Music

Catchy crimes: Summer's hit songs would send you straight to jail

July 2, 2014 at 9:38 AM ET

Like pop music? How does prison sound? From resisting arrest to lighting money on fire, the breakout hits of summer 2014 abound with legally iffy suggestions. So we got to wondering: Exactly what would happen if you lived out the guilty pleasures depicted in top-ranking tunes by Iggy Azalea, Pharrell Williams, Miranda Lambert and more? Criminal defense attorney Brian Claypool chatted with TODAY.com and laid down the law.

Image: Iggy Azalea
Owen Sweeney / Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP
Stop and think before you trash a hotel room like Iggy Azalea's fancy felon.

CRIMINAL MISCHIEF: Iggy Azalea, “Fancy”
Pity the poor housekeeping crew. In this ditty, Azalea books a posh hotel room, gets hammered on mini-bar bottles, then proceeds to “trash” the joint. “Feels so good getting what I want!” she raves.

Question is, do handcuffs feel so good? Is a cold cell what she wants? 'Cuz that’s what you get when you mix criminal mischief with caviar taste, Claypool says. Destruction of property exceeding $10,000 in value — “not difficult in a fancy hotel,” he notes — could result in a $50,000 fine and up to a year in the pokey. (Rack up $20Gs in damage, and you’d be facing a felony conviction and four years behind bars.) By all means, though, go ahead and wreck a room you own. Staycations too can be fun!

RECKLESS DRIVING: Pharrell Williams featuring Miley Cyrus, “Come Get It Bae”
Don’t be wooed by the sunny guitar licks; this track onlysounds innocent. Here, Williams invites a lady to borrow his motorcycle and zip through the streets popping wheelies. All he asks is that she go easy on the clutch. What a guy!   

Better to “bae” smart and hit the brake, Claypool counsels. In some states, stunt riding could result in a reckless-driving conviction, which means up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. And while the guest rider in the song is said to have a license, there’s no mention of anyone having a helmet. (Sorry, Williams, a giant hat doesn’t count.) “The motorcyclist could face additional charges if a passenger is thrown from the vehicle and injured,” Claypool says. If you really like rolling on one wheel, do the right thing and get a unicycle.

CONSPIRACY AND OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE: Miranda Lambert featuring Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad”
This country stomper has Lambert and Underwood as a pair of kohl-eyed troublemakers fixing to “tear it up down in New Orleans, just like a real-life Thelma and Louise.” Once their dirty deeds are done, they intend to lead police on a chase.

No good can come of that, Claypool says. Even planning to break the law with a pal is considered conspiracy, which could be a class-A1 felony depending on the nature of the plan. “If you’re bothering to plot, chances are you’re not just going to steal a pack of gum,” he points out. Sure enough, the video shows the ladies raiding jewels from a bank, getting into a backroom gambling scuffle, and barely escaping a building detonation they presumably rigged themselves. Fifteen years to life is a safe bet.

In light of all that, running from the law seems trivial (obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor). Still, why make a bad situation worse?

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MUTILATION OF CURRENCY: OneRepublic, "Counting Stars"
At first, these rockers seem so genuine, so non-materialistic. “No more counting dollars,” they promise in their soaring track. “We’ll be counting stars.” It’s only when you settle in for a sweet night of skygazing that the fellas show their true criminal colors. “Take that money,” they order. “Watch it burn.”

Or, y’know, grab an extinguisher. “Burning money is mutilation of currency, a federal violation,” Claypool warns. “This is a law enforced by the Secret Service.” Yikes, what does that even mean? “It means don’t burn money,” he says. Should you find yourself encumbered by wealth, spare yourself a six-month prison sentence by donating the cash to a good cause.

FLIGHT-CREW INTERFERENCE: Dierks Bentley, “Drunk on a Plane”
Seems Bentley is a little too ready for liftoff in this ode to boozing through heartbreak. “Buying drinks for everybody but the pilot,” he sings as the song’s jilted narrator. “It’s a party. Got this 737 rockin’ like a G6.” A few rounds later, the scene becomes “Mardi Gras in the clouds.”

Well, cheers to Bentley for knowing the pilot shouldn’t drink, at least. But tempting any plane personnel with liquor could get you charged with a federal crime known as interference with a flight crew. “It’s similar to when someone hosts a house party,” Claypool explains. “If you’re serving alcohol, and if someone gets tanked and gets into a drunk-driving crash, you as the party host could be held liable.” Want to keep 20 years of freedom in your carry-on? Sip a seltzer and enjoy the SkyMall catalog.

DISORDERLY CONDUCT: Sia, “Chandelier”
Party girls don’t get hurt,” the Aussie singer claims in this orchestral pop hit. “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier. I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist. I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night.” OK, so there’s a chance Sia is critiquing — not celebrating — the wild lifestyle portrayed in this number. And that’s a good thing: Claypool says you’d be flying like a jailbird if you engaged in such antics. Assuming the chandelier is in a public place, the disorderly conduct could leave you on the hook for $1,000 and land you in jail for two weeks to six months. Additional penalties might apply if you broke the light and fell, Claypool says, adding, "And you'd probably need a hospital visit on your way to the police station."

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