Monday, June 17, 2013

Young Listeners: Don't Want Crazy

I listen to the radio.  A lot.  Particularly the country stations, as they are preset in our trucks at work, but I have also been known to dabble in some pop music every now and then. Who doesn't like variety?

However, I have noticed a disturbing trend in "young people's" music.  What are we teaching preteen girls about life and love?  About relationships and how they should be?  I suppose there are plenty of critics out there who will say "it's just music", but is Taylor Swift just a singer to your average 12 year old girl?  No - she's an idol, a role model, the picture of teenage angst and overcoming heartbreak.  We should not disregard the affect that her message - and those of other artists like her - has on young listeners.

Exhibit A:  Taylor Swift's song "The way I loved you" from her album Fearless.  The song opens with Swift singing about a nice, sensible boy who opens doors for her, relates well to her parents, and makes her feel comfortable.  All good qualities, right?  You would think so, until the song continues and the listener realizes that young Taylor simply doesn't feel for this wonderful boy the way she did for her ex.  She sings that she misses "screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain", and that she was "cursing your name" at 2:00 am.  Swift was "so in love that she acted insane" and that it was a "roller coaster kind of rush". 

Hmm.  Sounds like an emotionally abusive relationship to me.  Clearly the previous beau kept her guessing, worrying, and angry/angsty all the time.  But, she idealizes this type of relationship, implying that the nice boy she has met just doesn't make her feel "anything at all".  In short, this song would have young listeners believe that it's not real love unless the other person drives you to the edge of your sanity.  Excellent, just what a bunch of hormonal teenage girls need to hear.  Nice guys, get ready to finish dead last. Girls, prepare yourselves for years of disappointment.

Exhibit B: Let's talk about boys. Particularly young, white boys who want the world to think they're hardened, tough adults. Enter Eminem, the savior of high school boys who feel silly listening to Taylor Swift but still need a certain amount of angst and pain in their music.  

Several years ago, Mr. Mathers (Eminem's real name is Marshall) released a song entitled Love the way you lie, featuring Rihanna, who at the time was barely more than a teenager herself. The song details an abusive relationship, but includes lines that glorify the deep, intense "love" that the two people feel for one another. The line "And right now there's a steel knife in my windpipe, I can't breathe but I still fight while I can fight, As long as the wrong feels right it's like I'm in flight" implies that while the relationship is physicall and emotionally painful, the "wrong" still feels right. Excellent, again. Let's teach teenagers that it's alright to be with someone who harms you, so long as it "feels" like love. Later, he threatens to tie her to the bed ad set the house on fire, while Rihanna sings about how she likes the way it hurts. Even more interesting is tha Rihanna, herself, was in the throes of an abusive relationship with singer Chris Brown at the time. And yet still recorded those lyrics.

Exhibit C: My most recent discovery and the inspiration behind this post. Hunter Hayes, for those of you that don't know, is a 20-something, blonde haired, piano playing country crooner, complete with teenage, cute-as-a-button looks that drive the 13 year old girls, well, crazy. His latest single, "I want crazy", is meant to make teenage females fantasize about going crazy with Hunter. Much like Swift's song, Mr. Hayes claims that "it ain't right if you ain't lost your mind", and sings about how he doesnt want "good", he wants "crazy".

"I want can't sleep, can't breathe without your love", sings Hunter. "Without you, baby, is a waste of time." That doesn't sound like love to me. That sounds like a restraining order. And I'm not sure any of it is proper english.

I don't intend to rip apart popular music. And I would hate to shatter the squeaky clean image of bouncing blondes like Taylor and Hunter. And of course, none of us can deny that Rihanna became America's sweetheart after she came clean to the world about Chris Brown's abuse (and especially after she threw Katy Perry a sweet bachelorette party). However, isn't high school hard enough without teenager's favorite musicians pumping them full of the idea that love and relationships should be dramatic, angry, and obsessive?

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