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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A look at violence in music

Studies show that certain kinds of music tend to feature and even promote violence, especially in children and adolescents.

Marilyn Manson even got blamed for the Columbine High School shootings, even though the killers did not listen to his music.

Of course, rap music gets much of the blame. For example, a recent study by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley, Calif., suggests young people who listen to rap and hip-hop are more likely to abuse alcohol and commit violent acts.

And some claim increases in violence in their city are due to rap music!

Eric Armstrong analyzed lyrics from 490 rap songs produced by 13 different artists from 1987 to 1993. He found that 22% of gangsta rap music songs contain violent and misogynist lyrics. According to his study, the fastest selling rap album of all timeEminem's The Marshall Mathers LPcontains 14 songs, and violent and misogynist lyrics are found in 11 (79%) of them: “Worse still, nine of the eleven songs depict killing women, with drowning becoming a new modus operandi. Comparing the lyric content of gangsta rap music’s foundational period with that of Eminem shows the following: In terms of violent and misogynist lyrics, gangsta rap music (1987-1993) scores a 22 percent while Eminem (2000) reaches 78 percent.”

Here are some examples of his music:

"Kill You"


"Role Model"

Does this matter?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports:

Singing and music have always played an important role in learning and the communication of culture. Children learn from what their role models do and  say. For many years, some children's television very effectively used the combination of words, music and fast-paced animation to achieve learning.

Most parents are concerned about what their young children see and hear, but as children grow older, parents pay less attention to the music and videos that capture and hold their children's interest.

Sharing music between generations in a family can be a pleasurable experience. Music also is often a major part of a teenager's separate world. It is quite common for teenagers to get pleasure from keeping adults out, which causes adults some distress.

A concern to many interested in the development and growth of teenagers is the negative and destructive themes of some kinds of music (rock, heavy metal, hip-hop, etc.), including best-selling albums promoted by major recording companies. The following themes, which are featured prominently in some lyrics, can be particularly troublesome:
  • Drugs and alcohol abuse that is glamorized
  • Suicide as an "alternative" or "solution"
  • Graphic violence
  • Sex which focuses on control, sadism, masochism, incest, children devaluing women, and violence toward women
Parents can help their teenagers by paying attention to their teenager's purchasing, downloading, listening and viewing patterns, and by helping them identify music that may be destructive. An open discussion without criticism may be helpful.

Music is not usually a danger for a teenager whose life is balanced and healthy. But if a teenager is persistently preoccupied with music that has seriously destructive themes, and there are changes in behavior such as isolation, depression, alcohol or other drug abuse, evaluation by a qualified mental health professional should be considered.

There are some great analyses of musicians available online for further study. Many of them are found in the excellent journal called the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, available here:

They include analyses of
Johnny Cash’s music:
Portrayals of violence against women in rap music:
The lyrics of Rage Against the Machine:

The source and meaning of the phrase “Stop Snitchin’”:


  1. When I look at this topic I have mixed fillings. I can see why it leads to deviant behavior. They hear the words over and over again until it becomes normal for them to see the activities as normal and not bad behavior. But you can not really blame all of it on the music. The parents, and peers also play a role in the behaviors. The parents need to do something at the very beginning of the behaviors. The teen will also see other teens doing the things that the song talks about and I think this has a bigger affect on the teens behavior.

  2. I think that the key aspect to whether violence in music affects those who listen to it is the age of the listener. As we grow up, we absorb everything and much of this, we regard as truth. Especially if it comes from someone whom we idolize. While rap and other more 'hardcore' types of music have the most examples of violence and degradation of women, they are most certainly not the only ones. In a project I just recently created for another class, my topic was music and it's effect on the listeners. I examined about 5 different genres of music and they all have songs that are violent. And even worse than the lyrics were the music videos for some of these songs. The media control what music artists we see, and what songs we hear. Even when the news media is bashing an artist for their lyrics, they are still giving that artists face time, and that itself will promote more sells. So, even if the media tries to advise against something, they actually end up promoting it in a sense.
    When I personally think of what types of media influence people the most, I think first of music, even before television. I believe that people of all ages have more access to music than they do TV shows. Even with just the three songs we listened to in class, that were written by Eminem- if a child were to hear ANY part of one of these songs, they are going to be hearing some intense language and violent sentiments.

    1. I'm 13, listen to rap music every day, and have never done anything "deviant" or "bad".

  3. This is both a very intersting and controversial topic. I remember Manson being accused of inspiring the shootings at Columbine and also the protest of Eminem's music by various groups. In Eminem's song "The Way I Am" he addresses this issue in referring to the shootings "they blame it on Marylin and the heroin where were the parents at?" Parents need to play a more intrigal role in the lifes of their kids. There is no doubt that a kid is going to listen to whatever he wants, but they need to know the context from where it comes. Eminem is known to use grusome lyrics simply for shock value. He never intends to do the things that he says. As an avid music listener I believe that music has nothing to do with these acts and that individuals act on their own. Artists such as Eminem also have songs with positive meanings like the song "Not Afriad" from his past album. These should not go unnoticed as they are an inspiration to many people around the world.

  4. We know that media has a great influence in our perceptions and beliefs about the world, but when it comes to music it is very hard to determine to what extent this influences people's behavior.
    It is important to take into account that there are several factors that influence criminal and violent behaviors, neglect parenting, poverty, inequality, and of course isolation, depression, and more.
    For example if a teenager is depressed, resentful, and segregated from others and listens to certain violent music this will be more likely to have an influence on his/her behavior...
    But we can't directly blame singers and song writers for drug and alcohol use, criminality, or murders although some music glorifies and idolizes violence and misogynist lyrics there are other factors that contribute with it.
    With more supervision and awareness from parent we can see a difference, there a lot of teens that listen and watch whatever they want, and I know that it is impossible to control everything they do, but with some attention and explanations about certain types of music we can influence them as well....
    It is very easy to blame anybody when things go wrong, but it is very hard to see what are the real causes of criminality, in the case of the Columbine school shooting, it was easy to blame Marilyn Manson to get public attention and make the newsworthy, but I am sure that there were important factors that influenced this massacre, sometimes teen just need attention and comprehension.
    There are many disturbing songs, that should not be allowed to release but of course this brings a lot of profit so that is not going to happen...therefore we need more parent involvement in society...

  5. To me, just because you sing along with a song on the radio, or now on your phone, it does not mean you support the lyrics of the song and are going to follow them out. If you are like me, you sing the song because you like the beat and the natural flow of the song. I listen to all types of music and there are portrayals of violence in every genre. Rap is all about something "gangsta," while country music is about "you did me wrong, and this is what I am gonna do to you in return." This sells to all ages, not necessarily because of the message it puts forth but just because people like music. Though our text (p. 273) talks about how listening to certain kinds of music impacts people's behaviors, I do not agree with this. To me, music is just music. The words to a particular song may stick in your head, usually because of the structure of the composition, but not the implied actions. If we did all carry out the actions that we hear in songs, this world would be much worse off than it already is.

  6. There is another example of Eminem's mentioning parental responsibility in his song "Who Knew?"
    This song immediately came to mind when we started looking at songs by Eminem that called everyone out for blaming everything on him, or music in general.

    link to the lyrics. near the end of the first verse:
    "Quit tryin to censor music, this is for your kid's amusement
    But don't blame me when lil' Eric jumps off of the terrace
    You shoulda been watchin him - apparently you ain't parents"

    1. First of all, I listen to that song everyday and love his music, and I think that Eminem's right when he says "apparently you ain't parents" since a lot of parents don't watch out for their kids enough like mine (but I'm used to it)

  7. I agree with Emily, music is music. I listen to violent rap songs, i listen to sad indie songs, i listen to happy songs, i listen to jam band drug songs, i listen to just about everything. When i listen to sad songs i don't sit there and cry or when I listen to violent songs i don't sit there and plot my next shootings. I just like music. If children are aware of the context of rap lyrics then they should be fine. a child that listens to a rap songs about beating up a homeless man and then proceeds to do so is lacking some fundamental morals in the first place. I love that Eminem song dbake005 posted. I wrote an essay in high school about the false marylin manson connection to the columbine shooters. obsurd.

  8. Music is prominent in society and can be very violent in content. Some music genres that are associated with violent and destructive themes include Rap, Heavy Metal and Rock n Roll. The article points the finger at musicians like Marilyn Manson and Eminem for singing violent lyrics. In chapter eight, they also highlight country musicians like Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks who sing about killing people. Violence is in all kinds of music. In chapter eight, it also mentions a study done with young people from a suburban highschool that listened to heavy metal. The study said the music was associated with an increased risk of delinquency when there was a lack of parental control. There are many different variables associated with young teens acting out in violent manners. You can't simply point the finger at musicians and blame them for everything. I think its also important to note that not all music is associated with negative actions or emotions. In chapter eight, it lists a great example of how music played a significant role in the civil rights movement. People need to look at the whole situation before simply blaming one variable.

  9. I agree with the above statements in saying that we cannot completely blame the music or artists for the violence being committed by our youth as well as adults. I believe that everyone is responsible for their own actions rather than blaming it on society or the different frames we have come up with for why offenders commit crimes. Just because someone hears a violent song does not mean they are going to go out and kill somebody and just because someone needs food does not mean they should go out and steal it. We need to be held accountable for our own actions and not blame Eminem, Manson, or any other artists because it is not their fault. I'll admit their music may influence some people to go commit violent acts but these kinds of people are going to do that regardless of the music they listen to. Parents also need to play a key role in monitoring what their children watch and listen to when they are young because at that age they don't know any better and will think violence is normal.

  10. I find myself saying the same thing as Emily, that just because we listen to a certain genre of music, doesn't mean we are defined by it. Usually, I use this as an excuse to my parents when derogatory songs are on my ipod. That being said, we are all at an age where we are old enough to make important decisions for ourselves. The issue is that young teenagers and children could be listening to this and instead of using it as an outlet, could be using it as a foundation for their personal views. As we discussed in class, the Columbine shooters didn't even listen to Manson...but even if they did, they were already dealing with other emotional problems that stemmed from issues bigger than musical taste. I think it says something about our current culture that some of the stupidest, nonsensical songs make it onto the radio...but they are obviously listened to. I listen to a wide variety of music, but even when I listen to violent lyrics, I don't think it affects me negatively, but like we talked about it class, we wouldn't want our kids to listen to it at all. However, we did a lot of things as kids our parents likely wouldn't WANT us to long as we educate our kids after watching a "violent" movie or listening to a violent song, they'll be better off than if we try to shield them completely. I think it's easier to listen or watch with them instead of make it off-limits, as they will want to do it even more and it will go unmonitored.

  11. I do not think that music can be blamed for criminal behavior. Sure, it may have some part in it, but so does environment, how they were raised, schooling, and so much more. To put the blame on such tragic things on one aspect of a persons life is a little ridiculous. It is also amazing that they use people that deviate from the norm on their presentation such as Marilyn Manson. If people want to criticize music they should focus on more than just appearance.

  12. Growing up I listened to a lot of rap and hip-hop. I listened to other genres as well, but I really liked rap a lot. I remember being in 5th grade and listening to Eminem's first CD. My mom was a very protective parent overall, but when it came to words in songs she didn't see it as a big deal. Thinking back now I never really understood much of what Eminem was saying and didn't view it as bad. The music didn't cause me to start cussing or for me to even act remotely deviant. I think it just depends on whether a kid is already predisposed to violent behavior. I feel as if you grow up in an unstable, unpredictable negative household you might be more inclined to act out what you listen to or see in the media. This is just a theory though. I am not really sure as to why music didn't affect me when I was younger. I think that it is dumb to make accusations such as the Columbine shooters to be influenced by Marilyn Manson.

  13. I definitely think entertainment media displays a lot of violence. Many hip hop, rock and even R&B songs often allude to acts of violence or criminal deviance. One specific rapper, 50 cent constantly creates videos that show him shooting guns or robbing banks. The entertainment media absolutely loves those kinds of videos although there are tons of young and imperishable kids who watch these kinds of videos everyday. Kids are influenced by what they see rappers and celebrities do in the media and then try to imitate them.

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