Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quick Studies

minaj

(Photo: NRK P3/Flickr)

Is Pop Music Turning Teens Into Alcoholics?

• April 10, 2014 • 5:15 AM

(Photo: NRK P3/Flickr)

A new study looks at the dark side of our love for Ke$ha, Kanye, and co.

There’s a long-simmering debate in America over whether or not alcohol references in popular media encourage teens to drink more. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 percent of high schoolers binge drink, and alcohol is behind the majority of teen deaths. So who’s to blame? Neglectful parents? Forceful peers? Or Ke$ha bragging about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack?

While there’s no simple answer, a new study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research suggests alcohol brand-dropping musicians may be a lot more culpable than we’d expect. The study’s authors polled 15- to 25-year-olds around the country about their musical preferences and drinking habits, and found a strong correlation between enjoying alcohol-reference-heavy jams and heavy drinking.

“Youth tend to think that they are not influenced by media messages. Interestingly, they will tend to say that other people their age are influenced, but they themselves are not.”

During the interviews, participants were told the titles of radio hits from 2005 to 2007 and asked if they liked the songs and could name any alcohol brands mentioned in them. After their responses were controlled for factors including sex, race, socioeconomic status, and friends’ and parents’ alcohol use, participants who liked the songs and remembered a number of brands were up to twice as likely as others to have binged at least once. Even simply liking alcohol-referencing songs was associated with more drinking.

The study’s major caveat, of course, is that these results don’t make the case that pop music on its own causes kids across America to get hammered on weekends. “While it may be that alcohol mentions in songs prompt adolescents to form more favorable attitudes about alcohol,” the researchers note, “it is also highly plausible that music-oriented adolescents who develop favorable attitudes about drinking for other reasons could be drawn to genres that promote drinking and often mention brands.”

But these results still suggest pop music contributes to the complex web of influences driving teen drinking, the researchers argue. The study includes some eye-opening statistics: Each day, the average adolescent listens to 2.5 hours of music, which includes about 35 references to drinking, eight of them brand-specific.

“Youth tend to think that they are not influenced by media messages,” says University of Pittsburgh professor Brian Primack, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “Interestingly, they will tend to say that other people their age are influenced, but they themselves are not. So, much of this influence may be subconscious.”

Education and policy efforts have been made to combat this type of influence, but those tend to hit a lot of roadblocks. Heavy-handed educational efforts sometimes backfire by making drinking seem more rebellious and appealing, Primack says. And musicians’ close ties to alcohol companies—artists from Pitbull to Bon Iver have partnered with brands—discourage regulation of how drinking is portrayed.

Primack suggests programs that bolster media literacy may help teens think more critically about the messages they receive from music and movies. But unless adults everywhere suddenly stop drinking and singing about drinking, it’s hard to imagine kids are going to stop drinking anytime soon.

Paul Bisceglio
Editorial Fellow Paul Bisceglio was previously an editorial intern at Smithsonian magazine and a staff reporter at Manhattan Media. He is a graduate of Haverford College and completed a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Warwick in Coventry, United Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter @PaulBisceglio.

More From Paul Bisceglio

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 22 • 4:00 PM

The Overly Harsh and Out-of-Date Law That’s So Difficult on Debtors

A 1968 federal law allows collectors to take 25 percent of debtors’ wages, or every penny in their bank accounts.


September 22 • 2:00 PM

NFL Players Are More Law Abiding Than Average Men

According to records kept by USA Today, 2.53 percent of players are arrested in any given year.


September 22 • 12:00 PM

Freaking Out About Outliers: When the Polls Are Way Off

The idea of such a small number of people being used to predict how millions will vote sometimes irks observers, but it’s actually a very reliable process—most of the time.


September 22 • 10:00 AM

The Imagined Sex Worker

The stigma against black sex workers can reinforce stigmas against all black women and all sex workers.


September 22 • 9:54 AM

All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.


September 22 • 8:00 AM

The NFL, the Military, and the Problem With Masculine Institutions

Both the NFL and the U.S. military cultivate and reward a form of hyper-violent masculinity. The consequences of doing so have never been more obvious.


September 22 • 6:00 AM

Zombies in the Quad: The Trouble With Elite Education

William Deresiewicz’s new book, Excellent Sheep, is in part, he says, a letter to his younger, more privileged self.


September 22 • 4:02 AM

You’re Going to Die! So Buy Now!

New research finds inserting reminders of our mortality into advertisements is a surprisingly effective strategy to sell products.



September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


Follow us


All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

The Big One

One in three tourists to Jamaica reports getting harassed; half of them are hassled to buy drugs. September/October 2014 new-big-one-4

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.