicians out there who are trying to have a positive influence on our adolescents with their music and take this responsibility seriously. What we need is for every musician to seriously think about what messages they are selling to young people and the potential influence their lyrics, videos and image can have on those young peoples lives and society as a whole.
Dave Miranda (2013) The role of music in adolescent development: much
more than the same old song, International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 18:1, 5-22, DOI: 10.1080/02673843.2011.650182