“My friend says I listen to bad girl music because I like Katy Perry,” my almost eleven-year-old daughter, Maya, relays.
“What do you think about that?” I ask.
“I think that just because it has the word “bitch” in one song and talks about kissing a girl in another doesn’t make me a bad girl. I just like it. It doesn’t mean I’ll say those words or do bad things.”
It’s true. This year Maya has developed a new taste in music. My teenage son, her at-home best friend, is listening to what he chooses. He’s got good taste: Bruce Hornsby, Jason Mraz, and Owl City are favorites. I find the kids calibrating their iPods so they are listening to the same song at exactly the same time grinning at each other. Likewise music is my escape and since we’re finally past the Raffi and Elmo songs, I crank Rihanna, Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha, and Lady GaGa in the car. I can attribute this openness to my experience growing up; my parents let me listen to what I wanted to listen to, and what I listened to didn’t dictate or predict my behavior.
For example, in first grade my favorite song was “Do It to Me One More Time” by Captain and Tennille.
Do that to me one more time, once is never enough with a man like you
Do that to me one more time, I can never get enough of a man like you
The only thing I was asking boys to “do to me one more time” was to pass the paste and let me have the ball once in a while on the four-square court. I happily belted this song out in between “You are My Sunshine” and “Everybody has Music Inside.” I didn’t like it because it was about sexuality — I just liked it.
The first cassette I purchased was Pyromania by the ’80s butt-rock band, Def Lepard. It came out in 1983 (when I was Maya’s age) and I loved “Rock of Ages.”
Just say you need it and if you need it
Say yeah! Say yeah!
We’re gonna burn this damn place down
I bought it with my own money at the mall and rocked out in my lavender bedroom sometimes playing with dolls at the same time. I wasn’t trying to burn anything down or swear up a storm. It felt good to yell the lyrics and play the air guitar. My best friend Misty, on the other hand, wasn’t allowed to listen to anything except Amy Grant. A couple of years later she ended up being promiscuous — I wonder if it was the music?
My junior year, some school officials banned Billy Idol’s “Mony, Mony” during school dances because the entire student body would chorus during the drum section “Hey! Hey what? Get laid, get f—ed!” while jumping up and down with our arms in the air. We weren’t all running out of the streamer-and-balloon-laden gym to get laid. OK, some were, but I can hardly attribute that to the music. Kids also “did it” after dissecting frogs.
So when my daughter and I belt out the lyrics to “Tic Toc” by Ke$ha:
Ain’t got a care in world, but got plenty of beer
Ain’t got no money in my pocket, but I’m already here
I’m talking about — everybody getting crunk, crunk
Boys trying to touch my junk, junk
Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk
Now, now — we goin’ till they kick us out, out
Or the police shut us down, down
I’m not really worried that she’s going to be a wild partier with a police record. Maya likes the drum beat and heavy baseline with some call-and-response lyrics. It’s fun to sing the story of some life you’ve never lived (and likely never will). She’s curious. It’s just plain pumpin’ bad-ass dance music that makes her feel like moving.
As the director of the iPods, I know what my kids are listening to. Just about every genre appears on their playlists, from classical to country to rock and R & B. It’s my job to make sure they know what certain lyrics mean and why it wouldn’t be appropriate to sing at the school talent show. We examine life through music. Yet not everything goes; you wouldn’t hear derogatory music with hate content in our house. Musicians like Eminem and Limp Bizkit blasting rage music are something I would discuss censoring with my kids if they liked it. “Choice within limits” is my song.
I remember the Reverend in the movie Footloose preaching:
“If our Lord wasn’t testing us, how would you account for the proliferation, these days, of this obscene rock and roll music, with its gospel of easy sexuality and relaxed morality?”
Yet easy sexuality and relaxed morality can be a great place for discussion. My son and I were listening to “What would you do?” by City High when he looked up from his book and asked, “What’s this song about?”
“Listen,” I said, “You tell me.”
What would you do if your son was at home, cryin’ all alone on the bedroom floor cuz he’s hungry, and the only way to feed him is to sleep with a man for a little bit of money and his daddy’s gone, somewhere smokin’ rock now, in and out of lock down, I ain’t got a job now, so for you this is just a good time but for me this is what I call life, mmm
He said, “It’s like a guy and girl talking about her situation. He thinks she can make other choices, but she doesn’t. Is smokin’ rock like some sort of drug?”
“Yes,” I said, “It’s like rock cocaine or crack.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of crack, we talked about that in our health class.”
I don’t need to question why Jamin and Maya like the songs they do or classify some music as “bad.” They just like it and it makes them do healthy things like move, smile and sing, not booze up, break laws, and fool around. When Carrie Underwood’s song “Before He Cheats” was popular, my son commented, “This is a great song to sing when you are really frustrated with something.”
Recently, some women friends were dismayed about their daughters dancing and singing to the Wii version of “If You Want to be my Lover” by the Spice Girls:
If you wanna be my lover, you gotta, you gotta, you gotta
You gotta, you gotta, slam, slam, slam, slam
Slam your body down and wind it all around.
And one asked me, “Doesn’t it bother you?”
“No,” I said, “no, it doesn’t.” And when we got in the car, Katy Perry happened to be on the radio and Maya and I listened to bad girl music all the way home.