Parents and the music industry have gone head-to-head since the beginning. There was the push back against Elvis in the 1950s, the rallying that KISS was satanic in the 1970s, and of course, the parental advisory stamp that seasoned so many CDs in the nineties quickly became a cultural icon in itself. The music industry is a creative one, and artists have long been linked to so-called “immoral behavior.” There’s just one problem: What is immoral behavior, and who defines it?

For some, immoral behavior means illegal behavior. However, now that marijuana is being passed for recreational use in various states, does that make it no longer immoral for those who deemed it so for so many years? What about the fact that marijuana was a perfectly legal substance for thousands of years until the early 1900s when it was used as a pawn in racist law-making campaigns?

What’s immoral is only partially governed by what’s illegal. Every person also has their own personal morals and value. In other words, “immoral” doesn’t mean much because it’s highly subjective and constantly evolving within each person. Still, creative communities have long pushed the barriers and ignited controversy, and there’s no denying that designer drugs are featured heavily in some lyrics. The party drugs are dropped like celebrity names, and that can make a big impression on, well, impressionable listeners.

Some music can also seem to glorify violence, slut shaming, and much more. Does this make the music immoral? How about the artists? What about censorship—or lack thereof? Artists push boundaries because that’s their nature—and, oftentimes, their job. Everyone knows that the whole “parental advisory” labeling doesn’t work, especially in an era when it’s easy to stream and download just about anything you want. Regardless if music is immoral or not, a question that can’t be answered, the bigger question is what can we do about it?

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  • Separate art from reality. Art and reality can mimic one another, but they’re not necessarily one and the same. There may be musicians who sing regularly about being with a lot of women when in reality they’re happily in a monogamous relationship. Artists create personas and can highlight the worst of human nature. That persona sells, and they’re making a statement. However, impressionable listeners may confuse their art and persona with reality. We need to work towards separating the two and discussing these matters with youth.
  • Talking openly about the reality of behaviors discussed. The opioid epidemic largely occurred because the pills were made so readily available and patients weren’t told of the possible risks—like the high addiction rates. When music is showcasing dangerous behaviors, but listeners aren’t in environments where they have access to the full story, that’s when trouble starts brewing.
  • Artists should continue to take responsibility for their position in the limelight. There was a time when artists could be kept very separate from their music. Now, they’re active on social media and fans can get a chance to “know them” beyond their music. Artists have a big responsibility to use their platform for good. Like it or not, they’ve skyrocketed to role model status, and it’s up to them to address issues that they cover in their art.

Music and the controversy over immoral lyrics is a battle that will never end. It’s organic. Just like writers, painters, and filmmakers will continue to get discourse started by way of controversy. In tough times, it’s the artists who have the voices, talents, and platforms to be heard through creativity. However, just as powerful is how we receive and share that talent.

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