Young People Ask . . .
What’s Wrong With My Music?
“My dad says, ‘Turn off that noise! It’s hurting my ears!’”—A teenage boy.
“Some rap music is really, really disgusting.”—A teenage girl.
“IT’S no big deal,” complained Jodie. “Why are they making such a big deal about music?” Thirteen-year-old Lisette feels the same way. “It’s just a song,” she insists.
Are you likewise engaged in an ongoing battle with your parents over music? If so, you may be faced with complaints, threats, and orders every time you put on your favorite tape or disc. (“My dad says, ‘Turn off that noise! It’s hurting my ears!’” says one teenage boy.) Tired of the hassle, you may feel that your parents are making a big deal out of nothing. “What about when they were young?” argues one teenage girl. “Didn’t their parents think their music was bad?”
She has a point. Throughout history, older and younger generations have tended to clash on matters of personal taste. So why should you have to stop listening to your music simply because your parents do not like it? What’s wrong with your music anyway?
Music—Its Place in Life
Well, no one is really saying that it is wrong to enjoy music. Some of the Bible itself—particularly the psalms—was originally set to music. In Bible times, music was prominently used in the worship of God. (Psalm 149:3; 150:4) Music also served as a means of expressing joy, excitement, and sorrow. (Genesis 31:27; Judges 11:34; 1 Samuel 18:6, 7; Matthew 9:23, 24) In the days of Jesus Christ, music was a common feature at social gatherings; it added enjoyment to the occasion.—Luke 15:25.
Music continues to have an important role today—especially among young people. The Journal of the American Medical Association notes: “Between the seventh and 12th grades, the average teenager listens to 10,500 hours of rock music, just slightly less than the entire number of hours spent in the classroom from kindergarten through high school.”
Surveys show that the majority of U.S. youths listen almost exclusively to rock or pop music. (For simplicity’s sake, we will use the terms “rock” and “pop” to designate virtually all the styles of music popular among young people—from soul music and new wave to rap and heavy metal.) According to The World Book Encyclopedia, “rock music is no longer only the music of young Americans. It is music of the world.”
The Appeal of Rock Music
Why is rock music so popular? According to the book Youth Trends, rock serves as “a common language among all young people.” Some youths thus feel that keeping up with the music scene—knowing the latest groups and songs—helps them to fit in with others. Music provides a common bond among youths and endless topics for conversation.
For many youths, however, music is enjoyed best in solitude. Have you had a tough day at school? Then perhaps you are like the teenage girl named Bree who says: “I sit in my room, put on the stereo really loud and I just sit there. It kind of relieves tension and pressure.” While rock music is often criticized for being noisy and strident, many popular songs do have tuneful melodies and pleasant-sounding arrangements.
For others, though, the lure is the beat. “It’s the easiest music to dance to,” explained one girl when asked why she was a fan of rap music. But many are also drawn to the words. Custom-written for young people, pop lyrics run the gamut of adolescent feelings and anxieties. Rap music is particularly noteworthy for focusing on current issues, such as racism and social injustice. “I turn on the radio and most music it’s mindless, it drives me insane,” complains a teenager named Dan, quoted in Newsweek magazine. “Rap has like real stories and real things. It’s interesting to listen to.”
However, it is the message of the music that may be of most concern to your parents.
The Message of Rap
Take rap music, for example. In rap, the lyrics—streetwise slang set to rhyme—are spoken, not sung, to the accompaniment of a powerful beat. Of course, there’s nothing inherently evil in this concept. Many popular songs over the decades have incorporated the spoken word. But rap music often takes this idea to wild extremes.
Rap (or, hip-hop) reportedly became popular back in the 1970’s in small New York City dance clubs frequented by inner-city youths. As disc jockeys began chanting rhymes (or, rapping) over a background of prerecorded percussion, dancers responded with near hysteria. Rap music soon moved from the streets and basement clubs to the musical mainstream. Rappers sporting names as brash as their music—Public Enemy, M. C. Hammer, and Vanilla Ice—were soon filling the airwaves with their thundering brand of music.
Interestingly, when an Awake! reporter asked a racially mixed group of suburban Christian youths, “Do many of you listen to rap?” a surprising majority said yes! “What do you like about rap?” he next asked. “The beat,” replied one teenage girl. “It just flows, and it’s easy to listen to.” “You can dance to it,” replied another. The next question, however, drew a somewhat less enthusiastic response, “Is some rap music a problem for Christians?”
After an embarrassing pause, one girl admitted: “Some rap music is really, really disgusting.” Others begrudgingly agreed with her. Indeed, it turned out that many of the youths were alarmingly familiar with a lengthy list of objectionable songs—songs that promoted promiscuity and perversion in outrageously graphic terms. Some confessed that many of these songs freely used profanity.
Yes, much of rap music appears to send a message of rebellion, violence, anger, racism, and sexual prowess. Rap promoter Daniel Caudeiron, president of the Black Music Association of Canada, who praises rap for being “overwhelmingly positive,” admits that much rap is “misogynistic [antiwoman], sexist and occasionally foulmouthed.”—Maclean’s, November 12, 1990.
The Rap Life-Style
Granted, not all rap music is immoral or violent. According to an article in The New York Times, some of it is devoted to such positive goals as education, discouraging drug abuse, and solving social ills. But inoffensive lyrics may very well be the exception, not the rule. When Newsweek rated the top ten rap albums, using a standard similar to the U.S. movie-rating system, only two were considered G, or suitable for general audiences. Newsweek rated four of the albums R (restricted to adult audiences), and two were even rated X because of “gutter language” and explicit sex.
Besides, the message of rap goes beyond its lyrics. Rap has spawned a cultural revolution. Millions of teenagers wear the oversize clothing, unlaced high-top sneakers, baggy jeans, gold chains, baseball caps, and dark glasses that make up standard rap attire. Many also imitate the flamboyant gestures and the attitude of rap performers. And to the consternation of parents and teachers, nonwords such as “yo!” and “dis”—the abrasive street slang glorified in rap—have crept into everyday speech.
Rap may very well represent a rebellion against injustices. But taken as a whole, rap is also a culture of rebellion against godly standards of behavior, dress, and speech. Would a Christian, by his taste in music, want to risk being drawn into such a questionable life-style?
Of course, rap music is hardly the only form of music that goes to wild extremes. Time magazine reports: “There’s an acrid tang [bitter taste] in nearly every area of modern American pop culture. Heavy-metal masters Motley Crüe invoke images of satanism and the Beastie Boys mime masturbation onstage.” The Bible predicted that “in the last days . . . wicked men and impostors [would] advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 13) Should it surprise you, then, that much of today’s music sends the wrong message to Christian youths?
Your parents may therefore rightly be very concerned if you go in for rap or other extreme forms of rock music. They may fear that a steady diet of such music will harm you. Could their fears be valid? Our next issue will address this question.
[Pictures on page 17]
Many youths now imitate the dress and attitude of rap performers