Teens Under The Influence

Paul Bisceglio relays a new study showing a “strong correlation” between underage drinking and musicians name-dropping specific alcohol brands:

During the interviews, [the 15- to 25-year-old] participants were told the titles of radio hits from 2005 to 2007 and asked if they liked the songs and could name any alcohol brands mentioned in them. After their responses were controlled for factors including sex, race, socioeconomic status, and friends’ and parents’ alcohol use, participants who liked the songs and remembered a number of brands were up to twice as likely as others to have binged at least once. Even simply liking alcohol-referencing songs was associated with more drinking.

Julie Beck elaborates:

The survey found that those who scored highest on the measures of “alcohol song receptivity” were three times as likely to have ever had a drink, and two times as likely to have binged than those who scored lowest. Those who were able to identify at least one brand mentioned in a song were at higher risk in both of those categories. “A surprising result of our analysis was that the association between recalling alcohol brands in popular music and alcohol drinking in adolescents was as strong as the influence of parental and peer drinking, and an adolescent’s tendency toward sensation-seeking,” Brian Primack, the study’s lead author, said in a press release.

The legal implications:

“In terms of policy,” said Primack, “it is worth considering whether or not payment to music stars by alcohol companies is in violation of current guidelines. For example, the Distilled Industries Council of the U.S., or DISCUS, states that ‘Alcohol advertising and marketing materials should portray alcohol products and drinkers in a responsible manner.’ This text is vague and challenging to interpret. However, if you watch a few music videos by stars who are spokespeople for alcohol companies, you would likely come away questioning whether these messages portray ‘alcohol products and drinkers in a responsible manner.’ Thus, it may not be a question of enacting new legislation, but rather one of simply enforcing current legislation.”

Update from a reader:

Hold on one second. This sounds like a classic example of “correlation or causation?” My personal guess is with “correlation.”

As Bisceglio notes, the researchers said: “it is also highly plausible that music-oriented adolescents who develop favorable attitudes about drinking for other reasons could be drawn to genres that promote drinking and often mention brands.” That sounds to me to be a lot closer to the truth. I mean, what kind of music name-checks booze brands anyway? For the most part, party music.

Sure, a lot of music involves drinking and mentions booze, but country songs and the “old barfly” music (e.g. Steely Dan) my dad listens to (I’m 25) tend to be a little more general: whiskey, gin, wine, whatever, sure. But not Grey Goose or Jack. The genres where singers drop references to alcohol brands are the current Standard Average Commercial Pop and glam rap. It stands to reason that the kids who party a lot would like party music – else they probably wouldn’t be there (I certainly wasn’t, in large part because I found the music even more obnoxious than the company).

In general terms, from what I gather, in every age there’s always “that crowd” of kids who start drinking young and start drinking a lot. They listen to the same music, perhaps in part because they like it, but mostly because musical taste is a pretty good way to set up an “in-group.” It’s stereotypical, but yes, younger folks have been defining themselves by the kind of music they listen to for a long time. It just so happens we’ve reached a point in our cycle that our Standard Average Pop Music name-checks alcohol brands, probably recognizing that the people who listen to this music tend to drink a lot. It may very well be advertising (as an aside, Andrew, nowhere in the Universe is the “z” spelling correct), but it probably isn’t significantly expanding the market for booze; it’s probably trying to tap into existing demand, so that when these drunk party kids have money to spare for decent liquor, they’ll choose this brand and not the other.

(Full disclosure: I was listening to Steely Dan and Ryan Adams and sipping on a local craft beer while writing this. See what I mean?)