Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Insert Catchy Title Here:

I was thoroughly excited that my nephews and nieces had found their new favorite soundtrack. Driving to and from stores or games or just wherever we went when I visited always merited listening to songs from Brave. This time, though, my youngest niece yelled from the back, “Play Perfect!”, and I was curious what next Disney movie we would be singing songs to next until the more familiar Pitch Perfect CD started. It wasn’t so bad when all four of them started singing the Anna Kendrick “Cups” song with the youngest getting louder for the chorus “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone”, and then all the cuteness disappeared when, again, my nieces and nephews ranging from age 2-9 started singing to the next song on the playlist:

“You spin my head right round, right round
When you go down, when you go down down”

Image result for pitch perfect soundtrack cd

Okay, this was one of the catchy, upbeat pop songs that the Pitch Perfect cast had mashed up, but I look to my sister and ask if she knows what the song was about. She was flabbergasted to hear it was about strippers and didn’t believe me until her kids started singing a different verse:

“From the top of the pole I watch her go down
She got me throwin’ my money around
Ain’t nothin’ more beautiful to be found
It’s goin’ down down

So before the song could get to singing about rubber bands (and not the rubber bands you use for holding pencils together), she switched the music to the radio, but again, the kids started singing again to the catchy, upbeat pop songs:

 “Go girl you can work it
Let me see your whistle while you work it
I’ma lay it back, don’t stop it
‘Cause I love it how you drop it, drop it, drop it, on me
Now, shorty let that whistle blow
Yeah, baby let that whistle blow
Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby
Let me know

Image result for flo rida whistle

It was definitely a hot summer for Flo-Rida (no pun intended), but I’m pretty sure his songs weren’t about random household items like rubber bands and whistles. So, we turned it back to the soundtrack of Disney’s Brave with my sister trying to be optimistic saying that the kids just like the beat of pop music or what Sellnow refers to as “musical ascription”: “imitating a musical sound that appeals to a particular target audience”. Now, we could go through the whole “music is art, and to each their own”, but at what point do we start wondering if what our kids are singing is “good art” for them?

I am not proposing any action to be done, but rather acknowledgment of what is happening. In movies, we have ratings and edited versions on television, but with songs, we might have the swear words edited out on the radio, but all of the sexual (or anything that’s more adultish) innuendo and metaphors are there for easy consumption. Catchy choruses and upbeat tunes get us hooked, but most of popular pop music is laden with very adult content. DailyMail  reported on the data that Spotify collected, and showed that 13 and 14 year olds “almost exclusively play tunes by artists at the top of the charts.” It isn’t until later teens and early twenties that we start branching out and discovering new music. Until then, though, our youngest listeners are only accessing whatever is most popular, whatever has the catchiest tunes, whatever is at the top; unfortunately, that goes hand in hand with very adult themes.

Image result for billboard top 100

Shape of You #1: “And last night you were in my room/ And now my bedsheets smell like you/ Every day discovering something brand new/ I’m in love with your body”

Bad and Boujee #2: “Smokin’ on cookie in the hotbox/ F*$&# on your B*%^ she a thot, thot, thot/ Cookin’ up dope in the crockpot”

Bad Things #5: “Nails scratchin’ my back tatt/ Eyes closed while you scream out/ And you keep me in with those hips/ While my teeth sink in those lips

Bonus Irony: The highest hit without obvious adult themes (I Don’t Wanna Live Forever #3) is a song created with the new movie it is connected to, 50 Shades Darker, a rated R movie for “strong erotic sexual content, graphic nudity, and language”.

Discussion Questions:

Should the lyrics of a song take precedence over the musical aspects when offering it to children?

In your opinion, what is more detrimental to children’s development: songs that explicitly talk about sex or songs that make catchy metaphors for it, and as a parent, which would you prefer?

With such an emphasis on sex/sexuality in today’s pop music culture, how much of it do you think is truly artistic vs corporate profiteering?


  1. Dexter Humphrey’s “Insert Catchy Title Here”

    Hi Dexter!

    While I was reading the articles, I too was thinking about the lyrics that I was singing when I was young. The first songs that I remember having completely memorized were Like a Virgin and Papa Don’t Preach by Madonna. I knew what the lyrics meant, as I was in high school, but I didn’t care. I was “Sweet 16 and Never Been Kissed” so the idea of having sex and getting pregnant was so far outside my reality. Singing these naughty songs was the peak of my wild streak.

    Now I am the mother of a 13 year-old boy. I don’t listen to the radio because NPR is too titillating for me to ignore, but I let him pick the radio station one time. He was singing some lyrics to songs I have never heard. I asked if he understood what he was singing, and he said a lot of it was about sex. He taught me something interesting that day. He explained that he doesn’t know all of the words to the verses, and that is where the vulgar stuff lives. He does sing the chorus however, and usually the repeated and catchy stuff is cleaner.

    Sellnow’s text offers ethical questions to consider, and while I was reading I felt a bit like you when you wrote, “I am not proposing any action to be done, but rather acknowledgment of what is happening.” The artists do not have to be branded as unethical, but the situation must be acknowledged. I agree with your idea about a rating system. An artist can choose to present edgy music, but the artist should know that it will be given an “R” rating and that the target audience should be above 17. At that point, parents and kids can make their own decisions about what is appropriate. Yes, the kids may knowingly go against parent wishes, but that has been a family dynamic since the beginning – except with my sweet boy, of course. :)

    To answer one of your specific questions, you used the words “offer to children”. There is a difference between young adults and parents making active decisions about what music is appropriate, and parents choosing to play sexual music to children in a car. I’m not judging your sister, as I was in the same situation. I am saying that your sister and I should choose to play great music with clean lyrics whenever we have the chance. There are so many quality options of music, why walk on the edge if we don’t have to? Pandora has a great Disney station that mixes up all of the soundtracks, so no one has to hear “Let it Go” if they don’t appreciate repetition.

  2. I wish I could admit that I was always aware of the lyrics and meanings of those lyrics in songs I enjoy. I find that when selecting music I am as frequently drawn to the rhythm and melodies of a song as I am the lyrics. Quite often I will learn to love a song even more once I understand the lyrics. However the same can be said for the opposite. Such as in the lyrics for Animal from Maroon 5. I didn't pick up on the lyrics fully for this song until I watched the first half of the music video with my children.

    I feel like lyrics need to take precedence over musical aspects when offering music to children. Music can have such a profound influence on thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and emotions that it's important that we maintain control over the messages these songs send to our children.