As our children get older, Lisa and I have found ourselves shifting into the chauffeuring mode of parenthood. The after-school hours, and increasingly weekends, are spent driving the kids from one obligation to another. There are dance lessons, rehearsals of different kinds, and sporting events that have taken us as far as Pennsylvania.
Spending that much time with the kids gives us a window into their world. In particular, I have been paying attention lately to the music they like to listen to. Forget about Dad turning on National Public Radio news; oh no, it’s pop music or else. I get even, however, by trying to pester the girls about the songs I find especially insipid or annoying. (Ellis is still too young to get it.)
One peculiar thing about current FM radio hits that disturbs me is the frequent, if not constant, reference to alcohol. Singers boast of “drinking that bubbly” or “sippin’ gin and juice.” Because many of the songs drop the names of specific brand-name liquors, I found myself wondering, around summer last year, if there weren’t some kind of sponsorship going on.
It turns out, not surprisingly, that I wasn’t the only one wondering. A group of pediatric researchers from the Dartmouth College and the University of Pittsburgh studied the top-40 songs from 2005 to 2007 and concluded that the average adolescent in the United States heard 34 references to alcohol each day.
The researchers found that one in five songs that get heavy airplay had “explicit references” to drinking. Twenty-five percent mentioned a specific brand, and in those cases, the brands were associated with a “luxury life-style characterized by wealth, sex, partying, and other drugs.”
My recent informal sample would seem to support these findings. One pop song’s lyrics talk about “when the bar closes, and you feel like falling down . . .” It’s not just about booze, however; friends are “in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State.” And, speaking of New York, Jay-Z, the much-celebrated poet laureate of the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, rapped “MDMA got you feeling like a champion” in his anthem-like ode to the city. (MDMA, for those who don’t keep up with these things, is a drug that contains Ecstasy.)
I can’t say that the radio music of my generation was inherently better for kids, though. The ’70s themselves were drug-soaked, if in a different way. One of my most vivid pop-related memories from that time was having a debate with my sister while our parents were driving us somewhere about the lyrics of “Muskrat Love,” the harmless, if cloying Captain and Tennille hit of 1976. I don’t remember what the specific dispute was about, though I recall certainty that I was right.
Still, it’s a far cry from “nibbling on bacon, chewin’ on cheese” to today’s mindless celebration of things adolescents should view with apprehension, not aspire to as a symbol of the adult world.