May 4th, 2021, 10:05 PM

AUP's Stance on How Music Romanticizes Drug Use

By Aylar Reimova
Image credit: Unsplash/Jonathan Kemper
An investigation with Professor Russell Williams reveals how we think of drugs through references in our beloved music.

"Do you like drugs?" asks Miguel, an American singer, in one of his songs. "Yeah, well me too," is the following answer. How did we go from drugs regarded as a taboo topic to these romantic references of them in music? Or how did we normalize "my car smells like marijuana" at 18? Before getting into an investigation, I thought of conducting a survey among AUP students to find out about this unhealthy habit. 15 out of 23 students surveyed reported taking drugs.

Image credit: Jackson Vann and Aylar Reimova


But, one might wonder why. Well, history suggests that since the creation of human societies, there was always someone who has been taking drugs. At first, it was solely for religious purposes, but now, the entire culture has been reshaped in a different way. Some even suggest that poetry authors are to blame for the romanticized and normalization of drugs; media has only reinforced this concept.

"Reason we call it romantic is that the original guys who would do that were the romantic poets," says Russell Williams, an Associate Professor and Director of the Learning Commons and the Director of Faculty Development at AUP. Indeed, when one tries to find the roots of normalization of "bad", there is always a link to poetry. "There is a whole literary tradition of artists creating a persona who is outside of the norms of society," Professor Williams says. Why? because it is attractive, and we are fascinated by it. We are fascinated by people who do something we would never do.


But why did we start using drug references in the first place? 

You probably have never thought about it, but drug references can be traced back to religion. "Back to ancient times, drugs served as a religious sacrament. There was this priest or shaman who would ingest some hallucinogenic to commune with ancient spirits. This idea of intoxication was a way of finding knowledge through expanding the mind to benefit society," explains Professor Williams. However, ancient times are gone, and atheists inhabited the world's surface, and we are left with a more secular society.

 "Fewer people believe in God now, but still want to believe and have someone who has a connection to something bigger. So now, it is a pop star who represents a shaman or priest," Professor Williams says. People support this unhealthy attraction toward addicts. "One of the examples is Jim Morrison, the lead vocalist of the rock band the Doors, who overdosed at 27. Nevertheless, we still buy his records," he notes.

Mostly, pop stars and rappers reference soft drugs in lyrics, but The Velvet Underground, an American rock band, has a song dedicated to heroin. The lyrics include, "Cause it makes me feel like I'm a man / When I put a spike into my vein..." This song became one of the most celebrated compositions of the band. "Part of the reason it is famous is provocation... at the end of the 1960s one of the most famous bands was The Beach Boys, who sing about lovely time... and then you get these guys, who sing 'heroin is where the party is at'... it is dangerous and scary, but we like it..." explains Professor Williams.

He also admits the fact that it is ridiculous that we put these people on a pedestal, but the fact remains, drugs are attractive and profitable. Looking at modern rappers, Lil Peep died of overdose caused by depression, supposedly. His brother, on the other hand, claims that it was more profitable to seem depressed and try to numb sadness with drugs, and then post about it on Instagram to show how Xanax helps to deal with depression. No one is interested in happiness, people are triggered by sadness and taboos. 


What are the consequences and Influences? 

The survey, distributed to 23 AUP students, shows that they don't feel has an impact on their perception of drugs.

Image credit: Jackson Vann and Aylar Reimova


However, Jade-Fleur Calaque, a sophomore at AUP, has a slightly different opinion. "I think music normalizes drugs rather than romanticizes them, therefore making it attractive to try," she says. Calaque brings an example of a recent hit Peaches by Justin Bieber in collaboration with Daniel Caesar and Giveon. "'I get my weed from California' is one of the lines of the song. He makes it sound so normal that I almost wanted to try." 

Eleonora Marcone, a junior student at AUP, has mixed feelings about the impact of "drug music". "I think most people are influenced by a lot of stuff, including the music... and that is why I think there should not be so much liberty on drug references in the music industry because it might put lives in danger. Especially, it might have a deadly impact on someone with a fragile state of mind," Marcone says.  

Image credit: Unsplash/Markos Mant


Russell Williams, however, pushes us to think more critically of pop stars' influence. "There is probably some kind of encouragement, but there are more issues pressing on this subject. The development of addiction depends on so many things like education, socio-economic status, or even whether you were shouted at by a family member the day before. I think it is more complex than just a direct influence from music," he says. 

He also emphasizes that we will probably never hold artists accountable for long-term drug addiction. Experimenting with drugs is a completely different story, though. Here, pop artists can be partially blamed for, but we will never admit it. They are pop stars and we want them to remain pop stars.

On the other hand, the mentioning of drugs can have a positive side. "Artists, in a sense, are right when they are bringing drugs to the table. We have an opportunity to develop a healthy conversation about drugs and their impact," Professor Williams says. Interestingly, most students definitely agree on one thing.

Image credit: Jackson Vann and Aylar Reimova


Final thoughts?

Drugs will be always in our lives, for better or for worse. Before, psychedelics were a gateway to inner exploration; they were a way to rebel against the system. Now, it feels like they are used to show coolness and maturity. "What happened to the noble questing psychedelic hero?" wonders Professor Williams. And you? What do you think? Is the idea of "drugs are acceptable" being engraved in our beautiful minds without our realizing it? 

Image credit: Aylar Reimova and Jackson Vann
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