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Modern Lyrics Look for Love in All the Wrong Places

October 23, 2000|MICHAEL FREEDMAN | Michael Freedman, 19, of Newton, Mass., is a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College

Recently, everyone from religious leaders to presidential candidates has criticized the music industry for the proliferation of sex and violence in today's popular culture. Without question, when artists describe such acts as murdering one's wife and having sex with one's mother--as rapper Eminem does in more than one of his songs--it is evident that there is a problem.

But violence may not be the most dangerous component of today's popular music. Music of all types, but especially rap and R&B, increasingly demeans and diminishes the importance of love, while at the same time encouraging sex with many partners and casual, money-based, noncommitted relationships. These messages about love may have a much more dramatic impact on the lives of the people who listen to this music than the violence inherent in the musical genre.

To measure the prevalence of these negative ideas, I spent an hour recently listening to a radio station in Los Angeles that plays exclusively rap/hip hop and R&B. It may not be the most popular station in L.A., but for those in the 15- to 24-year-old age bracket, which is when most people form their life-long conceptions about love, relationships and sex, the station is extremely popular. I flip to it almost every time I'm in the car because I enjoy some of the music.

During my hour of listening, I recorded every time the singer swore (bleeped out on the air), mentioned sex, drugs or violence or sang about negative relationships. I defined a negative relationship as one in which love and commitment are not the principal reasons that a couple is together. Therefore, all relationships based purely on sex or money or that involved some form of violence were deemed negative.

Admittedly, my research was extremely unscientific; nonetheless, the tallies were depressing. In that one hour, during which 11 songs were played, there were 49 references to sex, 24 to drugs, 40 to bad relationships, 45 to violence and an astounding 88 expletives deleted. The songs had four main themes: drugs; violence; men having sex with women they didn't care about; women putting up with men to take their money. What is most disheartening is that, with the exception of one lone song, none of the music conveyed a positive message about relationships.

To the people who write and perform these songs, "true love" no longer exists. Some of the lyrical gems sung by these artists include, "I got a baby by you, you got a baby by me; [I] don't care too much about you," in a song by E-40; "No more shopping sprees, no more late night creeps, no more VIP, no more dough, we can't even kick it no more," (insinuating that as soon as a man's money dries up, a woman shouldn't waste time on him) in a song by Ruff Endz; and "Hey Shorty [lady], what's your price to back it up." In addition, one entire song by Da Brat is devoted to describing a woman's sexual escapades and includes the line, "I like it when you touch my privacy." Even in the one "positive" song, called "Let's Get Married" by Jagged Edge, about a committed couple, the chorus contains the line "We ain't gettin' no younger/We might as well do this."

Those in the industry might argue that people voluntarily choose to listen to the music and regardless of the message, the songs are making money. That stance is both shortsighted and insensitive. Singers and songwriters know that their music affects their listeners and their listeners' actions. To sing to young adults only of sex and money leaves out all examples of positive relationships.

Our grandparents sang along as Frank Sinatra marveled, "I've got you under my skin," and our parents chimed in as the Beatles crooned, "All you need is love." Today, we have the privilege of imitating Dr. Dre as he serenades us with "I just want to f--- you, no kissin' and huggin' girl, you got a husband who loves you."

If these are the sorts of messages our popular culture is sending to my generation, it's no wonder that we are cynical about long-term relationships and skeptical about the notion of lifelong love.

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