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What We Learn from Pop Music

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In Bruno Mars's hit "Just the Way You Are," he sings:

"Oh, her eyes, her eyes
Make the stars look like they're not shinin'
Her hair, her hair
Falls perfectly without her trying
She's so beautiful
And I tell her everyday
[...]
Every time she asks me ‘Do I look okay?’
I say
When I see your face
There's not a thing that I would change
'Cause you're amazing
Just the way you are
And when you smile
The whole world stops and stares for a while
'Cause girl you're amazing
Just the way you are."

Later, after a second verse of describing more of the woman's features, he adds:

"Oh you know, you know, you know
I'd never ask you to change
If perfect's what you're searching for
Then just stay the same
So don't even bother asking if you look okay..."

According to "Just the Way You Are," perfection is defined by physical beauty. In fact, the song implies that he only loves her because he thinks that her exterior appearance makes her "perfect." He appears to believe this no matter what her character may be. Despite the song's possible inaccuracies, it reached #1 in nine different countries, was in the top ten singles in seventeen countries, and stayed on the top charts for an average of forty weeks. Therefore, it can be assumed that many heard the Bruno Mars’s lyrics; and, by extension, that many were influenced by the song’s idea that physical appeal is a synonym for perfection.

However, this is not the case; perfection is but a concept invented by humanity, defining a complete lack of flaws. Exterior beauty does not necessarily mean that one lacks flaws, though that is what many may have gathered from Bruno Mars’s extremely popular lyrics. Perhaps pop music does not teach its listeners accurate lessons about life.

Not convinced? Here’s another lyric excerpt, from Maroon 5’s “Daylight”:

“Here I am staring at your perfection
In my arms, so beautiful…”

The theme of beauty equaling perfection appears to repeat itself in the realm of popular music.

This arguable misconception of perfection is not the only lesson that pop music teaches us, though. In Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” she bellows:

“So raise your glass if you are wrong
In all the right ways […]
We will never be, never be anything but loud
And nitty gritty, dirty little freaks
Won’t you come on and
Raise your glass!”

These six lines have several different messages that one can infer. First, raising a glass implies that drinking is involved. However, studies show that drinking excessively is unhealthy and can even cause death. The song also appears to be taking place at a loud, wild party, as proven by the line “We will never be anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks.” However, 56% of underage drinkers reported that they drank alcohol in someone else’s home; possibly at a party. This same demographic is the demographic that listens the most to pop songs such as “Raise Your Glass.” In songs like these, the implications that wild drinking parties are “cool” may have a strong effect on the people who listen to them.

Another popular theme in pop music is profanity. Many raps and other songs include sometimes uncensored profanity and other dirty words. These words and themes may also have a strong effect on their listeners, causing them to think that cursing or mentioning dirty content is as cool as binge drinking. In fact, in March 2011, three of the top 10 hits had choruses that (in their explicit versions) used what the New York Times calls “a familiar, emphatic, percussive four-letter word.” It probably doesn’t help that the explicit versions are available on iTunes for anyone with an account to download them.

This small selection of music can tell us that many pop songs may have lyrics and meanings that have a strong influence on its listeners, but that the influence may not be a good one. Therefore, one can conclude that many (one might even venture to say most) pop songs teach their fans the wrong things about how to live a healthy, successful life. That is, unless a listener’s dream was to write the next generation of pop lyrics.



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