In music, alcohol flows freely

In music, alcohol flows freely

A more or less occasional pleasure for some, alcohol is a real source of inspiration for others. This is why references to alcoholic beverages are common in music. Australian academics have looked into this phenomenon to see if the predominant place of alcohol in the fourth art has an influence on the consumption habits of music lovers.

To do this, researchers affiliated with La Trobe University relied on the conclusions of 26 scientific articles published between 1997 and 2022. This meta-analysis allowed them to analyze the references to alcohol contained in more than 12,000 different songs, as well as in the video clips that accompany some of them.

The research team noticed that 25% of the musical content included in their study mentioned alcoholic beverages, either in their lyrics or in their music video. Interestingly, rap is the musical genre most likely to contain references to alcoholic beverages, unlike rock’n’roll.

Furthermore, songs released between 1997 and 2010 talk less about alcohol than more recent ones. This phenomenon may be linked to the fact that the 2010s were marked by the appearance of new modes of alcohol consumption, including “binge drinking” (“biture express” in French). As commentators of their time, artists may have increased the references to wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages in their texts to evoke this societal evolution.

The social dimension of alcohol

But this cannot be the only explanation. The academics point out, in their article, that “(this) high prevalence of references to alcohol in music can be explained by a complex interaction between cultural influence, artistic expression, commercial interests”. Furthermore, alcohol is associated in the collective imagination with a form of opulence. We can’t imagine celebrating a birth, a wedding, a graduation or a retirement party without alcohol flowing freely.

Music is aware of the social dimension of “drinking” and it does not hesitate to use it. It is not uncommon to see great moments of intoxication in music videos, without there being the slightest message of prevention on the effects of excessive alcohol consumption. However, such warnings would be necessary, if we are to believe the researchers. The latter claim that “music containing references to alcohol could have a significant influence on behavior regarding alcohol consumption”.

One of the studies included in their meta-analysis shows that 15-23 year olds who listen to songs about alcohol and are able to identify at least one brand of alcoholic beverage mentioned in the lyrics of said songs are more likely to being heavy drinkers. Furthermore, bars that play music about alcohol tend to have better sales than those that do not.

The academics emphasize, however, that the conclusions of their meta-analysis should be taken with caution given the heterogeneity of the research on which they relied. Regardless, this study shows that talking about alcohol in music is anything but trivial. This helps give a “cool” image to a drink responsible for 49,000 deaths per year in Europe.

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