Study finds U.S. music awash in booze and drugs

WASHINGTON Mon Feb 4, 2008 4:14pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - They have lyrics such as "Tequila makes her clothes fall off" and "Breakin down the good weed, rollin' the blunt/Ghetto pimp tight girls say I'm the man."

U.S. popular music is awash with lyrics about drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Medical researchers have reviewed the words of the 279 top songs of 2005 to estimate just how common they are.

Their report on Monday showed a third of the songs had explicit references to substance abuse. And two-thirds of these references placed drugs, alcohol and tobacco in a positive light by associating them with sex, partying and humor, according to the team led by Dr. Brian Primack of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

They calculated that with Americans aged 15 to 18 listening to 2.4 hours of music daily, they hear 84 musical references to substance use a day and more than 30,000 a year.

Certain genres contained more references than others -- for example, rap and country music far more so than pop.

The study did not quantify references to sex, violence or expletives.

Primack noted that music and popular culture in general long have been infused with substance use references.

"It's not going to be feasible or even desirable to censor these messages," Primack said in a telephone interview. "Probably a more empowering approach is to teach kids to analyze and evaluate the messages for themselves."

The study, published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, did not draw conclusions about the music's effect on young listeners. But the researchers said there is evidence that exposure to certain media messages can increase substance use among adolescents.

Primack's team used charts in Billboard magazine, a trade publication covering the music business, to identify the most popular songs of 2005 based on sales and airplay.

They selected the 279 most popular songs from genres like country, pop, R&B, rap and rock, then sifted through their lyrics, counting references to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Of those songs, 33 percent contained explicit references and 42 percent had some kind of substance abuse reference.

RAP FIRST, COUNTRY SECOND

Seventy-seven percent of rap songs tracked in the study contained such references, along with 36 percent of country songs, 20 percent of songs classified as "R&B/hip-hop," 14 percent of rock songs and 9 percent of pop songs. Alcohol and marijuana were the most common references found, with tobacco more rarely mentioned.

In "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off", country singer Joe Nichols sings: "She can handle any champagne brunch/A bridal shower with Bacardi punch/Jello shooters full of Smirnoff/But tequila makes her clothes fall off."

In "Stay Fly," rappers Three 6 Mafia say: "Breakin down the good weed, rollin' the blunt/Ghetto pimp tight girls say I'm the man ... Let's get high ... smoke us one."

"While we have not had the opportunity to thoroughly assess the study, it's important to note that music is generally a reflection of society," said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the U.S. recording business.

Lamy said recording companies place parental advisory logos on albums stating an album contains explicit content.

"Parents play an essential role as well -- the music that children listen to is an importance choice, and parents are the first and most important teacher," Lamy said by e-mail.

(Editing by Maggie Fox)

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