When it comes to popular music, it’s impossible to generalize whether or not everyone understands what they’re listening to and subsequently advocating, whether in agreement with it or not. A song may hold a certain meaning for one person and just the opposite for another. That’s the beauty of art, being able to interpret it however you’d like. However, by acknowledging the growing popularity of controversial songs with listeners of all ages, the rate at which lyrics are becoming more and more explicit is startling.
There aren’t too many ways you can interpret Katy Perry’s eloquent “there’s a stranger in my bed, there’s a pounding in my head…” While I’m sure that most just bop along to Katy for the sake of a catchy tune, any negative messages that are intertwined also become acceptable because of how desensitized we have become to them.
Rihanna’s “sex in the air, I don’t care, I like the smell of it, sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me…” starts to become less shocking after hearing it and other songs like it many times over. For clarification, Katy’s musical repertoire, much like many others, also consists of girl power ballads such as “Firework,” which all boast a great message. However, there are still instances where the idea of “living it up” is taken to an extreme. We’re all entitled to freedom of speech, as well as the liberty to listen to/write about whatever we choose. But generally, it’s impossible to deny that the direction our pop music is heading promotes more negatively-geared messages than ever before.
Pop culture is a reflection of what the public wants to see and hear. Lady Gaga calls herself a “sociologist of fame,” meaning she studies what will evoke the most interest from the public, and that seems to be some pretty offensive material. It seems to be that the “shock factor” intrigues us all until, again, we’re desensitized to it, and we’re on to the next thing.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that I dig Gaga as much as the next girl, but I can’t ignore that her videos feature her clad in a nun’s habit dancing provocatively, insinuating that she’s having sex. Again, while I respect artistic freedom and do believe that we should do as we please, regardless of what others think, the depiction of abstinent religious figures having sex may be a bit over the top.
When we were growing up, boy bands like ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys ruled the airwaves and were generally presenting much less explicit material.
To put it in perspective, I imagine that the reason such music is, and was, so popular is because it’s just really catchy, regardless of what the lyrics are. But an issue may present itself when younger generations listening to pop music learn that the “Jack” Ke$ha brushes her teeth with is alcohol, and while I’m sure nobody would do that just because Ke$ha says she does, they might be less opposed to excessive alcohol consumption if they’ve idolized someone who has consistently reinforced the idea that doing so is cool. It’s less about the lyrics themselves as it is about the culture it encourages.
The formative years are sensitive ones. We have been, and should still be, developing our own tastes, styles, beliefs and other philosophies on life. We all remember those years in middle and high school. It’s a period when some may find it easier to just go along with whatever peers are doing, as well as the teen-queen-pop-princesses that have transformed the “Oops! I Did it Again!” culture we were raised in into the “Last Friday Night” and “S&M” musical cornucopia young kids are listening to today.
Moreover, the image of a popular artist is even more influential than their song lyrics alone. Whatever they’re singing about will be depicted through music videos, wardrobe choice, etc. So beyond just their choice of lyric, the artist’s portrayal of the idea presents it entirely and clearly, making it easier to emulate.
Another facet of said culture is the idea that the things we do while we’re intoxicated are hilarious and harmless. While no one can deny that that’s very often true, there’s still a line between what’s funny and what is potentially harmful and could result in future consequences. But this line seems to blur at times… cue Katy again: “pictures of last night ended up online, I’m screwed… oh well!”
It’s been embedded in our heads many times over that online photos of illegal drinking or other such irresponsible behavior could cost someone their career. We’re all aware that education majors have to be particularly careful of anything leaking online. Unfortunately though, some may be more inclined to abide by what peers find acceptable regardless of being previously cautioned not to give employers explicit proof that you’re drinking illegally.
Overall, a few explicit song lyrics won’t be the reason for anyone’s demise. Culture will continue to evolve as time passes, as it always has, and as humans, we can only partially help what we find interesting and alluring. However, with some messages presenting and justifying potentially harmful or offensive lifestyle choices, it’s important to remember what is and isn’t safe, and to always think for ourselves.
“S&M” – Rihanna