Objective: To perform a comprehensive content analysis of substance use in contemporary popular music.
Design: We analyzed the 279 most popular songs of 2005 according to Billboard magazine. Two coders working independently used a standardized data collection instrument to code portrayals of substance use.
Outcome measures: Presence and explicit use of substances and motivations for, associations with, and consequences of substance use.
Results: Of the 279 songs, 93 (33.3%) portrayed substance use, with an average of 35.2 substance references per song-hour. Portrayal of substance use varied significantly (P < .001) by genre, with 1 or more references in 3 of 35 pop songs (9%), 9 of 66 rock songs (14%), 11 of 55 R & B/hip-hop songs (20%), 22 of 61 country songs (36%), and 48 of 62 rap songs (77%). While only 2.9% of the 279 songs portrayed tobacco use, 23.7% depicted alcohol use, 13.6% depicted marijuana use, and 11.5% depicted other or unspecified substance use. In the 93 songs with substance use, it was most often motivated by peer/social pressure (45 [48%]) or sex (28 [30%]); use was commonly associated with partying (50 [54%]), sex (43 [46%]), violence (27 [29%]), and/or humor (22 [24%]). Only 4 songs (4%) contained explicit antiuse messages, and none portrayed substance refusal. Most songs with substance use (63 [68%]) portrayed more positive than negative consequences; these positive consequences were most commonly social, sexual, financial, or emotional.
Conclusions: The average adolescent is exposed to approximately 84 references to explicit substance use daily in popular songs, and this exposure varies widely by musical genre. The substance use depicted in popular music is frequently motivated by peer acceptance and sex, and it has highly positive associations and consequences.