Page last updated: December 3, 2013

Trends in alcohol portrayal in music in the UK

Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, UK led by Katherine Hardcastle examined the way in which alcohol is portrayed in music likely to be popular with children and teens. They discuss their findings in ‘Trends in alcohol portrayal in popular music: A longitudinal analysis of the UK charts’ in the journal Psychology of Music.

According to the authors, older children and teens  on average listen to over two hours of music every day. Although US studies have documented a rise in alcohol references in popular music, including mention of specific brands, little data has been produced on comparable UK trends.

The team selected four focal years for analysis, comparing music charts across four decades. They found a significant jump in the number of times alcohol was mentioned. Songs charting in 1981 contained relatively few references to alcohol, with the number declining further in 1991. Rave culture was popular in this period; a music scene linked more to Ecstasy than alcohol. But the alcohol was back in music by 2001, featuring in 8% of popular hits. This figure continued to climb with 18.5% of top 10 songs featuring alcohol-related lyrics in 2011. This pattern is consistent with US trends, although UK charts still have fewer alcohol mentions than their US counterparts.

The study found that alcohol-related song lyrics are associated with urban song genres and US artists, with lyrics generally putting a positive spin on alcohol consumption. Drinking is linked to confidence, gregariousness or physical attractiveness, as well as outcomes such as wealth, success, or sex. The negative effects of alcohol on health and wellbeing feature less frequently.

The researchers point out that US and British songs lyrics have an impact beyond the US and UK; e.g, US artist Katy Perry’s 2011 single “Last Friday Night” detailing excessive drinking and risky, antisocial behaviour, achieved a top 10 position not only in the US and the UK, but also in Australia, Austria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Venezuela.

Hardcastle states it is highly likely that we underestimate the true extent of exposure to pro-alcohol messages young people hear. The researchers argue that “A greater understanding of the impacts of alcohol-related popular music content on young listeners is urgently needed. Health and other professionals should be vigilant for increases in alcohol-related lyrics and work to ensure that popular music does not become a medium for reinforcing and extending cultures of intoxication and alcohol-related harm.”

Source: KA. Hardcastle, K. Hughes, O. Sharples, MA. Bellis. Trends in alcohol portrayal in popular music: A longitudinal analysis of the UK charts. Psychology of Music, September 2013 DOI: 10.1177/0305735613500701.



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