With the 2012 Grammy Awards and Valentine’s Day right around the corner, Start Strong Boston, a program of the Division of Violence Prevention at the at the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), is taking a critical look at the messages in songs from Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart.
For the third year in row, program youth have created a Top 10 Healthy and Unhealthy Relationship Song List to help other teens think through which songs can serve as models for their own lives and relationships, and which should not.
“We aren’t saying that you shouldn’t listen to certain songs because they may not have a healthy message, but it’s important to be able to recognize that a song, although it may be your favorite, may not have a positive message,” said Mileena Torres, one of the teens who helped score songs.
“Physical health and emotional health are closely linked,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Public Health Commission and a longtime JP resident. “Giving teens an opportunity to talk about the messages they are hearing in pop culture is just as important as reminding them to eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise.”
Songs like Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go,” Blake Shelton’s “God Gave Me You,” and “Stereo Heart” by Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine contain positive relationship themes, according to BPHC’s Start Strong peer leaders. These songs demonstrate that healthy relationships can be enjoyable and fun; can build up confidence and respect; and include honesty, openness, and faithfulness.
The songs on the unhealthy list portray negative relationships and behavior like drama, disrespect, and manipulation. According to the teens, the most unhealthy messages were in Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” “What the Hell” by Avril Lavigne, and “Backseat” by New Boyz featuring The Cataracs and Dev. A club hit from late last year, “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera, also made the list this year.
Unhealthy messages in a song can have amplified effects far beyond the individual song and it’s important that young people talk about the song’s messages to determine how to filter the unhealthy messages that are portrayed as love or affection, said Nicole Daley, director of Start Strong Boston. “We know that teen exposure to abuse, sometimes referred to as ‘drama,’ is a risk factor for dating violence, so it’s important that teens are deciphering the messages and are not normalizing the unhealthy messages in songs.”
This year’s first place unhealthy song, Marvin’s Room, has been remixed by a number of other artists, including JoJo, giving additional life to unhealthy the song’s messaging. “The unhealthy behaviors stemmed from both sides, the ex-girlfriend shouldn’t have picked up her phone late at night because her partner is not around and he should not have been drunk dialing her,” said Benson Bain, another Start Strong teen who helped score the songs.
As part of BPHC’s Start Strong Initiative, 20 teens attended a seven-week Healthy Relationship Institute funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation where they were trained in teen dating violence prevention and healthy relationship promotion. They also learned to look at pop culture critically and recognize the healthy or unhealthy relationship messages being conveyed. Using the Sound Relationships Nutritional Label as a guide, teens discussed songs and “scored” them based on their interpretation of the messages and images portrayed.
Top 10 Unhealthy Songs 2011
What the Hell
New Boyz feat. The Cataracs and Dev
Down on Me
Jeremih feat. 50 Cent
Moves Like Jagger
Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera
Bow Chicka Wow Wow
Mike Posner feat. Lil Wayne
Give Me Everything
Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo Afro Jack & Nayer
Top 10 Healthy Songs 2011
I Won't Let Go
God Gave Me You
Gym Class Heroes feat. Adam Levine
I Love You This Big
You Make Me Feel
Cobra Star Ship feat. Sabi
Just a Kiss
Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not
Click for information about the Commission’s Start Strong Initiative, and to download copies of the Top Ten Lists, Sound Relationships Nutritional Label, or TrueView Tool, or call 617-534-2269. You can score songs yourself at the Healthy Boston Blog.