Life's Theme Music

Music is the soundtrack to life.Music is the soundtrack to life. ~ Unknown

These words state a very true fact about music: Music speaks to people and influences the way they live their lives. But if music is the soundtrack to life, what kind of life are popular music artists suggesting that we lead?

Some music artists seem not to be aware of how much their music can impact people, especially youth. Growing up is hard, it is a time when people discover and assert their own identities within the context of the "real world." The vulnerability of this stage of life forces children of all ages to grasp onto almost anything that will aid in teaching and demonstrating what kind of people they should aspire to be. For better or worse, celebrities, particularly musicians and singers, often have a stronger influence on young people as role models than parents or teachers.

Lil' KimMany of today's youth derive their ideas about the world from music videos. Sadly, it seems like the majority of videos today contain some type of sexual imagery or reference. It makes you wonder what effect songs with explicit lyrics such as Khia's "My Neck, My Back", Lil' Kim's "How Many Licks," or Trina and Ludacris' "Be All Right," have on boys and girls who are already curious about sex. When impressionable youth hear pop icons that they look up to saying they want their "a** smacked, legs wide" or they want someone to "lick it now, lick it good," what conclusions can they draw but the obvious? If children hear people singing and rapping about drugs, sex, money, and killing in a glamorous way, then it may lead them to believe that this negative life is one they should live.

Watching the music videos for those songs further pulls them into the idea that all of these things are the important elements of life. An example is Nelly's "Hot in Herre." When the hook says, "I am getting so hot, I wanna take my clothes off," all of the females in the video begin instantly stripping out of their clothes, smiling all the while. This image provides no positive influences. When a young girl sees some half-dressed singer on television or a young boy sees a rapper with an entourage of groupies and an assortment of guns and drugs, and they observe that these images are "cool," how will they react? They will want to become what is accepted and glorified, and the fact that these false examples are their role models is sad.

AliciaHowever, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. There are also awesome singers and musicians out there who provide very positive messages and images. Songs such as "Troubles" by singer Alicia Keys give people the message to never give up. In the song, Alicia sings, "All your hustles ain't for nothing, you just gotta take it slow," encouraging her audience to always keep their heads up during life's turbulent times.

Alicia Keys is a huge inspiration, and a great example of an encouraging role model, singing uplifting and motivational songs for people of all ages, as well as avoiding the standards of prancing about scantily clad as most female singers do. She and a host of other artists were featured on a new rendition of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" This classic song was remade to promote awareness of the ever-spreading AIDS epidemic, and is yet another example of music with a message that needs to be heard.

Also, neo-soul singer India.Arie attacks stereotypical body images in her song "Video." She says "I'm not the average girl in your video, and I ain't built like a supermodel, but I learned to love myself unconditionally, because I am a queen." Essentially, she's telling women and girls not to aspire to the unrealistic and degrading images depicted on TV. Other singers who also follow this path include Musiq Soulchild, Erykah Badu, Norah Jones, Vanessa Carlton, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Common, Eve, and many others.

Since music is indeed the "soundtrack to life," we want it to illustrate good things that send out optimistic vibes, which will have an encouraging effect on young listeners. We do not want it to reek of negativity that will lure people in and breed even greater negativity. Mainstream music needs a change, and for that to occur, the change must come from those who make it. Musicians are the voices behind the images, therefore, they must be held accountable for what they say and do. Perhaps when the music changes, people will as well. For those who are putting these potentially damaging images out there for young minds to absorb, think twice. For those who are providing positivity and encouragement, keep it up, we need more of you in society.

Ryan Pearson, 16, is a high school sophomore in Detroit, Michigan who has been writing since she was 5.

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