Chrysalis L. Wright
University of Central Florida
Francesca Dillman Carpentier
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Brigham Young University
Illinois State University
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
The 2018 report of the Division 46 Task Force on the Sexualization of Popular Music highlighted the potential negative impact that sexualized content in popular music can have on tweens. This is particularly relevant as tweens (8-12 years of age) regularly interact with popular music, which includes listening to music, following music artists online, and through streaming services (Common Sense Media, 2015). In particular, the report highlighted how exposure to sexual content in music is related to identity and gender role development (e.g., Gonzalez de Rivas et al., 2009; Morgado, 2007; Timmerman et al., 2008), stereotypical gender role attitudes, sex role schemas, gender ideals (e.g., ter Bogt et al., 2010; Ward et al., 2005), and sexual attitudes and behaviors (e.g., Andsager & Roe, 2003). The Task Force also found that children and tweens exposed to sexualized music may be vulnerable to premature sexualization as evidenced by their attempts to emulate the artists’ portrayed image and stage persona (Ey & Cupit, 2013).
It is important to note that the influence of music is not limited to song content alone. Tweens who identify with music artists are likely to learn from them by watching their behaviors on television, following them on social media, and/or communications on fan sites (Richert et al., 2011). Boden (2006) found that the contemporary overall image and lifestyle of music artists influence identity formation and presentation, noting that children desire to physically imitate their pop star idols. The music media can provide role models, social and sexual scripts, and create subcultures.
Taking into account tweens’ considerable interaction with popular music and the potential consequences of such interaction, the Task Force report advocated for popular music media literacy and education, which has been found to be substantially lacking (Wright et al., 2017). The Task Force has addressed this gap by developing a popular music media literacy website drafted for middle school aged students (11-13 years) and are currently in the process of collecting data to examine the effectiveness of the website.
In developing the website, the Task Force ensured that the content included is appropriate for middle school students. The website starts with a quick vocabulary lesson to gain students’ attention and progresses into a discussion about music as a commercial business and the student as a consumer. The website then guides the student through mini lessons about what it means to be a knowledgeable consumer of music.
To make students knowledgeable consumers of music, the website includes a demonstration of how music is created using instruments and technology (e.g., auto-tune & photoshop). Autotune is defined and then an example of its use for a popular music artist is provided. The use of photoshop is also demonstrated through visual examples of popular music artists. The examples are associated with images and stage persona (or brand) of music artists to show that music is a highly profitable occupation for performers. Such examples are intended to illustrate differences between how music artists present themselves and act on stage while performing and in their real life.
The website also discusses how music artists sometimes promote and encourage stereotypes about gender, sexuality, social class, drug use, and race in the interest of profit, and how at times they later regret such decisions. The website also includes a discussion of music artists’ personal views on their music and impression management in music. The website also uses video clips to illustrate the ways in which music is made for entertainment purposes only and not for imitation or accurately reflecting reality. Additionally, the website compares and contrasts popular music and the brand or image of performers around the world and discusses how tradition, culture, and finances influence what is portrayed in their songs, brand and persona.
This website for middle school students is just one popular music media literacy resource that the Task Force is working on. Additional websites are being developed for students in elementary school, high school and college. Resources that include protective educational information for parents, caregivers, and educators are also in the pipeline. The goal of making these resources available is not to diminish music consumption by children and young people but help them to enjoy popular music from an informed perspective. It is hoped these resources will help reduce the potential negative effects of sexualized content for consumers of various ages.
(To review the current version of the website for middle school students see: https://musicwit.weebly.com/)