A Musical Review of 2014: Drugs, alcohol, bulimia & body shaming

By NATALIE BULIK-SULLIVAN
Published: December 30, 2014

2014 witnessed the release of a number of truly fantastic pop songs. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off,” Bastille’s “Pompeii,” Sia’s “Chandelier,” and Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” are just four of the amazing songs that have topped the Billboard Hot 100 over the past twelve months. Unfortunately, along with these impressive displays of musicianship have come several songs whose lyrics are concerning, even if their beat is catchy.

Take, for example, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” and Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High),” both of which rose to the Top Ten on the Billboard.

Meghan Trainor has the reach and the voice to be a positive force in the battle against weight stigmatization. In the first few stanzas of “All About That Bass,” we are led to believe that she is putting her power to good use. She calls out magazines for abusing Photoshop and demands that they stop, assuring listeners that, “…every inch of you is perfect/From the bottom to the top.” Then, she completely undoes her strong positive body acceptance message when imparting words of wisdom from her mother, namely, that one should accept one’s size because, “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” This morphs the message from one of body acceptance to one of objectification. The meaning becomes that your size is perfect, but only because that’s what men want. Trainor’s later reference to thin individuals as “skinny bitches” is unnecessary and represents the other end of the weight stigmatization spectrum—skinny shaming. Body shaming, of any body shape or size, is disrespectful and appalling.

A secondIMG_0949 worrisome song is “Habits (Stay High),” by Tove Lo. Two major issues stand out with this song’s lyrics: 1) bulimia is glamorized through the lyrics, “I get home, I got the munchies/ Binge on all my Twinkies/ Throw up in the tub,” and 2) the chorus, “I gotta stay/ High, all the time/ To keep you off my mind,” suggests that drugs are an effective method of recovering from a relationship break-up.

Other pernicious 2014 lyrics include Tiësto’s, “I like us better when we’re wasted” and Bebe Rexha’s, “I can’t stop drinking about you/ I gotta numb the pain.”

Granted, rock, pop, and rap lyrics have never been guidelines for clean living, but this year seems to have produced a bumper crop of lyrics rife with weight stigma and glamorization of drug use, addiction, and eating disorders.

The lesson from 2014 is that we need to be more cognizant of the music we support. In 2015, if a musician releases a song with unhealthy or disturbing messages, make your opinion known. Talk to your friends about it, boycott it by turning off the radio when it’s played and calling the station, get it banned in certain places (like this example of banning Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” at the University College London’s student union), tweet your opinion with the artist’s twitter name and hashtag, and send a message directly to the artist. Or be creative and do your own cover like, “All About That Neis” (the Maccabeats hit) or “Word Crimes”, a parody of “Blurred Lines” by Weird Al Yankovic. Maybe your alternative will go viral!