Once in a blue moon when I attempt to do what some call cooking, I listen to playlists that Mr. Spotify have created for me. (Why have a boyfriend when you can have algorithms?). On those playlists, there are always some songs that hit me hard with a nostalgia punch. They bring me back to the memories when my family and I would make the 12-hour car ride from Luxembourg to Sweden over summer break. We had an “Oldies but Goldies” CD on which we sang along to songs like “Living Next Door to Alice”, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘round The Old Oak Tree” or “Sister Jane”. However, on that CD there was also a song my mom did not want any of us to listen to and that was “Bobby Brown goes down” by Frank Zappa. I didn’t understand English well enough by that time to understand why, but mom still strongly insisted that my virgin ears should not be ruined by it. Today, I understand why.
My innocence might have been protected up till a certain point, but by the time I got my iPod and got to choose my own songs, my virgin ears were deflowered for good. I don’t know if Bloodhound Gang’s song “The Bad Touch” was the catalysator to the ruin of my innocence, but I’ve never been the same quite since. Even after my volatile hormone infused youth (which ended 2 weeks ago), most of the songs on my music library are marked with the Parental Advisory Explicit Content label.
(A song with that label is said to contain references to violence, sex, and other Judas inspired themes. Basically, the label is supposed to function as a warning to parents to think twice before they buy cupcakKe’s album “Queen Elizabitch” to their 12-year-old daughter.)
Though I’ve probably made it pretty clear how edgy and perversely wicked my music taste is, I still wonder if that has changed me as a person. Listening to quite sexual and sometimes even misogynistic music without reacting to it, might not be ideal. I mean what will my daughter and I listen when we drive my hybrid electric car up to her very anarchic school disguised as being progressive? Will we sing along to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”? I don’t find the image of my daughter and I singing along to
“This one is for my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club
I said, where my fat ass big bitches in the club?
Fuck the skinny bitches! Fuck the skinny bitches in the club!”, exactly wholesome.
In the 60’s you sang “I like the way you twist” which is the equivalent to “I like it when you grind with that booty on me” today. If this change were to be a reflection on what we’ve been witnessing in society, we must have gotten more violent and sexist, right? However, on the contrary, we are experiencing lower crime rates than ever before, and the feminist conversation is stronger than it has ever been. So, if society hasn’t really degraded from listening to an increase of explicit lyrics, have we gotten negatively affected on an individual level?
A study made by Brigham Young University showed that songs between the ’90s and the 00´s drastically increased in sexual lyrics. The author claims that this was due to the increased popularisation of rap music and due to the parent advisory explicit lyrics label allowed you to sing about anything as long as you had that label. Several studies have then further studied what this increase of sexual lyrics affected the youth exposed to it.
A study published in AAP Journals Gateway showed strong evidence that youth exposed to sexual lyrics initiated sexual intercourse at a lot younger age than what was normally the average. Another showed that men that listened to more explicit lyrics felt more entitled towards females and an increase in objectification. Yet another study, showed that girls self-esteem seemed to get lowered by increased sexualization in music, especially in their teenage years. The article which talked about these studies, went on to describe that censorship might not be the answer, but to be careful with easily impressionable youth. Parents might want to talk to their kids about how it’s not normal to drink lean and fuck three girls a night without even remembering their names. (Even though that’s just what I call a normal Tuesday).
I took a trip down memory lane back to when I was 13 years old and we had started listening to increasingly explicit music. I do remember that in school, we all felt the pressure of having sex very early, especially the boys. I also recollect the sudden turn from being seen as a preteen to suddenly a sexual object. All of this is was of course unpleasant, however, I find it hard to separate what was influenced by pop culture and what just was other societal pressure. For example, maybe it was a consequence from the rise of the online porn industry, rather than the music we were listening to.
What happens to our moral compass when we are constantly exposed to quite risqué lyrics or graphic content overall? For example, when adults watch a scary movie, we know that the risk of being a blond running around in Victoria secret lingerie when there’s a murderer in the house is quite minimal. We can also somehow comprehend that we shouldn’t break into a house and stab a blond running around in Victoria secret lingerie. Yet when we can’t sleep at night and want to grab some food in the kitchen, we still, for a microsecond, wonder if anyone is going to bloodstain our Victoria secret lingerie that we love walking around so casually in. My vague point is, we might consciously be able to differentiate between what is real or not, but what happens to our unconscious?
This is increasingly important due to younger teens and children have a larger difficulty separating what is real or not, which are why warning labels exist in the first place. So, being exposed to too much explicit or graphic content, certainly at a young age, might skew one’s moral compass. We might run the risk that youth exposed to that content now, might run a greater risk to engage in violent or sexist behavior when they are adults.
However, it’s worth saying that liberation of lyrics in music did not only mean men writing explicitly sexual lyrics but women too. One of the grandest examples of this was Beyoncé’s self-titled album which came out in 2013, owning her right to be a mother, a businesswoman, and a sexual being. That album sent a strong signal out the world, that if it’s alright for men to constantly sing about their he-he, then god damn it, it’s time for us women to sing about our she-she.
As you most likely can tell, my feelings are very contradicting towards this subject. I’m not sure whether all the explicit content I listen to tip the scale towards being damaging or liberating. On one hand, I feel like I sound like a mom that is active in my local protestant church, trying to save the troubled youth. On the other hand, I would never want to go back to an era where music was more censored than it is today. But I still can’t make up my mind, would I still play to “Bobby Brown goes down” to my 10-year-old daughter?