So, you may have seen videos like this one before — Youtube group “FBE” exposes Baby Boomers to today’s top hits and watches their reaction.
As a millennial, videos like this one got me thinking … We live in a time where everything we say has to be censored to not offend someone. Some of us love it and some of us find it ridiculous. We’re the “participation trophy” generation. I even heard a theory one time that millennials talk in vocal fry (aka Kardashian talk) because we sloooow our words down to censor each thought. And while it’s great to be socially aware and empathetic to other’s unique differences, I wondered if there is any sort of a correlation between who we are and the music we listen to. I decided to ask some of my fellow millennials to see what they had to say.
I’ll share some of my favorite responses:
“I don’t identify with the ‘bitches’, ‘hoes’, or ‘swallowers’ in rap. Rap is selling a fantasy and is creating a world for the listener to be in. The listener is supposed to identify with the rapper. The bitches, hoes, and swallowers aren’t really people. They’re not men or women, they’re just like objects in the song. But I have mixed feelings about all of this.”
“Your personality does not determine your taste in music and your taste in music does not determine your personality. Music just tells tales, and the lyrics are not supposed to be taken so seriously. At least not always. I can listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ without immediately wanting to take heroin. And as someone who would never take heroin, I can still enjoy the song and its lyrics. I do not have to be a Satanist to enjoy Iron Maiden’s ‘Number of the Beast’ and I won’t become one. With rap music, I think the rhymes and the flow of the rapper is so much more important than the lyrics themselves. Most of rap lyrics are about how much better the rapper is than everyone else, but I am not losing all self-confidence when listening to Biggie.”
“I have ‘Number of the Beast’ on my main playlist. I listen to it a lot. But I misread your statement, and saw ‘Satanist’ and I really started to wonder …’What am I missing about that song…wow, I’m being programmed to be a Stalinist and didn’t even know it.’ Oh…Satanist. Yeah, I’m all for that. Go Lucifer! But, I have young kids. There is a point where I realize, ‘Wait a minute…they are starting to actually listen to these lyrics…’ and then the music has to change. But frankly, not ‘Number of the Beast.’ I mean, it’s pretty much just campy ‘devil music.’ Anyone who takes it seriously needs to chill.”
“Just because I am listening to a song doesn’t mean I have to personally agree with everything the artist is saying. They are expressing themselves from a different point of view, and I can appreciate that. Besides, I don’t focus on the lyrics most of the time anyway.”
Only one person out of the people I asked said they don’t listen to sexist or otherwise offensive lyrics at all. Everyone I asked seemed to agree that the music you listen to doesn’t necessarily determine what kind of person you are. I have to say, I wish some of the artists I like wouldn’t ruin an otherwise badass song with stupid misogynist lyrics, but overall I have to agree with these responses.
Nevertheless, I began to wonder if the lyrics in popular music really does have an influence on young minds … even if the listeners themselves insist the lyrics aren’t to be taken seriously.
I found a 2015 study titled “Message in the Music: Do Lyrics Influence Well-Being?” by Patricia Fox Ransom. It seems to conclude that positive lyrics can have a positive affect on the wellbeing of individuals but said studies are still pretty inconclusive about how misogynistic or otherwise explicit lyrics affect young people:
“A statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on communications expressed concerns of negative impact of lyrics (Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth, 1996). Studies have shown an increase of lyrics with an emphasis on sex, and drugs, and violence (Fedler, Hall, & Tanzi, 1982; Strasburger & Hendren, 1995). When witnessing these behaviors in music and music videos it is hard to disagree that these messages might have a negative impact. As people develop a purpose, they begin by noting the behavior of others and then mimic the behavior if it seems to be pleasing (Kashdan & Mcknight, 2009). So if the music industry glamorized drugs and violence, young teens might decide that is a positive situation to put themselves in.”
So in other words, if a song with explicit lyrics shows violence and death, the teen might decide that’s not a good situation and take the song at face value and simply like it for the drama. A song about people drinking by a pool would be more likely to indicate a positive situation and cause the teen to mimic the behavior of drinking alcohol.
Several studies I read said the affect is stronger when the song is accompanied by a music video.
All in all, it really seems that it depends on the song and the interpretation of the lyrics of the individual listening to it or watching the video.
As far as sexist/misogynistic lyrics? While rap music from last 20-25 years usually gets pointed to, these lyrics have always existed. The Beatles’ “Run For Your Life”, The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb”… that song “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner is sexist af. There are countless alternative rock songs that romanticize abused women … “Your Southern Can Is Mine” by The White Stripes and “Breezeblocks” by Alt-J are a couple examples. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, but I think we can conclude the music is representing the culture it’s made in rather than the other way around. We live in a sexist society so sexism will be present in our lyrics as artists seek to paint a picture of the world with lyrics.
So does the generation that gets offended by everything listen to the most offensive music?
Nope. I’m gonna have to say no.
Is it really that we’re offended or that we’re just talking about it more? I’m not even going to explain why I chose “Blurred Lines” for the photo above. You’ve probably already heard enough about it to know. But I’d say 20 years ago, no one would have batted an eye over that song.
Anyone have different opinions than posted above? I’d love to hear from you!