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Music as Media 10: Violence and Drugs

Music as Media 10: Violence and Drugs

Author: Amee Wittbrodt
  • Understand, analyze, evaluate, and use different types of print, digital, and multimodal media.
  • Critically analyze information found in electronic, print, and mass media and use a variety of these sources.
  • Analyze the effect of violence and drugs in mainstream music videos.
  • Evaluate the new study that claims one-third of the most popular songs referred to alcohol, tobacco, or other substances.

This packet is 10th in a series about music as media.

It provides some background information about the prevelance of violence and drugs in popular music. After reading two articles and watching a short video, students can form their own opinion surrounding this controversial topic.

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Background Information

Music Lyrics Offer Earful About Drugs

Study: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Featured In
One-Third of 2005's Most Popular Songs

(WebMD)Teens tuned in to popular music are getting an earful about drinking, smoking, and using other drugs. A new study shows that one-third of the most popular songs referred to alcohol, tobacco, or other substances.

The average teen listening to popular songs hears 84 daily references, 591 weekly references, and more than 30,700 yearly references in music to substance use, according to the study.

The University of Pittsburgh's Brian Primack, MD, EdM, and colleagues reviewed music lyrics for the 279 most popular pop, rock, rap, R&B/hip-hop, and country songs of 2005, according to Billboard magazine.

Of those songs:

  • 24% referred to alcohol use
  • 14% referred to marijuana use
  • 12% referred to unspecified substances or drugs other than alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco
  • 3% referred to tobacco

Teens Under the Musical Influence?

Substance use was most frequently featured in rap music and most rarely portrayed in pop music. Country music played up humor in drinking songs.

"The average adolescent listening wholly to pop would be exposed to five references per day, whereas the average adolescent listening wholly to rap would be exposed to 251 references per day," Primack and colleagues write.

How does that music influence teens? This study didn't go there; it was all about lyrics, not teen behavior.

But the findings may inspire anti-drug messages for teens. For instance, the researchers suggest enlisting a rap artist to speak about the dangers of marijuana use, since marijuana is a common theme in rap music. The study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Violence in Music

A brief look at lyrics and images from various music genres from rock to hip hop. Produced by Jacob and Keir as part of the MyGlobalVillage Summer Session 2007.

MTV News

Study Says Hip-Hop Listeners More Prone To Drug Use, Aggression

04.18.2006 4:55 PM EDT

'We need to ask why alcohol companies use... rappers in their commercials,' author says. A new study questions alcohol companies' use of rappers like Diddy in commercials.

If you listen to rap music, you're more likely to use alcohol and drugs and to behave in an aggressive manner — at least according to a new study by the nonprofit Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. More than 1,200 California community-college students ages 15-25 took part in the study — titled "Music, Substance Use and Aggression" — and answered survey questions about their music-listening habits, use of alcohol and drugs and "aggressive behaviors," such as fighting or threatening people with violence.

The results found that almost 70 percent of the students who listened to music "daily or almost daily" listened to rap and hip-hop, and when that data was compared with the students' answers about alcohol, drugs and violence, the survey found that "substance use and aggressive behaviors among young people were significantly associated to certain genres of popular music," mainly rap, reggae, rock and techno.

"Before we began the survey, we were studying alcohol advertising, and we noticed rap music and rap performers were being used in promoting alcoholic beverages," said Dr. Meng-Jinn Chen, the lead author of the report. "So we were aware that young people loved rap music, so there are a lot of concerns raised about the impact of the music on them."

Chen said she wanted to make it clear that the study — which will be published in May in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol — is by no means a condemnation of rap music (she has nieces and nephews "who absolutely listen to rap," she said). But Chen did say the study should raise concerns about whether or not advertising agencies should continue using rap music and icons in their advertising.

"The survey found that young people who listen to hip-hop use alcohol and drugs and engage in violent behavior, so this raises serious questions as to whether or not rap and hip-hop should be used to market alcoholic beverages," Chen said. "Our findings suggest there is a link between rap and violence and that it's irresponsible for advertisers to continue to prey on those behaviors."

And though Chen says she's happy with the survey, she's quick to point out that it's by no means comprehensive. Though the sample group was diverse — 57 percent female, 27 percent Latino American, 5 percent black — she said she hopes to do a larger survey in the near future. She said she hopes readers will realize that the survey cannot determine whether or not rap lyrics influence people to drink alcohol or if people who drink alcohol are drawn to the music.

"We want the reader to know that we are not sure. This survey can only show the association between the behavior and listening to the music," she said. "We don't want people to misuse the information we report; we want people to read the report and talk to me. But I think that the reason we reported this is because we think we need to ask why alcohol companies use these rappers in their commercials."

Want to read more? Drug Related Deaths

Discussion Questions

  1. A new study shows that one-third of the most popular songs in 2005 referred to alcohol, tobacco, or other substances. This study is unreliable and can't be backed up with solid evidence.

  2. Substance use was most frequently featured in country music.

  3. Substance use was most rarely portrayed in pop music.

  4. This study did not explore how this music influences teens. Instead, it just presented the facts about substance use mentioned in popular music.

  5. The average teen listening to popular songs hears 84 daily references, 591 weekly references, and more than _________ yearly references in music to substance use, according to the study.

  6. What percentage of those songs referred to alcohol use?

  7. The Think MTV article is not meant to condemn rap music, but to raise concerns about ______________________.

  8. The use of drugs by many musicians over the years is hardly news. Some musicians, including John Entwistle of the Who, DeeDee Ramone, Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, and Brad Nowell of Sublime, have died of overdoses. Others, like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, have died due to mental problems caused in part by drug use. Do you think that the drug-related death of a musician has any impact on fans' attitudes toward drugs? Why or why not? Explain.

  9. Why do you think rap songs often contain references to substance use and illegal drugs? Explain.

  10. A study by a team of medical doctors found that nearly 15% of the music videos they viewed on MTV, VH-1, BET, and CMT contained violence. Most of us are not involved in violent acts 15% of our day. Why, then, do you think that so many videos contain violence? Explain.

  11. The doctors conducting this same study found that, although African Americans make up 12% of the United States' population, African Americans were shown as the aggressors in 25% of the violence shown, and the victims in 41% of the violence shown. Do you think that music videos showing African Americans involved in fake violence helps or hurts African-American people in real life? Why?

  12. Conduct your own study. Watch MTV or VH1 for one hour. Pay specific attention to references to substance use and violence. Summarize your results in a paragraph (10-15 sentences).

  13. Whenever the music industry comes under fire, musicians quickly respond.
    Choose a quote from below. Explain what it means and whether you agree or disagree.

    Billy Joel

    billy joel

    Ice Cube


    Adam Yauch- Beastie Boys


    "Art may reflect what's going on in our time. However, to blame art for somebody committing a violent act is absolutely absurd."

    "When you start censoring the books and censoring the video games and censoring the TV and the movies, you're going to still have people with their problems and you're still going to have these situations."

    You need to think for yourself, you need to explore your own feelings, and when you're angry, use music as an outlet, not as an excuse.