Alcoholic content warning: Scientists say increasingly boozy lyrics could be encouraging young people to drink

Songs such as Katy Perry's 'Last Friday Night' have been cited as having the potential to influence underage drinkers in a way that is comparable to advertising alcohol to under-18s

Songs in the UK charts are increasingly referring to heavy drinking in a way that could be encouraging young people to drink, researchers have claimed.

In the past four decades the alcoholic content of popular music lyrics has surged, so that now nearly one in every five singles in the top 10 will directly mention its consumption, according to scientists from the Liverpool John Moores University.

Such alcoholic content more than doubled from the period between 2001 and 2011, up to 18.5 per cent of songs, while the figure was just 2.1 per cent in 1991.

Researchers analysed more than 600 successful singles from 1981 onwards, with the lyrics of each song assessed independently by two team members to identify references to alcohol and alcohol consumption.

The study singled out the 2011 song “Last Friday Night” by US artist Katy Perry as an example of a song which had achieved chart success in 17 countries worldwide, including the UK.

“It describes a night of drinking ‘too many shots’ and engaging in a range of risky and anti-social behaviours; with the intention to do it all again the following week,” the report reads.

Strict criteria were applied to define a “mention” of alcohol, and the high figures do not even include fairly obvious but indirect references such as non-specific drinking at parties (the study offered “Sippin’ on a different drink,” Snoop Dogg vs. David Guetta – Sweat, 2011, as an example).

“We’re dancing on the bar”, appearing in The Saturdays’ All Fired Up (2011) was also “deemed too ambiguous for inclusion”.

In a separate study this summer, scientists from Boston University found that almost a quarter of all US chart music in 2009, 2010 and 2011 contained references to drinking alcohol. One in six linked drinking to having sex, while a little more than 6 per cent contained mentions of specific brands.

Professor Karen Hughes, from the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, said: “The inclusion of alcohol references in popular music can be more than just a portrayal of drinking behaviour, but also a form of advertising and marketing for alcoholic products.

“Public health concerns are already focused on the impacts of alcohol advertising on the drinking behaviours of young people, yet the growing reference to alcohol in popular music could mean that positive alcohol promoting messages are reaching much larger audiences.

“Health and other professionals should be vigilant to ensure that popular music does not become a medium for reinforcing and extending cultures of intoxication and alcohol-related harm.”

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