Study: Pop music hits just as violent as rap, hip-hop songs; Country music tamest

Researchers analyzing Billboard hits say that while rap and hip-hop contain highest levels of violence and misogynistic themes, pop songs were found to have similar levels of violent lyrics.

Conversely, country music had the fewest instances of violence or misogyny.

COLUMBIA. Mo. — Many parents and critics often warn against allowing children to listen to rap and hip-hop songs over references to violence and other vulgar themes. But a new study finds that much of the pop music that moms and dads often pay far less mind to may actually not be much better lyrically.

Researchers from the University of Missouri say that not only do pop songs contain similar levels of violent lyrics as hip-hop songs, but nearly a third have lyrics that degrade women by sexually objectifying them or presenting them as submissive. The findings were reached after the authors looked at lyrics from more than 400 top Billboard songs released between 2006 and 2016. Songs were included from various genres — hip-hop, pop, rock, country, R&B, heavy metal — and marked for incidences of violence, profanity, misogyny and gender-role references.

“We know that music has a strong impact on young people and how they view their role in society,” says Cynthia Frisby, a professor with the Missouri School of Journalism, in a news release. “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.”

Though rap and hip-hop songs were found to have the most frequent references when it came to violence and misogyny, the authors say pop music contained similar levels of violent lyrics.

Among the examples of pop hits that the authors found containing violence:

  • “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna, which includes themes of domestic abuse and violent behavior in retaliation.
  • “Wake Up Call” by Maroon 5, which describes a man shooting his girlfriend’s lover after finding them together.

Country music was found to be the least violent and misogynistic of the genres.

Researchers say it’s important for parents to recognize the themes described in the music their children are listening to, and have discussions with them about racier lyrics. Because adolescents and teens often put their favorite pop stars on pedestals, parents should emphasize that children shouldn’t attempt to follow in a celebrity’s footsteps or mirror their actions.

“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 findings were published in the journal Media Watch.