Music and teens go hand in hand. I remember how important music was to me when I was younger. I was fortunate enough to have a record store within walking distance of my house growing up. At least a couple of times per week, I was buying 99-cent 45's and playing them over and over again until they were either broken or scratched.
Of course, the way in which we purchase and listen to music has changed dramatically since the old record-player days, but that's about all that has changed. Music continues to make people want to dance and sing. What's more, music will always inspire, it will always challenge, and it will always have the ability to send powerful messages.
As a mom, I do not let my kids watch explicit videos and I've tried to keep on top of the music that my kids download to their Ipods to make sure that they do not purchase music with explicit lyrics. I appreciate that the sites they use to purchase provide warnings about sex, violence, and profanity which seems so prevalent in music and videos today.
I asked my Facebook friends their opinions on the topic.
One friend, Liz, indicated that she likes the Sean Kingston song "Beautiful Girls," but she is troubled by the reference to suicide. She is not alone. Backlash from the lyrics about a relationship, "It'll never work, you'll have me suicidal," resulted in the song being removed from radio play lists. Kingston reacted by creating a censored version that took the offensive line out of the song and changed it to "...you'll have me in denial."
My friend Maggie's response suggests that she is against such censorship. She said, "Music lyrics are covered by freedom of expression. Let them listen and form their own opinion. Teach your children well, but don't shelter them from reality." Likewise, her sister Katie felt very strongly about music as an art form, "Music is art and lyrics are poems. They express the emotion the storyteller is trying to portray."
Sharon (sister to Maggie and Katie) fears "music that disempowers any particular segment of society....music can have all types of meaning. It depends on the maturity of the listener and our ability as parents to filter or explain. It is up to us to decide what is listened to in our own homes."
Similarly, my friend Laura responded, "There are a lot of lyrics I find inappropriate for younger ears." And because we cannot always prevent kids' exposure to them, Laura suggests we can use them as "teachable moments" that serve to open the lines of communication.
My friends Lisa and Caryn are both unapologetic for censoring music in their homes. Caryn said, "When my 11 year-old has Kanye West on his Ipod, it's coming off."
I was prompted to write this article because of a popular Eminem song. I will preface by saying that I can appreciate Eminem as a musician and a song-writer. Eminem seems to pour his soul, albeit a troubled one, into his music. He also makes no apologies. Love him or hate him, he just doesn't seem to care. Certainly, that attitude alone provides one of those teachable moments of which Maggie and Laura spoke.
I offer no apologies, though, that I am troubled by the lyrics to his song, "Love the Way You Lie." In the song, Eminem emotes about a turbulent relationship which he describes as "like a tornado meets a volcano."
"You ever love somebody so much, you can't breathe when you with ‘em? Now you get f----n' sick of lookin' at ‘em?" In the song, he speaks of the type of obsessive and violent relationship that epitomizes domestic violence; the kind where the man won't allow the woman to leave the controlling, abusive relationship. "Next time I'm pissed I'll aim my fist at the drywall...there won't be no next time...I'm tired of the games. I just want her back. I know I'm a liar. If she ever tries to leave again, I'ma tie to the bed and set this house on fire."
And like so many violent relationships, the female voice in the song expresses forgiveness despite the violence as she expresses her love to her abuser. "Just gonna stand there and watch me burn. Well that's alright because I like the way it hurts. Just gonna stand there and hear me cry. Well that's alright because I love the way you lie."
Am I reading too much into these lyrics? Perhaps. But when I hear my daughter and my nieces belting out the words in unison, I can't help but wonder if such lyrics glamorize domestic violence in the eyes and ears of Eminem's younger listeners. Will girls think it is okay to be abused by their boyfriends? Will boys think it is okay to be controlling and violent and do whatever it takes to prevent their girlfriends from leaving them?
Maybe I'm not giving kids enough credit. But there is no doubt that this is a song that should generate dialog between parents and kids.
While I agree with those who defend music and music videos as art and freedom of expression, I believe I have a duty to scrutinize the music to which my teens are exposed, and to discuss with them their interpretation of the lyrics that they are singing in the shower.