What does Lady Gaga have in common with Miley, Madonna, Kanye, and Rihanna?
The "Applause" singer is the latest celeb to discuss the popular club drug Molly, which has been in the news lately following at least four deaths from the drug in recent weeks. Over Labor Day weekend, two people at the Electric Zoo dance music festival in New York City, at least one death occurred at a nightclub in Boston, and a 19-year-old University of Virginia student died from what's suspected to be a bad batch of the drug weaving its way through the East Coast.
So, what is Molly exactly? It's an old drug with a new name. Molly — short for "molecule" — is the powdered form of MDMA, the main ingredient also in the club drug ecstasy, which has been around for several decades. The drug creates a euphoric feeling of empathy and is often taken at electronic music concerts. Many drug experts see the repurposing of MDMA under the relatively harmless-sounding new name "Molly" as one of the best remarketing efforts the drug business could have possibly thought up.
Moreover, Molly is often mixed with other drugs, which can lead to dangerous combinations. Earlier this year, New York Magazine wrote an extensive cover story on how whole new categorizations of designer drugs are popping up, many of which are generally labeled as Molly.
In the past couple of years, many popular musicians have been talking and singing about Molly. In her summer anthem "We Can't Stop," Miley sings a line that many clearly hear as "dancing with Molly," although she claims she's singing "dancing with Miley." In his 2012 song "Mercy," Kanye raps "somethin' 'bout Mary she gone off that Molly" and "a gnashing of teeth," which is a side effect of using the drug. Rihanna sings "as we moonshine and molly" in her hit song "Diamonds" from this past year. And in 2012, Madonna appeared alongside DJ Avicii at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and asked the audience, "How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?"
As for Gaga, well, she didn't "plead the fifth" when it came to talking about her past drug use with Andy Cohen on his late-night Bravo talk show "Watch What Happens Live" on Wednesday.
"When was the last time you did Molly?" Andy Cohen asked.
"I think maybe it's hard to remember," she said while laughing. She then admitted that she did it a lot in her "raver days," although the singer says now that she wouldn't encourage it. "I just spent a lot of time at [the] Bonnaroo [Music Festival in Tennessee] and going to a lot of festivals … but I definitely wouldn't encourage it because it can be dangerous. Especially if you don't know where you're getting it from. So I guess I would just use this opportunity to tell you to be careful with Molly," Gaga noted. "If you get to know Molly too well, you might turn out like me!!" she concluded, pulling her hair and bulging her eyes out, imitating how someone who is using the drug might appear.
"And who wouldn't want to turn out like Lady Gaga?" asks Tammy Anderson, a Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware, who's an expert on the subject of the burgeoning electronic music and club scene and spoke to omg! about the trend. Professor Anderson published the book "Rave Culture: The Alteration and Decline of a Philadelphia Music Scene" in 2009 (Temple University Press), and has over 15 years teaching experience in alcohol, drugs, and deviance.
"If you look historically outside of the EDM scene, you can see a lot of musicians talk about different sorts of drugs. Look at marijuana use in hip-hop," she explains. "Historically, the Grateful Dead — back when they were popular in the '70s — talked a lot about snorting cocaine. That carried into the '80s with Eric Clapton and many other artists [such as Grandmaster Melle Mel's song 'White Lines (Don't Don't Do It).'] Jimi Hendrix sang about heroin. The Rolling Stones sang about amphetamine use in the '60s with 'Mother's Little Helper.' Amphetamines were prescribed to housewives back then."
In fact, Professor Anderson says that the correlation between drug use and popular music goes back to the '50s when jazz artists were discussing marijuana use, leading to middle class kids from good families wanting to try it.
"What celebrities — usually musicians — do, is they create trends, and they install desire around lifestyles that young people want to emulate. If they do that with fashion, then of course they're going to do that with drug use," she says.
"So now you don't have just one person saying 'Molly is a great thing,' you have many artists doing so."
"omg! Insider" interviewed Simon Vozick-Levinson, an editor from Rolling Stone who has written extensively about Molly. He points out that musicians have to be careful about how blatantly they advocate for drug use. "Artists have to walk a fine line. Obviously they want to seem cool, so artists will reference drugs, but then they also don't want to be explicitly referencing drugs … They don't want to be seen that they're advocating for something that's illegal or possibly dangerous so they kind of have to — kind of — use those coded references. And that's something that goes back decades and decades in pop culture."
But Professor Anderson doesn't think the pop stars are necessarily the ones who deserve most of the blame. "It's easy to blame the pop stars who publicly condoned the very drugs that contributed to these young people’s deaths [and] some have claimed Molly use among college kids has increased because artists like Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Kanye West, and others have endorsed it," she says. "However, consider that none of them compounded, produced or sold this more potent form of MDMA to partygoers. That was the work of innovators in the illegal drug market, who similar to legitimate business people, are always looking for new products and brands to secure profits. Such is the nature of drug trends and marketing fads."
She adds that more lax national policies on drugs have contributed to tampered down anti-drug messaging, which has sparked more acceptance of drugs in our society. "Think back to the 'Just Say No' campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, which helped label ecstasy — Molly's weaker sibling — a dangerous drug to be avoided. During the height of the War on Drugs, it would have been commercial death for artists like Lady Gaga and those mentioned above to discuss Molly or any other drug in ways they are doing so today. We need to ask ourselves, 'What is our narrative about such drugs today, at a time when the Drug War itself has come under attack?'"
Hollywood stars have a powerful platform and they wield tremendous influence over pop culture. Professor Anderson sees them as having a sort of bully pulpit from which they can influence both cultural trends and, therefore, individual behavior. "Certainly, when Gaga warns of the dangers of Molly — which are likely more significant than ecstasy — she is being partially responsible. … [but] perhaps silence is the best medicine."
As you can see, the story of pop stars and drug use is as old as rock 'n' roll itself. What's new is that each generation has a different drug of choice, which often goes hand in hand with a musical genre that's popular at the time. Is Molly a more deadly drug than cocaine was in the '80s? It's hard to quantify that. But what's clear is that as long as there are pop stars out there making music … drugs are sure to follow close behind.
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