Robert Pagliarini

I'm guessing that ever since the first caveman banged two rocks together and hummed a tune, music has been blamed for corrupting our youth. For example, music has been linked with alcohol abuse, contributing to violence and increasing sexual promiscuity, among other transgressions. Musicians from Elvis to Ice T to Marilyn Manson have been criticized for the effect their music has on kids. But, as any radio listener who has sung along at the top of their lungs can attest, music can stir the soul. It can give you energy, a purpose, and it can unite a generation behind an idea or cause. Headlines focus on the deleterious effects of music, but there is a powerful positive force that deserves equal attention.

Music isn't just for entertainment; it can also be a tool to create energy and promote health. The American Music Therapy Association says music therapy can promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation. Music therapy is also used to improve neural plasticity, which allows the brain to rewire around injured areas.

But if you haven't suffered a brain injury, can you still use music to live a richer life? Three of the biggest pop stars today -- Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Pink -- have hit songs with lyrics that could have been ripped from the self-help section at your local bookstore. The question is, can listening to pop stars as they espouse pop psychology be therapeutic? My gut says yes. I contacted Dr. Marc Skelton, a clinical psychologist in Laguna Niguel, Calif., to weigh in on three of the most popular songs on the radio today:

Lady Gaga -- "Born This Way"

According to Dr. Skelton, this hit song "contains lyrics reflecting how a parent can instill confidence in a child, which is very positive. She also promotes self-acceptance through lines such as 'Just love yourself and you're set.' These messages are affirming to an adolescent who is trying to find their way in a complex world."

Katy Perry -- "Firework"

While I doubt this song will win awards for its lyrical complexity (e.g., "Do you ever feel like a paper bag"), "Firework" does have a strong message that resonates with adolescents. Dr. Skelton says the focus is on "fostering a unique identity and being optimistic, or at least finding reasons for being positive. She also seems to have insight into how listeners can impact others, not so much by being impressive but rather by expressing their own intrinsic talents. This song is a very good message for improving an individual's outlook, versus remaining self-conscious."

Pink -- "Perfect"

"Perfect" is a sugarcoated pop song that has the ability to inspire its listeners. Dr. Skelton's analysis shows that this song "encourages those who may be insecure to try, try again, while learning along the way that it is okay to make mistakes."

The bottom line according to Dr. Skelton: "Given the listening audience for all three artists may largely be composed of teens and young adults who are psychologically navigating the waters of identity versus confusion and intimacy versus isolation, the lyrics offer needed hope. As the struggle is both developmentally appropriate and universal to replace insecurity with confidence, optimism instead of negativity, and self-acceptance rather than personal condemnation, the artists' efforts do help to affirmatively point the way."

It turns out listening to pop music doesn't have to be such a guilty pleasure after all. As Lady Gaga sings, "There's nothing wrong with lovin' who you are," even when that includes listening to cheesy pop songs.


Robert Pagliarini is a CBS MoneyWatch columnist and the author of "The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose" and the national best-seller "The Six-Day Financial Makeove"

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