You Are What You Listen To


When words are set to music that power increases. This is because our brains are designed to process language in the left hemisphere and melody in the right hemisphere. Rhythm and melody are also memory devices, so the messages we hear in songs stick with us long afterwords we’ve read or words that have been spoken to us fall away. That’s what I want to talk about today. Recently I had occasion to hear the lyrics from songs made popular by Kesha and Dr. Dre.

You are what you listen to

Let me take a moment to say here that I am not a prude nor am I naïve. I grew up in Hollywood and worked in the music business at A&M Records. I’ve toured the country with a band. I’ve also been behind the scenes on movie sets and at television tapings. I’ve heard – and said – my share of colorful language.

But here’s the difference. No matter how naughty music stars of the Golden Oldies era may have been, their lyrics were not harmful. Were they sometimes silly, schmaltzy, and often nonsensical? Yes, yes, and yes. Did they sometimes contain playful sexual innuendo? Again, yes.

However, they were not vulgar, crude, hurtful, disrespectful, and full of objectification. They didn’t describe sexual acts in crass terms, talking about women as if they were dogs or pieces of meat to be used up and thrown away. Unfortunately, too many recording artists today are taking the low road creating music that is derogatory and mean-spirited.


To demonstrate what I mean, one might compare the lyrics of Stevie Wonder to Snoop Dogg, for example – “You are the sunshine of my life,” indeed. I get it – edgy is cool. But there is nothing edgy about vulgarity or profanity in music. It isn’t shocking. It’s just lazy, pathetic, and sad. It demeans those who produce it. And it damages the esteem and the compassion of those who listen to it. It is pornography for the ears – corrosive and toxic.

For those who would defend it as free speech, I would vigorously differ. There is nothing free about it. For the cost is great. It is the incalculable cost of disheartened spirits and polluted minds. That is why I’m grieving. Our bright, beautiful young people are being deluged with a sea of messages that defile and degrade. Drink fresh water and you’ll be healthy. Drink water contaminated with toxic sludge and it will make you sick.


Massru Emoto was an author and researcher who did fascinating work to show how water responds to words. His photos of frozen water demonstrate the impact of words and images on the formation of water crystals.¹ Positive words or images resulted in beautiful crystals. Negative words or images resulted in distorted, misshapen crystals.

According to NASA our bodies are made up of about 70% water.² Is there any reason to believe the water in our own bodies responds to negative, hurtful words any differently? If someone could take a picture of our minds what would be the visual representation of how words of decadence and disrespect distort us?

Paul’s “Whatever is true” speech from Philippians 8 becomes immediately more profound when seen in this light. “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

I’ve spent the last fifteen years working in a ministry that uses songs to encourage people. Time and again I’ve seen the power of words to bring hope, comfort, and healing to storm battered hearts wounded by abuse, addiction, or disease. If you doubt the power of words take five minutes and watch this video of how high school students react to being told they’re beautiful.

If you’re thirty or older ask yourself what it would mean for the next generation if the songs that make up the soundtrack of their youth celebrated relationships characterized by tenderness and emotional intimacy.

If you’re in your teens or twenties ask yourself, are the songs you hear building you up into the person you ultimately want to be? There are lots of recording artists creating songs that are worthy of your time. Think critically about the songs and artists that make up your playlist.

You are what you eat, drink, and listen to.


Originally posted 4/11/16

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