Listening to Lyrics

This article originally appeared on

listening to lyrics

You've probably heard about Eminem's and Madonna's controversial song lyrics. Of course, there are always two sides to every story. On one hand there's the artist who writes or chooses to perform songs that are very meaningful to him and that he feels convey a powerful message to his audience. On the other hand, there's the audience, which is made up of all different kinds of people.

With such a variety of listeners, not everyone may agree with every artist's point of view. The question is, when an artist like Eminem sings, "You have the right to remain violent," is that what he means? Is he being ironic? Do you care? Do you feel it's wrong to say, ironic or not?

Don't Like It? Don't Listen

Songs that seem to be misogynistic, homophobic, or racist are "just plain ignorant" says high school senior Christine Lee, who listens to hip-hop and house. But she says just because she doesn't like them doesn't mean artists should be censored. In fact, she believes that if you don't like an artist's lyrics, just don't listen to them.

selective listening choosing what to hear

And what if you don't agree with some of an artist's songs, but think others are OK? "It depends on how offensive the lyrics are in the bad songs," says Christine. Matt McKible, 13 years old and a punk rock fan, agrees. "I don't think songs should be any more censored than they already are. I don't like songs that are offensive, but if I liked artists and their music, I would just ignore the bad songs and listen to the OK ones."

"I don't think songs should be any more censored than they already are."

Who Cares, Anyway?

When listening to Britney, Nelly, Kylie, or Ludacris, you may not be listening to all the words in the song, and that's fine. Not all music is meant to be taken seriously. But the responsibility of a good music fan is definitely to pay attention. Are the subjects in songs something you can relate to or agree with? If an artist offends you, then maybe you shouldn't buy or listen to that artist's music.

The War on Warnings

Like most people, what you like, you pay attention to, and it can affect you. But how much?

There is a lot of debate about whether violent lyrics actually lead to violent crimes or hateful lyrics lead to hate crimes, and even though there is scientific data to prove otherwise, a lot of people agree that music influences people, especially teens. They think that carefully choosing the words you hear, in some way, big or small, can affect the way you view the world.

Even the government gets involved over the issue of lyrics, as it has ever since sound recording was invented. In the 1980s, there were wide debates over censorship of recorded music, and some major manufacturers and retailers agreed to put warning stickers on albums that might be considered inappropriate for young audiences.

parental advisory

Some sources say, however, that putting warning stickers on albums only increased sales as teenagers fought to keep their rights, rebel against authority, and voice their opinions.

Access Denied

Censorship interferes with the distribution and accessibility of materials that some folks find obscene or indecent. People who favor censorship want to make sure that certain music by artists like Marilyn Manson, for example, isn't available to kids or people who they think might be affected by it in a bad way. They would rather protect people by denying them access to these materials rather than empower them to make their own independent critical judgments.

Remember that today's controversial lyrics may seem boring tomorrow. Have an open — and questioning — mind when you listen to any song. Keeping one ear to the lyrics may help you relate to an artist more than someone who more casually listens to music. And that works out best — for you and your favorite artists.