In his popular “New Rules” segment on this weekend’s “Real Time,” Bill Maher went after materialism in modern music.
“If you want to know why your kids are so bratty, entitled and always asking for your credit card, check their Spotify playlists,” Maher began on his Friday night show. “Because the messages they’re hearing are a full 180 from what kids used to hear when they turned on the radio.”
Maher noted that Sinead O’Connor would be in the “In Memoriam” segment of this Sunday’s Grammy Awards and quoted what she said when she once pulled out of a show in protest: “There is an emphasis [in pop music] on materialism, and it’s not right to give people the message that they can fill their emptiness with material things.”
The host’s proposal for a new Grammy category? “Best Song Where No One Brags About Buying a Lot of S–t.”
“Before 1990, there were like two songs, ever, that glorified money,” Maher asserted. He cited “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong, released in 1959 before being popularized by the Beatles in the ’60s, and “Material Girl” by Madonna in the ’80s.
Maher then followed with a fast scroll of the titles of songs in the decades since, including names like “Money Ain’t a Thang,” “B–h Better Have My Money,” “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” and “Foe tha Love of $,” among numerous others — though that last Bone Thugs-n-Harmony song used a title riffing on a name going back to the 1973 soul number “For the Love of Money,” aka the “Money, Money, Money, Money” song. Maher also included numerous others, but most of the tunes featured were lesser-known songs rather than hits.
“And that’s just the ones that have ‘money’ in the title,” Maher emphasized.
Maher continued, “Nothing molds teenage hearts and minds like music and music culture. This is true across generations. When you turn 12, you’re done with your parents and start getting raised by pop stars.”
“The older people have the money and the power, but kids rule the charts,” Maher added. “And the lyrics of your youth are burned into your brain like that time you saw your father getting out of the shower.”
While Maher said he doesn’t remember a lot from eighth grade, but “if you asked me to finish the lyric ‘All you need is,’ I’m pretty sure I could come up with ‘love.’ But if I asked a kid today to finish that lyric, what would they say? I’m not sure, but I know what their heroes say.”
He went on to quote a variety of music stars, beginning with Cardi B’s lines, “Diamonds on my neck / I like boardin’ jets / But nothing in this world / that I like more than checks.”
Maher acknowledged that it grew out of rap, but argued that it’s now everywhere.
He quoted Lady Gaga’s line, “Damn, I love the Jag, the jet, and the mansion,” though it isn’t one of her more popular lyrics.
“Even country music has songs like ‘Rolex on a Redneck,'” Maher added to big laughs from the crowd, citing a song by Brantley Gilbert. He also pointed to Florida Georgia Line’s “New Truck,” which he said describes “how pimpy their truck is.”
Maher said that he felt this kind of “grooming,” using the popular conservative term, is what parents should actually be worried about.
He went back to Sonny and Cher lionizing the romance of being poor and in love, citing the line, “We don’t have a pot, but at least I’m sure of all the things we got” — before turning to the more modern Bruno Mars line, “I wanna be a billionaire so f–kin’ bad.”
“Kids blame my generation for ruining the planet, but good luck saving it, kids, if this is what you’re always dreaming about,” showing images of a private jet, a yacht and a sports car. “Always hearing a drumbeat that happiness results from getting things, things that a vast majority don’t have. The pop stars of my youth? Their message to me was that what made them happy was available to me too.”
Maher then sang a little Loggins and Messina, crooning, “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you, honey.” He followed with lyrics from the Temptations, the Beatles, Tina Turner and the Monkees before he pivoted back to the current day with Kanye West. The lines he quoted: “Lamborghini Mercy / Your chick she so thirsty / I’m in that two-seat Lambo / With your girl, she tryna jerk me.”
He cited a John Lennon line, “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can,” before Maher added, “and 10,000 rappers said ‘we can’t, and we don’t want to.’ And you know what? I don’t blame them.”
Of course, 1990 was more than three decades ago, so this isn’t exactly a recent shift. It notably appeared to be the most controversial with white male audiences when promoted by women celebrating wealth, such as Madonna, or when it became a part of rap culture in the ’90s.
Maher recognized the root cause of this: race.
“I get where this comes from. There is a racial element to this,” Maher said. “Suburban white hippie kids have the luxury of being anti-materialistic because they were never denied material things in the first place. There’s a reason Jimmy Buffett didn’t sing about bling — he was already eating a cheeseburger in paradise.”
He went back to the historical record, adding, “But the history of Black people in America is the history of being denied the means, and often even the right, to buy stuff, including a home in the neighborhood you might want to live in. So when the long denied finally becomes available, there’s going to be some flaunting. If you were excluded from luxury and then finally got it, you wouldn’t want to shut up about it either.”
The host’s next pivot was arguing that the trend has gone on too long, including beyond the rap world. He took another shot at Bruno Mars, this time starting off a montage of artists name-checking brands with “Finesse” and Mars singing “Versace.” The montage also includes Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Katy Perry and others, though notably includes no white men.
Maher said that “OK, boomer” isn’t an answer to his complaint. “And vomiting an inventory of your possessions doesn’t make you a poet,” he continued. “And, it’s been done. To death. Aren’t you tired of it? I’m old? This s–t is old. Get a second idea for a song.”
He followed up by stating that another popular musical topic in recent years is sadness, pulling up photos of Billie Eilish, Demi Lovato, Olivia Rodrigo, Phoebe Bridges and others, questioning if the love of money and that feeling are connected. He noted that Spotify data shows Generation Z’s top search last summer was for sad music, adding that Eilish and Lovato were part of Spotify’s “Sad Bops” playlist, describing it as “A good beat, you can dance to it, and then you want to slit your throat.”
Maher moved to conclude, “The good news is, I’ve seen the music industry clean up its act before. Not the sexual assault, they’re still doing that. But at least with the message of the music.”
The host turned back to attacking rap music, this time for the genre’s noted misogyny and homophobia from artists including Dr. Dre, Eminem and others.
“And we were OK with it, until we weren’t,” Maher said, finishing with, “and maybe it’s time now, it’s not to be OK with teaching kids you’re only as good as how much stuff you have.”
You can watch the full Maher segment in the video at the top of this story.