Even bubbly pop music contains lots of violence

Taylor Swift performs at ANZ Stadium on November 02, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Credit: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Pop music lyrics contain the same amount of violent content as rap and hip-hop, research finds.

Unlike hip-hop and rap music, which get the bulk of public criticism for harsh lyrics, antagonistic lyrics in pop music might be harder for listeners to pinpoint. The researchers suggest that parents can help their children and teens unpack tricky lyrics by having discussions about what they hear on the radio.

“We know that music has a strong impact on young people and how they view their role in society,” says Cynthia Frisby, professor in the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “Unlike rap or hip-hop, pop music tends to have a bubbly, uplifting sound that is meant to draw listeners in. But that can be problematic if the lyrics beneath the sound are promoting violence and misogynistic behavior.”


A few examples of popular pop songs that contain veiled references to violence or sexual behavior include:

  • “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna (GIF above). The song has themes of domestic abuse and violent behavior in retaliation.
  • “Wake Up Call” by Maroon 5. The song tells the story of a man shooting his girlfriend’s lover after finding them together.
  • “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani. Fans of this popular track from 2004 might be surprised to know the song is actually about a physical fight between girls on a track at school.

Frisby and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, an associate professor and assistant vice provost for graduate and postdoctoral affairs in the University of Missouri’s Office of Graduate Studies, analyzed the lyrics of more than 400 top Billboard songs that came out between the years of 2006 to 2016 for themes of violence, profanity, misogyny, and gender-role references. The songs represented a wide array of genres, including rap, hip hop, rock, pop, country, heavy metal, and R & B.

They found that while rap and hip-hop continue to lead in promoting profanity, violence, and misogyny, pop music promotes violence at a similar level. On the other hand, country music had the least amount of violent and misogynistic content. Frisby also found that nearly one-third of the popular songs contained references that degrade or demean women by portraying them as submissive or sexually objectified.

Frisby suggests that parents can help their children and teens unpack tricky lyrics in these songs by having discussions with them about what they are hearing and how their life choices do not need to match a celebrity’s choices.

“Ask your daughters and sons what songs they like to listen to and have conversations about how the songs might impact their identity,” Frisby says. “For example, many songs might make young girls feel like they have to look and act provocative in order to get a boy to like them, when that isn’t necessarily the case.

“If children and teens understand that what they are hearing isn’t healthy behavior, then they might be more likely to challenge what they hear on the radio.”

The study appears in Media Watch.

Source: University of Missouri