Turn on any pop music radio station today, and it won’t be long before you hear lyrics referencing drugs or alcohol. The taboo subject of drug use is more mainstream than ever, and it’s shocking to hear popular artists be so nonchalant about drug use in their music. While drug references in music is nothing new, it seems to be more common and obvious now than before. Is this the new normal?
In one recent study of 720 songs from Billboard’s most popular songs of 2009-2011, 23 percent referenced alcohol. In another study of the 279 most popular songs of 2005, 33 percent were found to reference drugs or alcohol. The genre with the most references was hip hop, which is basically considered to be pop music nowadays. Another genre of popular music is electronic dance music (EDM), which is frequently associated with use of MDMA (“molly”) or ecstasy. Overwhelmingly, the references are positive.
While alcohol is still the most commonly referenced drug in pop music, molly references are on the rise dramatically. Miley Cyrus, who was once considered a role model for young girls, created controversy with her line “dancing with molly” in her song “We Can’t Stop.” Rapper Rick Ross lost a contract with Reebok after rapping about putting “molly all in her champagne” and alluding to date rape. Pop icon Madonna has even jumped on the bandwagon; her latest album was titled “MDNA,” and she recently asked at a concert, “How many people in the crowd have seen molly?”
Molly can be easily found at concerts and music festivals, especially EDM festivals. Last year, molly was blamed for two deaths at New York’s Electric Zoo music festival. It’s easy to see that molly references in pop music are correlating with increased molly use among young adults. From 2005 to 2009, there was a 123 percent increase in emergency room visits attributed to molly use.
Marijuana use is also heavily referenced in pop music, and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana use among teens is increasing. The same study, however, shows that alcohol use among teenagers has decreased by almost one-third since the late 1990s. Among high school students, use of cocaine is dropping and use of MDMA is remaining fairly consistent.
Should the pop music artists who reference drugs and alcohol in their music be criticized for negatively influencing the youth? Are they taking the concept of free speech to irresponsible levels? It’s no secret that people are influenced by the music they listen to. It’s troubling to see drug use flaunted by pop music artists as something that’s “cool” and “fun,” because it’s clear that young people are listening intently. For many, it’s hard to distinguish between celebrities boasting and the real world consequences of drug use.
Censorship isn't the answer. It’s mainly up to individual artists to make different decisions regarding the content they put in their music. But when club music about partying, alcohol, and drugs is what’s popular and selling, can we really blame them? Sober Nation, what do you think about drug references in pop music? How big of a problem is it, really? And what, if anything, needs to change?
Lisa M. Hann is a freelance writer specializing in addiction and recovery. She has a B.A. in Journalism from Temple University. She has been sober since 2010, and she resides in New Jersey with her son. She’s the author of the books How to Have Fun in Recovery and 365 Ways to Have Fun Sober.