ABC Frets Over Lewd Lyrics

Breaking news: Popular music contains lewd lyrics that sometimes gets by parents.   

ABC's John Berman exposed the “hidden” vulgarity in Britney Spears' hit, “If You Seek Amy” and Flo Rida's current number one hit “Right Round” in a segment during the March 24 “Good Morning America.” He reported, “Now, some of the biggest songs out there are sneaking in themes without some parents even knowing” and that young kids are picking up on those themes.

Berman noted that pop songs have a history of double entendres, as exemplified by the “hidden” drug theme in Peter, Paul and Mary's “Puff the Magic Dragon,” before calling it “tame” compared to the explicit lyrics found in contemporary pop music.

Case in point, Spears' “If You Seek Amy.” CMI reported in January that when Spears sings the phrase, “it clearly sounds like she is saying, “F**K me.”

It's not lost on the young tweens who make up part of Spears' audience. Eleven-year-old Kara Grifonetti told Berman that Spears' “Amy” “tries to sneak things in. Like, it says it so fast that like, you almost can't hear it. But if you think about it, you can hear it.”

Caryn Ganz, deputy editor of Rolling Stone Website, characterized the not-too-clever play on words as, “It's more than a little dirty. I'm not sure how much I can say on TV.”

Berman also singled out “Right Round,” and asked tweens what that song was about. According to Ganz it is “pretty clearly an oral sex song” but that message seems to be a bit more hidden than the one found in Spears' song. Ten-year-old David Oritz told Berman he thought  “it's about that Flo Rida like, loves this girl or something.”

Kara's mom, Kathryn Grifonetti, showed the importance of parents looking up the lyrics to their children's favorite songs. She didn't realize the meaning of “Right Round” until Berman showed her the lyrics. Grifonetti stated, “I should have picked it up. I'm the mom, right? I should have been like, wait a second. Now I'm reading it, and I'm like, oh my goodness.”

“Right Round” contains the following lyrics:

      You spin my head right round, right round
      When you go down, when you go down down
      You spin my head right round, right round
      When you go down, when you go down down

      From the top of the pole I watch her go [down]
      She got me throwin my money a[round]
      Ain't nothin more beautiful to be [found]
      It's goin down down.

As Berman noted, this is not the first time in history that pop songs have contained questionable lyrics.  “Listen to Those Lyrics”, a June 2008 CMI study of Billboard's top 50 songs from last spring found that nearly half contained sexually suggestive lyrics and over 25 percent featured sexually degrading lyrics.

However this topic deserves more than the simple head-shaking Berman gave it during his segment. Research indicates that song lyrics affect teens. “Lyrics” noted research that has found “16 percent of high schoolers ranked music among the top three sources of moral guidance.” Furthermore, “A 2006 study published in Pediatrics found that adolescents who listen to music with degrading sexual lyrics were more likely to initiate sexual intercourse and engage in other sexual behavior.”

Berman reported that kids as young as 10 were listening to Spears sing “F**K Me” and Flo Rida sing about oral sex. These are the messages young kids are receiving from popular music today.

CMI applauds ABC for addressing the sometimes cryptic lyrics and messages in today's popular music and for pointing out the need for parents to monitor their children's media diet. But journalists also need to acknowledge the risks associated with such music.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.