Too much is enough, Tulisa

Bono, the lead singer of Dublin-based rock band U2, asserts that ‘music can change the world because it can change people,’ and indeed it does – both positively and negatively. Commanding the potential to transcend all boundaries of communication, it is one of the world’s most influential cultural forces. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow states, music is the ‘universal language of mankind.’ Those that can successfully harness its power can influence the beliefs of individuals significantly as a result, and there is one group of individuals that is often affected in particular: adolescents. Helping them to ‘create a personal identity’ as they provide ‘information about society, social and gender roles, and expected behaviour’ in their work, musicians can become a young person’s role model. On the website LAyouth, 18 year-old Nancy Berabe writes that Bob Marley’s reggae music is what she looks for ‘every time I need some uplifting,’ motivating her ‘to overcome the tough times I encounter each day.’ After being reprimanded for not attending school once when she was 13, Nancy says that it was Marley’s lyrics: ‘There you are crying again / But your loveliness won’t cover your shame’ that made her ‘reflect’ on her actions and thus ‘encouraged’ her to attend classes each day. Music has had a profound affect on 17 year-old Mark Riviera, too: ‘popular opinion controlled my ideas,’ he says, ‘until I heard Bob Dylan sing, “Gonna change my way of thinking/ Make myself a different set of rules.” The lyrics inspired him ‘to see the real world,’ taught him ‘to appreciate life’ and thus helped him to become ‘a real person,’ – ‘the person,’ Mark says, ‘that I am today.’

Music, then, is a changeable force for young people in the modern world, and the significant impact musicians can have over adolescents subsequently brings about a degree of responsibility in regard to what message(s) they communicate through their lyrics and music videos. However, rather than embracing their influence over them, some musicians in the UK’s pop music industry abuse the power their music has granted them – musicians such as Tulisa Contostavlos. Regardless of whether she does so intentionally or not, Tulisa promotes binge drinking – one of the UK’s most dangerous (and common) nightlife activities – in the second single taken from her debut album, ‘Live It Up’. By definition of the Oxford English Dictionary, binge drinking is ‘the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time.’ Consequently, there is an unequivocal correlation between the definition of binge drinking and some of the song’s lyrics and video content. Throughout the song, Tulisa, a 24 year-old singer-songwriter who originally found fame with the Camden-based hip-hop group N-Dubz, sings on three occasions: ‘put something in your cup/ Too much is not enough,’ a lyric that, along with the song’s opening line: ‘We should pop more champagne this year,’ firmly suggests alcohol is something that can be consumed excessively. The image of a young woman being held upside down as she drinks from the spear of a beer keg then provides evidence of alcohol being consumed in a short period of time. The Urban Dictionary defines this stunt as a Keg Stand: ‘the act of guzzling alcohol in an inverted position in massive quantities, with onlookers cheering.’ It also explains why the young girl, who does indeed appear to be surrounded by cheering onlookers, is upturned in the video: ‘there is a common myth that by being positioned upside-down during the consumption of beer, the alcohol will reach the brain more quickly.’ This romanticized portrayal of binge drinking is dangerous: there is no hint of the violence, unprotected sex and vomiting that it can often instigate in reality. If they watch this video and listen to its lyrics, adolescents in the UK, who already have ‘some of the highest levels of teenage binge drinking, drunkenness and alcohol related problems in Europe, may subsequently assume that alcohol is a harmless substance and that binge drinking is socially acceptable. However, with one mother writing on Tulisa’s Facebook page (without any hint of irony): ‘she is such a great role model for young girls,’ it seems that some parents are worryingly oblivious to this notion.

In April 2011, Ofcom, the UK’s regulatory authority, deemed the lyric: ‘You want some more baby? I love the way you do it cos you do it so crazy’ as ‘unsuitable’ due to its breaching of rule 1.3  – even though ‘it does not contain an explicit sexual reference, it ‘is ambiguous in its meaning, and is unlikely to be understood by children as specifically referring to sex’. In ‘Live It Up,’ though, there is no ambiguity in its lyrics: ‘Put something in your cup/ Too much is not enough.’ It is an explicit reference to drinking alcohol excessively, thereby promoting a substance that is considered to be the ‘most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin’ – even ‘more harmful than heroin or crack’. Therefore, when it surpasses the standards of what regulatory authorities regard as inappropriate in other contentious issues, how is ‘Live It Up’ not also considered to be the same? By portraying alcohol as something harmless that is fun to consume excessively, she contributes towards the ‘culture of intoxication’ that has recently emerged among the UK’s adolescents. However, perhaps a more perturbing notion to consider is: what motivates Tulisa to advocate binge drinking to her audience? Though she obviously does not advocate it with the specific intention of causing harm to them, Tulisa, a self-proclaimed’ inspiration for broken Britain’ sings about binge drinking deliberately; she knows the subject of alcohol will appeal to her audience. In the article ‘Why Do Students Love Booze,’ for instance, one university student in the UK says: ‘alcohol is seamlessly ingrained into the majority of most students’ lifestyles,’ whilst another describes how they go out clubbing ‘several times a week,‘ an activity that has also become increasingly popular among party-going under-18s with the introduction of ‘kids’ events at nightclubs. Of course, Tulisa, who was recently described by one teenage fan as ‘an inspiration to all the young,’ is not the first pop musician to publicise subjects that will appeal to their listeners. However, she is one of the first musicians to promote such dangerous activities as binge drinking to an audience that includes adolescents and children. In future, then, perhaps Tulisa should use her power over adolescents in the same way we are all encouraged to drink alcohol: responsibly.

This article is compiled from edited sections of ‘Music: how does it effect today’s youth?

Published on The Student Journals.



  1. grammatteus says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Ben. When I go to France, I am always amazed at the culture that enjoys good wine but detests drunkenness. They appreciate the good qualities of something without the downside. As are the Italians, apparently, though in Rome there is now a young set taking their lead from Anglo-Saxon binge culture and going out to deliberately get drunk. Sad!

    I also remember being disgusted at Alexandra Burke, a winner of X-Factor who appeared to be very real and sincere, when she released ‘Bad Boys’, which highlights the attractions of ‘bad boys’ for many young girls. The closing lyrics are :
    Yeah, the Bad Boys are always spinning my mind
    I said the Bad Boys are always catching my eye
    Bad boys, bad boys

    Irresponsible, for promoting the concept of being ‘bad’ being desirable for boys to be and girls to like. No wonder we have a generation of degenerate and irresponsible fathers (though thankfully not all are like that, but maybe they wonder why they get no praise for it. The bad ones seem to draw all the attention)

    • benstupples says:

      Tim, you are right: the Mediterranean culture, in general, has a very healthy relationship with alcohol. Having spent my first year at university gulping down endless pints of cider black (I’m not sure I’ll ever touch it again after I graduate), I was genuinely shocked to be served small cups of beer out here in Madrid, nicknamed ‘cañas’. Binge drinking is endemic amongst university students, meaning such behaviour has now trickled down into the younger group (the 16 – 18 year olds) who try to copy their behaviour. What really frustrates me, what made me write a whole essay on the matter is how musicians have picked up on this trend and used it, ultimately, to make a profit for themselves – Alexandra Burke would be a good example. In my opinion, scrounging off underage drinking – because that, in the most simple terms, is what it is – is morally reprehensible. I find it interesting that you mention the effect such a culture can have on paternity. Obviously, as a 20-year old, I cannot justify commenting on such an issue – I have around another decade, hopefully, before I enter fatherhood. However, from your point of view, how do you perceive my young generation? Can you see some of us young men maturing and becoming good fathers?

      • grammatteus says:

        You’re only 20!? You have a very mature head on your shoulders, from what I’ve read. Sheesh, you’re younger than my son and daughter (twins about to turn 23), and I’m a young cool granda now too.
        I do hope that many of your generation become good fathers. I have faith that not ALL will fail, but there is a real trend in our society towards the discarding of the male. There have been a few good books written on the phenomenon of post-feminist change, that has relegated men to a subclass of society, while everything that was their preserve is now overtaken by women. In my university, I am overwhelmed by the imbalance. My own course has 6 women and me, and there is only one other male postgrad within our school, only one in the undergrad 2nd year class of about 30, and only one young male lecturer. The university as a whole is about 75 to 80% female, from what I observe just walking along the mall.

        So many men here get pushed aside in decisions about parenting, from whether to even HAVE the child to schooling choices. Our kids came home from school with consent forms to sign, which stated that mothers could sign, and fathers…. if…. they were ‘married to and living with the mother, cohabiting with the mother, separated but with joint custody, separated but with a court order in place that gave them custodial rights over decisions… etc., etc.’ If fathers are devalued so much, any wonder they don’t ‘man up’ and be the fathers that nobody expects them to be?

      • benstupples says:

        Yeah! I am only just starting out in the wide world, determined to make people more aware of what is going on around them, as you also seem to be. Keep fighting: keep writing! The rise of feminist power has certainly challenged the status-quo of gender stereotypes, and I think men, in general, have reacted poorly. Instead of reacting positively, a lot of men – well, a lot of the men I know – have simply exacerbated the laddy, sexist culture that already existed. I saw it on my Twitter today: a friend of mine tweeted something along the lines of, “Next chapter – Feminism’s Development in Modern Society #Skippingthatforsurescrewwomen”. In our society, a society in which feminism is now a major aspect, such an attitude is startling, particularly as it came from a 21-year old. However, like you, I also share that hope that not everyone will fail, that some of us will set an example for others to follow – though I have yet to work out how that can be done on a widespread scale. Perhaps it can’t, though; perhaps the most important thing is to focus on your own parenting, hoping that others might take note of your actions in the process. Ghandi, without trying to sound cliché, said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’, and this might be one instance of that. What do you think? You are far more qualified to comment on this matter than me!

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