Teenage pop music listeners hear, on average, more than three brand-name alcohol references per hour, according to a new study published in the medical journal Addiction. Given that most teens listen to 2.5 hours of music a day, this works out to more than eight brand-name alcohol references a day, in addition to another 26 plugs for drinking alcohol in general.
Even though it is illegal to target alcohol advertisements to minors, referencing brands in songs represents a sketchy middle ground as long as the musician is not paid by the brand. The researchers note that
most instances of brand-name references in song lyrics seem to be unsolicited and unpaid for by advertising companies. However, the line between paid advertising and brand references is difficult to distinguish because advertising companies have begun retroactively to reward artists with product, sponsorship, or endorsement deals after a song containing their product’s name becomes popular.
This means that rappers and pop musicians have an incentive to name-drop expensive brands of liquor, as they might get financially rewarded later by becoming spokespeople for these brands. This is a huge problem because, as ABC News explains, “the relationship between the two industries could encourage young people to begin alcohol use early and to continue [drinking] throughout their teenage years.” Indeed, most of the brands of liquor that were plugged by rappers are those that just happen to be especially popular among underage drinkers. But I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
One of the most disturbing — and predictable — findings of the study is that alcohol use is overwhelmingly associated with positive things, like wealth, sex and luxury goods. Effectively, these musicians are sending the message to America’s youth that alcohol use is a whole lot of fun, with very few downsides. And hey, while you’re at it kids, try out these cool brands!
In light of recent revelations that Amy Winehouse, a pop singer herself, died from an alcohol overdose, the booze-soaked nature of the music industry should give all of us pause. There aren’t enough counterweights, like Winehouse’s passing, to the idea that alcohol is a purely positive substance to use. At the very least, just as radio stations must censor curse words, they should be forced to take similar action against these de-facto ads that harm our kids.
Photo credit: Mel B.'s Flickr stream.
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