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In songs and music videos, alcohol is flowing freely

Australian academics have investigated if the prominence of mentions of alcohol in the music realm has any influence on the drinking habits of music lovers

Published: Feb 24, 2024 08:15:01 AM IST
Updated: Feb 23, 2024 06:21:21 PM IST

In songs and music videos, alcohol is flowing freelyMusic contains more references to alcohol than one might imagine. Image: Shutterstock

An occasional indulgence for some (to varying extents), alcohol is a true source of inspiration for others. In fact, references to alcoholic beverages are commonplace in music. Australian academics have investigated this phenomenon to see if the prominence of mentions of alcohol in this realm has any influence on the drinking habits of music lovers.

To undertake their study, researchers affiliated with La Trobe University drew on the findings of 26 scientific articles published between 1997 and 2022. This meta-analysis enabled them to analyze references to alcohol featuring in over 12,000 different songs, as well as in the video clips that accompany some of them.

The research team observed that 25% of the music content included in their study mentioned alcoholic beverages, either in the lyrics or referenced in the video clip. They found that rap is the musical genre most likely to contain references to alcoholic beverages, in contrast to rock.

Songs released between 1997 and 2010 have fewer mentions of alcohol than more recent releases. This phenomenon may be linked to the fact that the 2010s were marked by greater visibility on various ways of consuming alcohol, including "binge drinking." As commentators on their times, artists may have increased the number of references to wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages in their lyrics to evoke this societal evolution.

Alcohol's social aspect

But the full explanation is more complicated than simply that. In their paper, the academics point out that "this high prevalence of alcohol references in music might be due to a complex interaction of cultural influence, artistic expression, commercial interests, and other contributing factors." Moreover, alcohol is associated in the collective imagination with abundance and opulence. In many cultures it's unthinkable to celebrate a birth, a wedding, a graduation or a retirement party without alcohol flowing freely.

Also read: In South Korea, alcohol companies are looking to pop culture to boost sales

Musical creators are aware of the social aspect of "drinking," and they don't hesitate to make use of it. It's not uncommon to see depictions of drunkenness in music videos, without the even a brief preventive message about the effects of excessive alcohol consumption. And yet, such warnings are necessary, according to the researchers. They assert that "music with alcohol references might have a significant influence on drinking behaviors."

One of the studies included in their meta-analysis shows that 15-23 year-olds who listen to songs about alcohol and are able to identify at least one brand of alcoholic beverage mentioned in the lyrics are more likely to be heavy drinkers. Furthermore, bars that play alcohol-related music tend to do better business than those that don't.

The academics stress, however, that the conclusions of their meta-analysis should be treated with caution, given the heterogeneity of the research which they based it on. In any case, this study suggests that talking about alcohol in music may have an impact on listeners' habits including potentially bestowing a cool image to a drink that is linked to 140,000 deaths a year in the US.

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