Science: Delinquents Have the Best Taste in Music


Greetings, people of 1985! Science has some teeeeeeeerrifying, spoooooooooooky news for you today! A new study published in the journal of Tipper Gore (DON’T TOUCH OR U WILL BE CURSED) Pediatrics reveals that your precious young ones are in grave danger of poisoning their brains with the devil’s music. Only, FYI, the devil has now expanded his music collection to include all combinations of sounds that are not Taylor Swift and/or Pat Metheny (coincidentally, also the “it” couple of 2013!). Please make a note of it. AND DESPAAAAAAIR!!!

The study—which followed 300 kids in the Netherlands through four years of adolescence—found that kids who reject pop music in favor of “non-mainstream” alternatives are “more likely to engage in bad behavior.” Via the Atlantic:

RESULTS: Twelve-year-olds who were into hip-hop, metal, gothic, punk, trance or techno/hardhouse had already begun to “act out,” and continued to do so by the time they were 16. Those who liked rock music at age 12 were relatively well-behaved, but were more likely to engage in bad behavior at 16.
…The strongest effect seen here existed between music preference at age 12 and delinquency later, at age 16. This suggests that “innocent” enjoyment of “deviant” music may be an early sign that the kids may grow up to be deviants themselves. As the authors theorize, “Music is the medium that separates mainstream youth from young people who may more easily adopt norm-breaking behaviors.”
They also suggest that “in peer groups characterized by their deviant music taste, norm-breaking youth may ‘infect’ their friends with their behavior.” Parents, you’ve been warned.

Oh, come on, you guys. How many times are we going to chase this dumb rabbit around the track? In Medieval Europe they literally banned certain intervals because only the devil could have birthed such suggestive dissonance. Depression-era jazz clubs were incessantly raided by police, because only dope fiends and scarlet women would taint their ears with such indecent caterwauling. Yesterday’s devil’s music is today’s hold music.

Are we also worried that beatniks are hiding jazz cigarettes in fun-size candy bar wrappers? When your son leaves the condo, does he re-buckle his knickerbockers below the knee? Have you checked your dumbwaiter for libertines!?!? I thought we’d outgrown this kind of reactionary silliness by now. But ‘kay. Better keep your kids away from those dastardly hippy-hoppers with their snoopy-poop sag-pants.

Here’s a quote the study itself:

The results showed that early fans of different types of rock (eg, rock, heavy metal, gothic, punk), African American music (rhythm and blues, hip-hop), and electronic dance music (trance, techno/hardhouse) showed elevated minor delinquency concurrently and longitudinally. Preferring conventional pop (chart pop) or highbrow music (classic music, jazz), in contrast, was not related to or was negatively related to minor delinquency.

Look. I understand that this study doesn’t have a conscious agenda, per se; it’s simply pointing out that musical preferences might be a correlative indicator of delinquent behavior, not a cause. The “non-mainstream” behavior influences the “non-mainstream” musical choices, not the other way around. But the methodology betrays a pretty clear bias against almost every genre of non-mainstream music (it may as well have been authored by my great-grandpa’s ear horn), as well as a myopic disregard for factors like socioeconomic status or education or instability at home, which could provide much more cogent insight into teenage delinquency. Clearly I can’t fault them for not doing a study they didn’t set out to do—I get it—but I can discuss the way we discuss studies like this, and the cultural ethos behind that discussion. We cool? Okay.

Pop music is made by people with no problems for people with no problems. Teenagers who listen ONLY to pop music are invested in conformity (also, are there really teens who like pop but don’t listen to ANY “African American music”? What strange Dutchman drew these lines?). Teenagers who listen only to jazz and classical are band nerds. Everyone else is just everyone else. Rates of delinquency are higher among people who aren’t either camped outside the Tacoma Dome to see Justin Bieber or praying their clarinet choir makes it to regionals? You don’t say. Maybe that’s because that group encompasses pretty much all people. And guess what—I just did a study in my head and found that 100% of juvenile delinquents are, in fact, people.

Do you know what other group of people strayed from the mainstream? Anyone who did anything worthwhile ever.

No, the study doesn’t say that hip-hop causes violence, but it enables stupid people who want to say that hip-hop causes violence. It feeds into insulting, rickety misconceptions like the idea that there’s no artistry in electronic music or that rappers rap because they lack actual talent (it’s just talking, isn’t it?). Misconceptions like those dismiss the artistic efforts of all musicians everywhere who are trying to enrich the world by creating something new. Something meaningful.

The study again:

Adolescence is a period for testing and internalizing culturally defined norms and values. During adolescence, young people develop a more autonomous position in relation to their parents and become more dependent on friends and peers in cliques and crowds. Because of decreased parental monitoring and parent-child communication and strengthened peer contacts and influences, adolescent minor delinquency (eg, shoplifting, vandalism, fighting, graffiti spraying) increases strongly, peaks sharply at about the age of 17, and drops precipitously in young adulthood.

Sure. I have zero doubt that most teenagers who are unafraid of bumping up against authority—by stealing a Snickers or tagging an overpass—are probably not listening to the complete discography of One Direction in an endless, dewy-eyed loop. But is that really important information? Do we really need to “beware”? Don’t we want our kids to become autonomous and test “culturally defined norms”? I certainly do. What a boring pile of mashed potatoes (unseasoned!!!) the world would become if they didn’t. (For that matter, isn’t “juvenile delinquent” kind of a melodramatic catch-all for what amounts to some pretty minor shit? I mean, I never did anything “bad” because GETTING IN TROUBLE IS MY KRYPTONITE, but I did listen to hip-hop—gasp—plus, I know plenty of accomplished, upstanding adults who shoplifted and I wouldn’t call them “reformed juvenile delinquents.”)

The majority of mainstream pop music is safe, formulaic, manipulative candy that’s pumped into our brains by salespeople 24/7. And that’s why we love the fuck out of it, myself included. I say this as a person who pretty much never turns off the Pandora station for Montel Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” (TRY IT, YOU’RE WELCOME). But at most, all this study shows us is that questioning the world can have some negative side effects. And we already knew that. Kids who never step outside of the pop-music bubble don’t listen to anything else because they’ve never investigated anything else. Because once you do, you discover that there’s a whole universe of nuance and insight and fearlessness that Taylor Swift (though important in her own way!) simply cannot convey. It’s like the day you realize that there’s no Santa Claus. It’s not a good day, but it’s important.

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