- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008


There’s more drinkin’, dopin’ and smokin’ in country-music lyrics than you think, according to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

However, the most frequent references to this substance abuse were found in rap lyrics, the study found. Overall, lyrics explicitly referring to drug, alcohol and tobacco use were contained in about one of every three of the 279 most popular songs of 2005, as listed in Billboard Magazine.

Just four of these songs, all in the rock genre, contained specific messages against substance abuse, said Dr. Brian A. Primack, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the school and lead author of the study.

“Adolescents listen to nearly two and a half hours of music each day,” Dr. Primack said. “We need to understand what our children are listening to and be aware of exposures such as these, especially when they are associated with potentially risky behaviors being portrayed in a positive light.”

Explicit references to substance abuse were found in 77 percent of the rap songs on the chart, compared to 36 percent of country songs, 20 percent of the R&B;/hip-hop, 14 percent of rock songs and 9 percent of pop, the study found.

Across all the popular music genres, alcohol was represented explicitly in about 24 percent of all songs, marijuana in about 14 percent and tobacco in about 3 percent.

Researchers found that popular-music lyrics frequently associated substance use with peer acceptance, partying and sex. The consequences of substance abuse were portrayed as more positive than negative in 68 percent of the songs and more negatively in 18 percent. Just four songs contained specific anti-use messages, and none portrayed an instance of substance refusal.

Dr. Primack said in a telephone interview that he was hardly shocked to find that rap music contained so many references to substance abuse, especially marijuana use.

The frequency in country music “seems like a surprise,” he said, “because there’s a lot more humor” in the lyrics.

There are country songs titled “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” for instance, and “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On” that were hits in 2005.

Some rap songs pointed out the downside of the drug game, such as “I’m trafficking in the white/Please Lord Don’t let me go to jail tonight,” by rapper Young Jeezy in his song “Soul Survivor.”

In addition, country music’s Gretchen Wilson sings of the dangers of drinking too much and winking at a boy at the bar in “All Jacked Up”: “A big ole girl walked outta the blue/10 foot 2 with a bad attitude/stepped right up and knocked out my tooth/guess I had it coming, I deserved it, too.”

The overall message in the two songs was not interpreted as coming out against drug use or drinking, the report indicated.

The study also found other songs that glamorized substance abuse: “Buck pass the blunt/These G-Unit girls just wanna have fun/Coke and rum/Got weed on the ton,” by rapper 50 Cent in “How We Do.”

“It is important to note that this study does not say anything about the relationship between these exposures [to drug and alcohol lyrics] and behavior,” Dr. Primack said. “But for the first time, we have quantified substance use in popular music and determined that it’s generally portrayed with positive consequences. The next step in our research will be to determine whether these media messages actually influence behavior.”

The study was published in this month’s issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

While studies have shown that youths who see smoking in movies are more likely to smoke, Dr. Primack said more research is needed to show whether youngsters who listen to these lyrics are more likely to drink or use drugs.

Some of the songs are subject to interpretation, he noted.

“Breakin’ down the good weed, rollin’ the blunt/Ghetto pimp tight girls say I’m the man … Let’s get high … smoke us one,” by the Academy Award-winning rap duo Three 6 Mafia (“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” from 2005’s “Hustle & Flow”) is pretty straightforward.

However, country star Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol” has a more mixed message.

“Since the day I left Milwaukee, Lynchburg, or Bordeaux, France/I’ve been makin’ a fool out of folks just like you/and helping white people dance,” the chorus declares. “I am medicine and I am poison/I can help you up or make you fall/You had some of the best times you’ll never remember with me/Alcohol.”

Dr. Primack said a serious question remains about whether such lighthearted lyrics can lead to teenage drinking.

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