At the centre of popular culture lies popular (pop) music, it has always been the music of the next generation, as young people come into their own they begin to express themselves through their clothes, interests, friends and music.

In modern times, the mass media has become a major instrument for the spread and dissemination of popular-culture to young people.

In Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, John Storey equates pop culture with Mass Culture. This is seen as a commercial culture, mass produced for mass consumption. This definition can also be applied to today’s music industry and the phenomenon that encompasses it.

Popular music is present almost everywhere, and it is easily available through the radio, ipods, the Internet, and new technologies, allowing adolescents to hear it in diverse settings and situations, alone or shared with friends. They use music in their process of identity formation, and their music preference gives them a means to achieve group identity and integration into the youth culture.

Much of the music today no longer has sexual innuendos where the imagination joins the dots. Today the lyrics are graphic and vulgar, this is seen in songs by artists like Lady Gaga “I’m educated in sex, yes … I wanna take a ride on your disco stick”, or Katy Perry with “Sex on a beach. We get sand in our stilettos. We freak and we’re cheap”.

The content of pop music is highly sexualised and seems to know no bounds. Music by R ‘n’ B singer Rihanna is considered by some experts in the music industry to be soft porn.

Music producer Mike Stock (part of Stock, Aiken and Waterman) thinks children are at risk from the pop stars who peddle porn. He has condemned raunchy clips as “sexualising” children.

“The music industry has gone too far,” he said, “99% of the charts is R ‘n’ B music and 99% of that is soft pornography.

“Kids are being forced to grow up too young. Look at the videos, I wouldn’t necessarily want my young kids to watch them. It’s not about me being old fashioned. It’s about keeping values that are important in the modern world. These days you can’t watch modern stars like Britney Spears or Lady Gaga with a two-year-old.”

Research has found that nearly 42% of songs contain very explicitly sexual language. Lyrics revolve around topics such as sexual promiscuity, rape, death, homicide, suicide, and substance abuse. Rap music in particular often carries messages of violence, racism, homophobia and hatred towards women as well as drug, tobacco, and alcohol use – all of which are glorified.

Generation Next speaker and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said the classification system needed to be toughed to stop the “skankification of this generation”.

“Mike Stock is right – it’s amazing that the Senate inquiry a few years ago actually recommended that the TV stations review the classifications, but when they redid their Code they didn’t change a single word,” he said.

Kids Free 2B Kids director Julie Gale said research has found sexualised video clips can impact on children’s self-esteem after just ten minutes exposure.

“The recommendation of the Senate inquiry two years ago should be followed through, they should not be in children’s prime viewing hours,” she said.

The Senate’s report Sexualisation of children in the contemporary media, published in June 2008 recommended that broadcasters review their classification of music videos specifically with regard to sexualising imagery.

Australian recording artist Kate Ceberano has also said artists needed to take more responsibility, “Artists need to be responsible for how they use sex to sell their products. There’s a fine line between beauty and hard core.”

In November 2009 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on the “Impact of Music, Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth”

Research by the AAP showed that popular music effects schoolwork, social interactions, mood and affect, and particularly behaviour. Exposure to violence, sexual messages, sexual stereotypes, and use of substances of abuse in music videos might produce significant changes in behaviours and attitudes of young viewers.

It is estimated that over 60% of young people watch music videos on a regular basis, with 7% of these watching them before they go to school.

In studies performed to assess the reactions of adolescent boys exposed to violent rap music videos or sexist videos, participants reported an increased probability that they would engage in violence, a greater acceptance of the use of violence, and a greater acceptance of the use of violence against women than did participants who were not exposed to these videos. Researchers also found an association between music-video–watching and promiscuous sexual behaviours.

The American Academy for Pediatrics recommended that the music-video industry produce videos with more positive themes about relationships, racial harmony, drug avoidance, nonviolent conflict resolution, sexual abstinence, pregnancy prevention, and avoidance of promiscuity.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics. They Sydney Morning Herald