E arlier this week, I read the following and immediately barfed all over my phone:
"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 ... Early music preferences emerged as more powerful indicators of later delinquency rather than early delinquency, indicating that music choice is a strong marker of later problem behavior."
OK, I didn't actually throw up on my phone, but I felt like it. Those are the results of a study published in the journal Pediatrics, called to my attention by The Atlantic. The study tracked about 300 kids in the Netherlands from ages 12 to 16, keeping tabs on their music tastes and cases of delinquency.
Are we really still doing this? Elvis' music was inappropriate and certain to corrupt youth. Jazz was dirty business. People once thought tri-tone intervals were "the devil's chord." It's a human tradition to think music that is dissonant or even vaguely sexual or aggressive is a threat to society.
Then there's the chicken and the egg conundrum. There's a correlation between delinquency and non-mainstream music, but which comes first? And does it even matter?
I'm pretty sure the authors wrote this while clutching their pearls: "Music is the medium that separates mainstream youth from young people who may more easily adopt norm-breaking behaviors."
They also warn that kids with "deviant music taste" can "infect" (deviant! infect!) their friends with a case of the baddies.
Well, duh. Even "deviant" teens want to fit in with some kind of peer group. Some kids are just prone to getting into trouble, with or without music.
There's plenty of data in the study to show a correlation. The authors never say the music causes violence, and they acknowledge that public claims to that effect have been "wildly exaggerated."
So, why bother studying this at all? It's fuel for the crazy-fire. We don't need to expose teenagers only to supposedly safe pop. They'd miss a vast world of brilliant music, and there's a good chance that teenagers will still act out. They're teenagers.
In fact, let's give teens mixtapes of history's best non-mainstream music, in the hopes that they'll turn out to be thoughtful, "norm-breaking" adults.
At least then they'd be interesting to talk to at a party.