*This post was written by AF, a 22-year-old student at CSU Channel Islands, born and raised in Ventura County and passionate about keeping the youth and other members of the community safe, informed, and responsible.
This blog post examines the lyrics of the current top 20 Billboard pop charts. My goal was to see how many of these popular songs feature themes of violence, drugs, alcohol, partying, or sex. Each song is followed by some notes about what I noticed in the lyrics.
- Cheap Thrills by Sia ft Sean Paul: No obvious themes of violence, drugs, alcohol, or sex in this song. The mysterious artist Sia has admitted to addiction issues in the past as one of the reasons she tries to maintain anonymity in her work today.
- This is What You Came For by Calvin Harris ft Rihanna: Some sexual suggestiveness in the line “I say ‘your place’ when we leave”.
- Ride by twenty one pilots: Some violent suggestions in talking about bullets or killing.
- Don’t let me down by the Chainsmokers ft Daya: The song itself doesn’t suggest violence, drugs, alcohol, or sex, but the artist’s name suggests heavy smoking.
- One Dance by Drake ft WizKid and Kyla: This song seems to talk about partying with Hennessey, a hard liquor and also features some sexual suggestiveness throughout.
- Send my Love by Adele: No obvious themes of violence, drugs, alcohol, or sex in this song.
- Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake: There were no obvious themes of violence, drugs, alcohol, or sex in this song, but that may be because this song was created for a children’s movie. Some of Timberlake’s other songs are suggestive in various ways.
- Cold Water by Major Lazer ft Justin Bieber and MO: First line of the song is “everybody gets high sometimes” with the reasoning that ‘what else can we do when we’re feeling low?” This is a dangerous message that implies that there are no better ways to deal with feeling bad.
- Treat You Better by Shawn Mendes: There are no obvious themes of violence, drugs, alcohol, or sex in this song.
- Into You by Ariana Grande: This song features some sexually suggestive lyrics. Ariana Grande had a career on Nickelodeon before now and many of her fans are very young, so the messages sent in this song about relationships is not ideal for young fans.
- Just Like Fire by Pink: This song has no obvious themes of violence, drugs, alcohol, or sex.
- All in my Head by Fifth Harmony ft Fetty Wap: Some sexually suggestive lyrics. Fifth Harmony has a lot of young fans as well, so these lyrics can send the wrong message. This song also features an explicit word.
- Never Be Like You by Flume ft Kai: This song features explicit language that suggests drug and/or alcohol use.
- We Don’t Talk Anymore by Charlie Puth ft Selena Gomez: One line mentions overdosing, but the context does not suggest drugs, so I don’t know what to make of that.
- Too Good by Drake ft Rihanna: This song mentions getting high.
- Needed Me by Rihanna: Song has sexually explicit words and general explicit language throughout. Song also references smoking, likely marijuana. Rihanna is outspoken and very public about her marijuana use while not mentioning legalities or consequences, which can send certain messages to young fans.
- Sit Still, Look Pretty by Daya: This song mentions no obvious themes of violence, drugs, alcohol, or sex.
- Gold by Kiiara: This song has no obvious themes of violence, drugs, alcohol, or sex.
- Closer by the Chainsmokers ft Halsey: Besides the artist name’s meaning, this song mentions drinking too much and has some sexually suggestive lyrics. Halsey had a popular song recently called New Americana that mentioned drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. (While that song is not on this list, I think it is still worth mentioning because it was recently popular and shows this pattern extends over time.)
- Make Me by Britney spears ft G-Eazy: Some parts of the song suggest partying in bars and Vegas. Another lyric mentions the movie “Blow” which was a film about cocaine smuggling. G-Eazy recently had a popular song called Me Myself and I that featured themes of alcohol and partying.
I was happy to read lyrics of a few of these songs because they do not use explicit language or mention unhealthy behaviors. A minority of popular songs these days mention healthy viewpoints on relationships and healthy, innocent behaviors.
I expected to see a fair amount of these topics mentioned in the songs because of the way society views them. Many in society do not see the subjects of drugs and alcohol or partying and sex as problematic to mention, but judging by the rate of drug/alcohol use and addiction, maybe it is not as innocent as we think. By seeing the successful and carefree mention and use of these substances, society may be adopting carefree attitudes towards them, ignoring the very real consequences.
These themes may be especially dangerous to the young people who have the freedom to listen to and watch music videos for whichever songs they want. Sure, FM radio may censor some of the language and themes, but many music videos online or streaming services like Spotify make the explicit versions easily available. With millions of downloads and views each, one has to consider what impact popular music has on the attitudes and behaviors of young people.