When four teenagers drive to the movies on a Friday night with the music blaring and “Boyz N the Hood” comes onto the radio, it does not matter whether the young adults in the car are black, white, male or female, when it arrives at the line “reached back like a pimp slapped the ho” everyone joins in. Why? Because it is catchy, popular, and as ridiculous as the world has become, the song is cool. No one notices that the singer has become abusive because his girlfriend has said something to annoy him. No one realizes at the time that the singer is intoxicated, because it does not matter. The song is fun, the lyrics well known.
Countless young Americans memorize the lyrics to this song and many others because of the constant exposure through popular media, wit the average listening to two hours a day (Martino 430). For some, it is simply music, aural enjoyment while involved in other activities. Others wish to emulate the actions they hear about. Dr. Steven Martino, one of Yale’s most acclaimed professors of psychiatry, contends that speeding up sexual behavior is a result of exposure to exploitive and suggestive lyrics. He also explains that leaving questionable musical content unchallenged allows the idea of sex to become distorted (RAND). Regardless, when music becomes incredibly popular, the concepts within the music also become popular.
Current popular music idealizes the exploitation of women by demoralizing them, provides justification and acceptance of dysfunctional relationships, and motivates young listeners to partake in dangerous relations and/or situations.
As a disclaimer, not just current music conveys the message of misogyny. The Rolling Stones have been preaching the message since their earliest songs. In a 1965 song “She Said Yeah” Mick Jagger sang “Come on baby I want to make love to you” and “Try a little bit to make my mouth dribble”. Both of these quotes made the message clear of what the song and its singer wanted from women. This issue is not a new one. Society long ago set this standard; Radocy and Boyle, two well-known music psychologists, acknowledge: …social influence affects all music preference.
Musical preferences are more than an interaction of inherent musical characteristics and individual psychological and social variables. Societal pressures influence preferences. A person making a musical choice considers opinions of other who are significant in his or her life, as well as cultural messages in and about the music (qtd. in Droe 27).
Society sets the standard for these types of popular culture. Dr. Janice Killian, a distinguished music professor and researcher from Texas Tech, also examines this tangent when she explains the relation between imitation and perception: The specific characteristics of a model appear to affect an observer’s tendency to imitate that model.
Observers who believe they are similar to the model are more likely to model that behavior (Bandura & Walters, 1963); indeed, observer perception of any subject/model similarity can lead the subject to adopt other characteristics of that model (Burnstein, Stotland, & Zander, 1961; Stotland, Zander, & Natsoulas, 1961). Race and sex are two salient model characteristics that affect observer tendency toward imitation. Imitation of same-sex and same-race models has been noted across such diverse behaviors as infants’ responses to strangers (Feiring, Lewis & Starr, 1984) (116).
This would explain why certain races and/or genders are disproportionately affected by this degrading popular culture. Nonetheless, it is still relevant and is bringing about several negative impacts that are being largely ignored by all races.
In much of the popular music, women and their appeal are a common theme. Despite their presence, the ideal that the music expresses portrays them in a less than favorable light. Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch” uses offensive lyrics; women are described as only able to ahead by taking off their clothes and keeping their mouths shut. Such behavior was typical before the feminist movement but in modern times can be considered highly offensive. However, the song was ranked number three on U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks.
Songs of this subject matter demoralize women and uphold the patriarch by placing them as lower than men. It is exploitive for women to be viewed as sex objects, created solely for the purpose of male pleasure. As offensive as the lyrics may be, the video certainly drives the message home. Located in a Los Angeles club that has been made to look like a strip club, women are scantily clad, dancing, and expressing bisexual tendencies. The popularity of such music and the common person’s favorable reaction to seeing these types of videos encourages women to act this way and men to ask them to do so.
Musicians do not just express their lower opinions of women in music and videos. For some, it is a way of life. When popular rap artist Snoop Dogg attended the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), clothing and jewelry were not his only accessories. In each hand he held a leash, and attached to the collars were two young women. Collars and leashes are meant as restraining devices for pets or a way for an owner to control property, one can only assume that Snoop Dogg intended for these two young women accompanying him to be viewed the same way. The VMAs are broadcasted nationally with an enormous audience. Women are exploited by popular music through way of lyrics, videos and the general lifestyle of musicians.
As preciously discussed, in the song “Boyz N the Hood” lyrics include a man hitting his girlfriend and then throwing her across the room. The provocation of this was something she had said, making it easy to believe that this was not the first occurrence of abuse. Other popular artists have also discussed physical abuse between women and men. Eminem, a popular rap artist, discussed leaving handprints on a woman in one of his songs. Abuse in relationships is not healthy for anyone involved. However, would a person realize that from popular music? No. Very simply speaking, when a musician speaks of beating their significant other and one never hears about there being negative consequences, its sending a message of approval for that sort of action. Steven Martino offers his valuable experience about teen imitation: This theory would predict that listening to musicians sing about having sex with no unfavorable consequences would lead teens to perceive this behavior as appropriate and desirable, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will imitate the behavior. The likelihood of imitation increases when the model is perceived as attractive or similar to the self. Highly popular music artists can, therefore, serve as especially potent role models for teens (431).
Not only does it make it appear to be okay for males to abuse females, but it also makes females feel like its okay for them to be abused. Popular music is now guilty of “triggering assaults, rapes and homicides all over the place and detonating a national barrage of criticism and controversy” (Bennett 1).
If it is what is popular and okay in music, listeners will be lead to believe that it is okay in their own lives. The RAND Corporation found explicit lyrics often advance sexual conduct. It is common for those who are less wealthy and less famous to want to be like the famous celebrities. If people cannot have the property and publicity of the stars then it is not unusual to think that they might attempt to act like them. Bennett explains how the blurring of reality and fantasy is an inevitable product of this exposure (2). The dysfunctional relationships of celebrities are recreated in the dysfunctional relationships of their fans.
Dysfunctional relationships are unknowingly encouraged by society today, and even humored. Millions of Americans are exposed to the ideas of countless affairs, and annulled marriages in a matter of hours. This same audience gazes on while the common person is abused; abuse can be physical, verbal, or mental. A Harris Poll from earlier this summer gives staggering numbers that have left many stunned. Over 33 million or 15 percent of U.S. adults (which would be anyone over the age of eighteen) admit that they were a victim of domestic violence; even more shocking is the six in ten that admit they know someone who has also personally experienced domestic violence. These statistics prove the seriousness of today’s issue of domestic violence, and only a realization of these problems will allow society finally to make a change for the better.
It is important to remember that the definition of dysfunctional relationships is not limited to physical abuse. Celebrities are infamous for their short relationships, their even shorter marriages, and their promiscuity. Pop princess, Britney Spears is infamous for hers fleeting loves: her first marriage to childhood sweetheart lasted just 55 hours. K-Fed and Spears have two young children who will now be subjected to the uncomfortable heat of the spotlight. These actions also have an effect on the mass public. Once more, when someone wishes to be the celebrity, he or she has no problem simulating his or her actions.
The influence of music does not just degrade women or legitimize dysfunctional relationships. The ideas and morals conveyed through popular music leads to physically dangerous consequences as well. Sex and violence are the subject of the majority of popular songs. Casual sex is looked upon with much enjoyment and violence seen as a necessary means to an end. When these activities are practiced in real life, the consequences last much longer than the three minutes a song lasts. Martino’s theory also predicts that a lessening of the exposure to this content could prevent an early onset of sexual misconduct (431). In a Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention study, over five hundred females from the same background were studied over a six-month period. Recording the viewing lengths of rap videos, the participants were surveyed to discover if there was a difference between those with more exposure, and those with less (#).
The RAND Corporation has found a direct correlation between music containing questionable content with earlier sexual progression. Females with more exposure were less likely to have their partners wear condoms and were more likely to have gained a new STD. “Talking with their children about music’s sexual content can also give parents a chance to express their own views about sex, and may prompt teens to think more deeply about the ways in which sex is portrayed – and perhaps distorted – in the music they listen to,” Dr. Martino conveyed. Other negative impacts include dangerous behaviors such as the glorification of drugs, an increase in violence and arrests, and a higher rate of pregnancy (Wingood 437). The negative effects are not just dealing with psychological matters. Young adults have pliable minds, and as Martino describes they invent solutions to their problems from societal pressure:
Some have argued that, because popular music is such a large part of adolescents’ everyday experience, youth cannot be understood without a serious consideration of how music fits into their lives.
From music, adolescents gain information about society, social and gender roles, and expected behavior, and they use music to facilitate friendships and social interactions and to help them create a personal identity. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that the messages conveyed in popular music have significant implications or adolescent socialization and behavior. (431)
The ties between music and health risks cannot be easily ignored because of the great effect they have on their listeners. Martino agrees with the assumption that repeated exposure to such gender roles makes them internalized.
When four young people are driving to the movies on Friday night, there is no way to prevent them from singing along with the lyrics of the songs on the radio. Perhaps, a better route is to let musicians know that the message they are sending is not appropriate for anyone, of any age. The lyrics they sing should represent a culture that harms no one. Dr. Bell says we should stop creating the negativity that surrounds our children and ourselves. We have to stop glorifying and praising based on music that enslaves and mystifies and destroys. The consequences of common lyrics cannot be compared to that extra thousand records sold. One’s choice in music should not lead to them being exploited, abused, or diseased. Music is meant for enjoyment, and just enjoyment.
Bennett, Lerone Jr.. “Sex & Music Has It Gone Too Far: Backlash over Lyrics, Violence and Threat to Young Women grows.” Ebony Oct 2002:
Droe, Kevin. “Music Preference and Music Education: A Review of Literature.” UPDATE: Applications of Research in Music Education 24.2(2006): 23-32.
Harris Interactive. “Over Thirty Million Adults Claim to be Victims of Domestic Violence.” 06/16/06. < http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=677>.
Killian, Janice N.. “Effect of Model Characteristics on Musical Preference of Junior High Students.” Journal of Research in Music Education 38.2 (1990): 115-123.
Martino, Steven C., et al. “Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth.” Pediatrics. 118.2 (2006): e430-e441.
Martino, Steven C., Personal Interview. 20 Nov. 2006.
Radocy, Rudolf E., and J. David Boyle. Psychological foundations of musical behavior. 3rd ed. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd, 1979.
RAND Corporation. “RAND Study Finds Adolescents who listen to a great deal of music with degrading sexual lyrics have sex sooner.” 11/07/06.
Wingood, G.M., et al. “A prospective study of exposure to rap music videos and African American female adolescents’ health.” American Journal of Public Health 93.3 (2006): 437-439