Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Beauty of Lyricism Lost in the Heat of Trends: Effect of Explicit Music on Listeners

Illustration by Alicia Zhang ’27

Explicit content in music is normalized, covering up the true negative connotations artists profit off of. With heavy, catchy beats, artists can sneak by with inserting inappropriate language in their lyrics. Music is evolving, and whether or not it’s for the better of the young generations is the big question. What makes up a song is its lyrics and beat, but what completes a song is the story and the message it delivers. Songs regarding topics of gun violence, misogyny and extreme sexual language, glorifies a certain lifestyle that can be a potential harm for people of all ages, but specifically to the children who are now growing up with these songs as their musical norm. 

Many singers and songwriters feel different about incorporating explicit themes into their music. Kings Kalohelani, the lead sound engineer for ‘Iolani School as well as a member of an award winning music group named Walea, expresses his feelings about his deep passion for music and the evolution of the industry. His love for music is mostly due to its ability to evoke emotion from people. He says, “One of the things that my songwriting group and I try to focus on is trying to be relatable with multiple generations. When we’re writing, we strictly try to stay away from explicit material. Explicit material opens the door to only a niche market, which makes things hard as an artist.” He brings up an important point that a hit song or hit artist connects to all people of all ages for everyone to commonly enjoy listening to, and with swear words or misogynistic talk, it’s hard to share a common liking. 

Music works and helps in different ways for every individual. Music can teach, motivate, cure or simply uplift one’s mood, showcasing the beauty of song and lyricism. Athletes often use music, particularly rap or upbeat focused music, to get them in the right headspace so that they are ready to play. The loud bass, harsh beat drops, catchy choruses and motivating lyrics in rap music is what helps athletes to lock in, or get focused and in the right headspace. Brooke Harris ’27, a freshman on the girls varsity soccer team, shares her thoughts on rap music. “I do listen to rap before games because it gets me hype. It’s not only the beat that does it for me, but it’s the lyrics in some songs that are very motivational. I don’t listen to rap that constantly talks about drugs and things like that just because the way those artists convey those topics and lifestyle is personally not right in my opinion. In my eyes, why give money and streams to an artist who sings about illegal things?” Digging deeper into motivational rap, Harris states that “Lose Yourself” by Eminem is one she often listens to a lot before games because of how he touches on the subject of performance under pressure, and how to clear your head before big moments in life. 

Other young children listen to music often whether it’s on TV, the radio or social media, but do they really understand what these songs and artists are saying? Kids not old enough to fully grasp the meaning behind songs listen to them because it’s what’s on the radio or on the internet, free for anyone to view or listen to, which is part of the problem. Madison Imaoka ’31, a Lower School student who often listens to music, shares what she does when she comes across swear words in a song and states, “When I come across a swear word in the song, I act shocked and then don’t sing it.” When asked if swear words of negative language affect her choice to listen to a song, she says, “They don’t really matter or change anything for me.” If listeners like Imaoka feel that explicit language doesn’t add anything to the song, then why do artists weave it into their work so frequently? What keeps listeners hooked on their music if it’s not for the stories they tell?

Social media plays a big role in the performance of songs and their effect on an audience. Mr. William Heyler ’19, a recent addition to the ʻIolani faculty, shares his thoughts on the virality of music due to social media. Social media affects the music industry in a multitude of ways, one way being its ability to bring back music from past generations, enabling the accessibility of many old gems for younger generations to enjoy. Mr. Heyler says that two “oldies” that prove this social media effect are “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush and “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. 

The internet also gives a platform for newer and smaller artists who are either starting up or didn’t previously have the resources to vastly publicize their work. Mr. Heyler says that social media definitely has made songs more viral, especially those of  “unknown artists.” He feels that social media has affected the minds of artists and musicians, stating that artists now alter their music to be top hits on TikTok by shaping songs to be shorter and more repetitive with a simpler beat and lyric format in hopes of setting the next trend. This way, artists have a greater chance of their song being the audio for the next big TikTok dance, accumulating millions of streams. From this point, as soon as a trend goes viral, the song is then passed around. But what happens when that song contains lyrics touching on blatantly inappropriate behavior? No one seems to care; the main focus for social media users is to hop on the trend before it gets old, completely ignoring what the trend entails or what the audio is really about.

 A perfect example of this is “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, a song that blew up globally in 2017. Several years ago the song went viral, and for what? People who didn’t even speak the Spanish language were hyping it up on all social media platforms simply because of the track and its “danceability.” The trend passed without anyone truly debunking the hit’s true meaning, but years later it is now known that Fonsi’s song barely has any line which doesn’t entail inappropriate and sexual behavior. The lyrics being almost 100% in Spanish didn’t stop the song from reaching the U.S. ‘s top charts, proving that it truly is only the beat and trendiness of the song that determined its popularity.   

 As a young teacher and alumnus from the class of 2019, Mr. Heyler believes that music in a school setting has changed in a rather quick manner. When asked if the rules regarding music at school events has changed he adds, “I remember at the most recent Winter Ball, the songs the DJ chose didn’t necessarily have the ‘cleanest’ lyrics, especially compared to the songs heard at my middle-school dances. I think social media had a role in this, as the songs most people “vibe” to today are the ones found on social media ‘for you pages’ and heard on the radio.” 

Even the numbers prove the point that explicit music is everywhere, whether you choose to listen to it or not or whether you’re even aware of it. In 2017, 75% of the Billboard Hot 100s were explicit songs, and since then the numbers have only increased. In 2023, 84% of the music industry’s recorded revenue was thanks to streaming platforms, proving that anyone with internet access can be exposed to music with zero restriction. This goes to show that social media plays a huge part in the spread of explicit music. The Hot 100s in 1990 showcased significantly less swearing and inappropriate language than today, a huge reason being that social media wasn’t around to rapidly spread music. 

Explicit content in music is not new, but the rapid growth rate it has on top charts is what the problem is. The music industry is progressing away from traditional storytelling, and is instead painting the picture of a life many young listeners “aspire” to live. As Kings Kalohelani previously stated, music is special because of the emotion it evokes out of people, and the variety of emotion a single song can bring out. The stories that songs share is what makes music so beautiful; but as the industry evolves and profanity and explicit material is filtered into music even more than it already is, the beauty and definition of storytelling will not hold nearly as much importance and meaning as it once did. So the next time you turn up the volume of your car radio, listen to the first song that is played, for once. Listen to the message it provokes and understand the story it shares. 

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About the Contributor
Phoebe H., Staff
Hi! My name is Phoebe and I’m a freshman at ‘Iolani School. This is my second year as an Imua Newsroom staff member! I originally chose Imua last year to try something new and enhance my writing skills, but I came back again this year because of the people and memories I made in this community. Outside of the newsroom, I love hanging out with my friends and exploring new food spots and beaches with them. My favorite movie is How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Black Panther. I typically enjoy reading articles about ‘Iolani’s campus life, national news, and popular trends/media, so I’m hoping that this year I get the opportunity to write more pieces surrounding those topics. I’m super excited to be a staff member for the second time and am looking forward to seeing the articles we put out this year!

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