Oct. 20, 2011 — -- For every hour that American teens listen to music, they hear more than three references to brand-name alcohol -- about 34 in the course of day.
This heavy exposure could contribute to youth addiction, according to a University of Pittsburgh and Dartmouth University study published online today in the international journal, Addiction.
Researchers point the finger clearly at rap, R&B and hip-hop artists, who they say promote a "luxury lifestyle characterized by degrading sexual activity, wealth, partying, violence and the use of drugs."
Although the alcohol trade industries publicly say they do not market to underage drinkers, researchers said the line is "difficult to distinguish" because liquor companies "retroactively reward" the recording artists with product sponsorships and endorsements when songs climb the charts.
This music is so popular among high school students that the study concludes the relationship between the two industries could encourage young people to begin alcohol use early and to continue drink throughout their teenage years.
Many of the brands that are cited in lyrics -- Patron Tequila, Grey Goose Vodka and Hennessey Cognac -- are those named as favorites by underage drinkers, especially girls, according to the study, authored by Brian A. Primack, Erin Nuzzo and Kristin R. Rice of University of Pittsburgh Medical School and James D. Sargent of Dartmouth University School of Medicine.
Most of the alcohol references in those songs were positive rather than negative ones, they said. The brand names were associated with wealth 63.4 percent of the time; sex, 58.5 percent; luxury objects, 51.2 percent; partying, 48.8 percent; other drugs, 43.9 percent and vehicles, 39 percent, according to the study.
"Much of the alcohol advertising is "unsolicited," said Frank Coleman, spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). "As part of the entertainment industry, we encourage artistic freedom and we encourage all great artists, if they use alcohol as their muse, to do so responsibly. That's a given."
He also cited 2010 government statistics in a University of Michigan study, Monitoring the Future, that showed underage drinking and binge drinking were at "an all-time low" -- even, according to Coleman, as the popularity of rap music soared.
But the study cited CDC data that alcohol use is the "leading root cause" of mortality in adolescence, and its use is associated with substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, academic failure and alcohol dependence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 percent of high schools students drank some amount of alcohol and 24 percent binge drank in 2009.
The study analyzed 793 of the most popular youth songs between 2005 and 2007, according to Billboard magazine. They found that 25 percent of those that mentioned alcohol called out a brand name, representing about 3.4 alcohol brand call-outs per song hour. The average teen listens to about 2.5 hours of music per day, according to the research.
Many singers have also increasingly promoted their own line of liquors in their songs and even launched their own unique brands -- including Lil' Jon (Little Jonathan Wineries, 2008), Ludacris (Conjure Vodka, 2009), Jay-Z (Armadale Vodka, 2002), Snoop Dogg (Landy Cognac, 2008), TI (Remy Martin Cognac, 2010) and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (Ciroc Vodka, 2001).
Music Has Powerful Influence on Teens
In 2002, when Busta Rhymes released "Pass the Courvoisier," sales of that brand of cognac surged 18.9 percent, according to researchers. After that, Allied Domecq, its parent company, carved a "lucrative promotional deal" with both Rhymes and P. Diddy, who was also featured in the song.
A 2010 report in the Atlanta Post concluded that "up-and-comers" in the music industry were increasingly allowing their names and reputations to be used for product endorsements, not only in alcohol, but in clothing lines and television shows.
Jamie Foxx's "Blame It (On the Alcohol)" was a long-running No. 1 song on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart, as he sang about Patron tequila and Grey Goose vodka. There's even a ring tone for the 2009 song.
"Blame it on the goose
Got you feeling loose
Blame it on Patron
Got you in the zone"
"In short, everyone wants to be a mogul, wrote Caletha Crawford. "Liquor companies are happy to indulge the desire to diversify. Name an artist, and he probably has a deal."
The Post's in-depth report cited a 2005 study by the School of Public Heath at the University of California showing that 8 percent of rap songs had references to alcohol in 1979, but by 1997, 44 of them had alcohol references.
Brand name-drops rose from 46 percent to 71 percent in that same time period.
The ties between the music and alcohol industries are cozy because "there's a lot of money to be made, according to Jake Jamieson, editor of the blog Liquor Snob. "In fact, the liquor industry is getting almost free advertising."
But he argued that pop stars have been singing about alcohol for decades: "What about Jim Morrison and 'the next whisky bar' [from 'Alabama Song']? -- there have been drinking songs since the beginning of time. ... What's new is the association with brand names."
Young people see the good and bad consequences of alcohol use, according to Jamieson.
"Kids are also seeing what people like Amy Winehouse go through," he said. "And just because L'il Jon is rapping about doing shots ... the media is still representing both equally."
"I think the study overstates it a bit," he said. "Kids are not the only ones listening to rap. With beer commercials during football games, they are doing the same thing."
"People in their 20s are listening, as well," said Jamieson. "I don't get the sense that it is specifically aimed at underage kids. They are just singing and rapping about my life and what is important to me, and this is what I drink and drive. It's a token of my lifestyle."
But does that lifestyle send the wrong message to teens.
"The 'gangsta' mystique is really about aggressive self-indulgence," said Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media, culture and communications at New York University.
"It's highly consumeristic and not in any way socially conscious or beneficial to anyone's health," Miller said. "It builds on an old mystique that's more infantile than that. It's really about going to the crib and buying really ostentatious goods and drinking yourself into a stupor and using drugs and stashing huge guns."
He compared the power of music lyrics to the lure of cigarettes in movies and television in an earlier generation.
"It's not that the billboards said go out and buy them," he said. "We are talking about a general atmosphere and tacit assurance that smoking is OK and it's cool to do this.
"To be perfectly honest, at this point, it's not possible to solve the problem through some stroke of policy or regulation," said Miller. "There's really not much to do except point it out and get parents and kids themselves and some musicians to notice and do something about it."