Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Drug References in Contemporary Country

This week I’ll expand on a Billboard article contributed by country music industry writer Phyllis Stark. In Has Country Music Gone One Toke Over The Line?, she comments on the increasing number of drug references in country music songs, and specifically on radio. She points to examples like Eric Church's Smoke A Little Smoke, which unashamedly promotes marijuana use – and peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Or Kacey Musgraves's Merry Go 'Round, which made it to number 10 using the term "mary jane."

In some instances, like Smoke A Little Smoke, the drug isn't simply referenced. An article by blogger Daryl Lang maintains Kid Rock's All Summer Long started the trend in 2008. "Since then, country radio has awakened to the idea that listeners really like songs about pot," he writes. These songs do seem to be more common and accepted now than they were a few years ago.

Forum Research released findings in August that 36 per cent of Canadians are in favour of the complete legalization of marijuana, with another 34 per cent in favour of decriminalizing small amounts. As we've seen many times before, country music adapts to popular culture and opinion. But does that make it right?

Country is already famous (and infamous) for drinking songs, so how are drug songs any different? Well, there's certainly a difference between singing about regulated substances and illegal ones. There has to be a line drawn somewhere. Stark's article suggests that while drug references may not be controversial, they are not necessarily accepted. Consider the audience – country fans are a wide-ranging bunch. Some are used to edgy content from other contemporary genres, but others certainly are not.

While I don't think marijuana promotion and subtle references to narcotics will have a major impact on the marketability of country songs (provided the artist fits that image), I am concerned for the young listeners these songs might influence. The matter of lyrics is rather insignificant, but the potential impacts are not and are worth discussing. In this area, I feel country has crossed the line. 

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