In an unabashed bid for attention earlier this year, pop starlet Miley Cyrus toked up on stage at the MTV European Movie Awards – a publicity stunt that made her previous on-stage twerking with a midget seem almost normal. Her drug use garnered immediate media attention, along with accusations that Cyrus and the media were “glamorizing” drug use, rather than addressing its dangers.
Glamorous Drug References on the Rise in Pop Music
Over the last two decades, glamorous references to drug use have increased six-fold in popular music, according to a 2008 study from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. While rap lyrics once depicted the dangers of drug abuse, today’s songs glamorize its use.
Miley Cyrus sang about the new dance party drug “molly” on her popular summer jam “We Can’t Stop”. Kanye West has also sung about molly, as have hip-hop stars like Juicy J and 2 Chainz. In 2012, Madonna controversially asked electronic music concertgoers if they had “seen molly”. And while Madonna later backtracked and claimed the question was a reference to song lyrics, not drug use, some considered her reference a tacit endorsement of party drug use.
In a controversial interview with Rolling Stone, Cyrus declared that “cocaine was from the 90s” and that molly was the new hip drug. Cyrus’s young fans are taking note. “Dancing the night with molly and Miley,” tweeted a Cyrus fan earlier this year. “We play Miley and pop molly,” another added.
Pop Culture Glamorizes and Promotes Drug Use
Miley follows in a long tradition of musicians that glamorize drug use. In the last two decades, pop stars and the media have increasingly linked illegal drug use to wealth, glamour and social standing. But unlike a decade ago when supermodels, musicians and movie stars went to great lengths to conceal any drug use, today’s stars are practically bragging about their drug habits. In turn, this attention is linked to increase drug use amongst teenagers and young adults.
“Anytime we have an actor, or a prominent person, endorse the use of anything we get a higher use,” Dr. Ryan Welter, a clinical assistant professor at Brown University, told FoxNews in October. “It’s why we pay these people to be sponsors for things we want to sell. It will increase use.”
The UC Berkely study also found a link between the references to cough syrup in rap music and the rise in the number of teens abusing codeine-laced cough syrup. Most recently, pop star Justin Bieber came under fire for glamorizing the use of “Sizzurp”, a combination of prescription cough syrup, Sprite and candy.
“Rap music is like CNN for black teens,” cautioned study author Denise Herd. “Much of what is discussed is in code. The kids understand, but the parents don’t.”
The music videos accompanying these songs further glamorize drug use. Pretty young things are routinely seen smoking pot, snorting cocaine, popping pills and – in some videos – even sticking themselves with needles. Prodigy’s infamous video for its controversial song “Smack My B* Up”, featured a protagonist whose night of excess was fueled by cocaine and hard liquor.
It’s not just musicians who glamorize drug use. Popular movies, including the recently released and critically acclaimed “American Hustle” glamorize both drug use and the drug trade. Reviews call the movie’s drug-fueled disco party scene “intoxicating”.
While pop culture’s moral compass has never been particularly strong, as musicians and movie stars continue to glamorize drug use – without showing the serious, negative consequences – drug use amongst teens and young adults may continue to rise.