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Reconsidering the Glorification of Prescription Pills in Popular Music

Music is an intrinsic part of our culture. Be it the songs you hear while driving home, walking down the aisles of Walmart or the songs that blare over the crowds of a high school rally, there isn’t an escape from the popular music of our time.

The beats and the words that come along with them may seem arbitrary enough at first, but they represent a whole lot more. Popular music is not only a reflection but a perpetrator of the ideas and demands that define a culture.

Over the past two decades, there has been a sixfold increase in the positive portrayal of prescription drugs in music, according to research conducted by the University of California, Berkeley. In recent years, Xanax, Codeine, cough medicine and other prescription medications have seen an alarming surge in popularity. Rappers like Future, Eminem, Post Malone, Young Thug and Lil Pump have discographies that often explore the use — and the abuse — of these prescription medications. This has serious implications.

But it’s just popular music. It can’t be all that deep!

It is easy to assume nonchalance. But now, in a world where prescription drug abuse has been steadily increasing, ignoring the pervasiveness of music and culture on behavior is silly. Rap and pop music remain the most popular genre in streaming, a service used mostly by the youth. The repeated glorification of drug abuse via lyrics is a form of subliminal messaging. It serves to normalize — in worst cases romanticize — addictions that, in real life, lead to devastating consequences. Xanax addictions can cause depression, seizures and even put you into a coma.

Of course, that is not to say that artists should censor their art and not talk about their experiences with drugs and prescription pills in their music. However, the attitude a singer or a rapper assumes while tackling the subject of drugs needs to be reevaluated. Portraying honest experiences with drug abuse and maintaining the understanding that it is ultimately a negative issue is not a bad angle to take; the problem arises when it isn’t portrayed as something to avoid.

The songs that rise to the top of the chart and public attention aren’t cautionary tales. “I’ve been […] poppin’ pillies / man, I feel just like a rock star,” sings Post Malone, on his most recent hit, “rockstar,” with 21 Savage. So does Katy Perry, Pharrell, Big Sean and Calvin Harris, whose song “Feels” contains the lines “don’t be afraid to pop pills” in the chorus. “Popping pills” is now an act of intrigue, esteem and endless charisma. Not, you know, an addiction that can ruin your life.

It’s time for artists to be more responsible for their listeners. A good hook doesn’t have to perpetuate drug culture. Normalizing the abuse of prescription pills and romanticizing that lifestyle to kids who probably don’t know any better is the worst misuse of an artist’s power.

Musicians take up huge airspace on the internet and our day to day life, so it is time for them to take action and reverse the attitudes toward drug culture rather than perpetuate it.

Photo Credit: Medical Daily

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Written by Vidhisha Mahesh

An avid reader and pop culture enthusiast, Vidhisha spends her time writing, volunteering for the Teen program at her library, and ignoring her calculus homework.

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