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date: 15 November 2019


  • Dina Perrone


The lyrics of many American popular songs across various genres—including metal, country, blues, folk, jazz, rap, and electronica—make reference to drugs (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, hallucinogens, opiates, and stimulants) and drug experiences. The plethora of these songs have long prompted parental concerns about whether such content could promote drug use, perhaps most notably in 1985, when Tipper Gore spearheaded the creation of the Parents music resource center (PMRC), which sought to warn parents about the drug-related, sexual, and/or violent content of popular music. The warning label, “Parental Advisory–Explicit Content,” the most tangible result of the PMRC’s efforts, remains in use today, and the big chain stores that sell music will not carry albums with this sticker. Yet studies indicate that these labels actually have the opposite effect of the one intended, enticing consumers, especially young buyers, to purchase these albums.

The connection between drugs and music is much more complicated than what the PMRC suggested. While drugs are often linked to music to demonize a genre and its listeners, drugs have played an influential role in musical sounds and song lyrics. Many musical artists have used drugs to enrich their musical creativity and to enhance their live performances. But drug use has also ended many musical careers and led to the cancellation of live performances. Listeners may consume drugs to intensify their musical experiences, and most drug users listen to music to amplify their drug experiences. Music, for many listeners, acts like a drug by altering moods; it can stimulate, depress, and elate. Music, for many drug users, also facilitates discontinuing their drug use....

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