Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Tipper Gore Moment: Is it OK to let my 11-year-old daughter listen to Top 40 radio?

Seriously, you cannot turn on any Top 40 or rock FM station these days without hearing at least one song in the span of 10 minutes that doesn't have raunchy or sexually explicit lyrics. Go on, I dare you, try it. It's gotten to the point, said my neighbor, G., to me this morning, after asking me if I had heard the song "Birthday Sex," (I had not) which she said is played seemingly every 10 minutes on one station or another, that she doesn't want to turn on the radio when the kids are around. And I have to kind of agree with her.

Some background: Until relatively recently, or so it seemed, my daughter had no interest in pop or really any other kind of "adult" music. Indeed, for a while we thought we would never be able to listen to anything other than Raffi or The Mother Goose Jazz Band or Singin' in the Bathtub or that Arthur CD or something other than Sesame Street in our cars. Then, some time last summer, everything changed. Suddenly, our 10-year-old was singing Top 40 songs and asking for an iPod for Hanukkah. And -- gasp! -- she actually started asking me to... turn on the radio when we drove together.

I was initially thrilled, especially as we tended to like the same music. Suddenly I could once again listen to my iPod and to WPLJ and z100 and WBLI and most of my other pre-programmed radio stations without a little voice in the back chirping "Mom, could you turn off the radio, PLEASE?!" (Hey, at least she said "please.")

Then, one day, while listening to the Black Eyed Peas' song "Hey Mama" on my iPod with my daughter bopping to the beat in the back seat, I had my first Tipper Gore moment*: Will.I.Am just said WHAT?! OMG, and he just said it, like, seven more times.

"Um, sweetie, let's change the song, OK?" I called out to the back seat. "Why mom?" asked the cherubic voice behind me. And so, I told her. And I told her why it wasn't appropriate for her -- and us -- to listen to. And she agreed.

And we were good -- until my (and her) infatuation with Britney Spears, specifically with the Britney song "If You Seek Amy," the chorus of which contains a naughty pun according to some listeners (though it escaped this listener). Then my daughter noticed that radio stations were suddenly playing versions where "if you seek Amy" had been changed to "if you see Amy" or repeated "ha ha hee hee ha ha ho ho" instead of "if you seek Amy" in the chorus, and she asked me why. And I told her.

So we developed this kind of unspoken rule about which songs were appropriate for 11-year-old girls (and boys) to listen to (my daughter having turned 11 end of May), which I'd rather not go into here but you can guess, and we adhered to it (for the most part). (For the record, we are very strict, probably much stricter than most parents, about which movies and TV shows our daughter can watch, as well as which Internet sites are OK to visit, but we hadn't really thought about what music or songs were appropriate until recently. Sigh. Let me just say, being a parent is way tougher than you think.)

And then came Lady Gaga, real name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, that nice Catholic girl from Yonkers. HA!

As those of you who regularly read the blog know, I am a big fan of techno pop/new wave music and really like Lady Gaga's song "Poker Face." So when I heard she had a new song out, called "Love Game," I wanted to hear it. (Btw, you can see the "official" video of "Love Game" here.) But when I happened upon the song while driving with my daughter the other day -- the first few lines of which, which are repeated several times, are "Let's have some fun, this beat is sick, I wanna take a ride on your disco stick" -- she immediately piped up "Mom, I don't think this song is appropriate!" So I changed the station.

But we didn't have to wait long to hear it again. Again, I changed the station. But by the next time it came on, we just left it. I know: Bad mommy. But by that point we both were curious to hear it (call it "forbidden fruit syndrome"), and I figured she was bound to hear it at some point. So I just let the song play.

Lest you think I have utterly caved, though, know that now when the song comes on, before we listen, I tell her in my strictest, sternest mommy voice, "Under NO circumstances are you to go ride on any boy's 'disco stick,' understand, young lady?!" Which makes me feel a bit better (and embarrasses the heck out of my daughter, who freaks out when her mom or dad try to discuss basic sex ed with her, or tease her about boys, forget riding on some guy's "disco stick," though I know this will change soon enough.)

For the record, Flo Rida's "Right Round" and Ciara and Justin Timberlake's "Love Sex Magic" are still on the verboten list, as is the 1987 classic "Boom Boom," by Greek-American hottie Paul Lekakis (not to be confused with the Black Eyed Peas' new hit, "Boom Boom Pow").

*In 1984, when Tipper Gore's daughter Karenna was 11, Mrs. Gore bought her daughter Prince's album Purple Rain. Gore had heard of Prince, but didn't listen to his music -- or rather his lyrics -- and was shocked to hear how explicit some of it was, in particular the song "Darling Nikki." Soon after, she launched a movement, the Parents Music Resource Center, to get record companies to put warning labels on records marketed to children, and even went before Congress. Many in the music industry objected and mocked Gore, who claimed she did not advocate censorship just awareness.

At the time of the controversy, I didn't see what the big deal was. Now, however, as the parent of an 11-year-old female, in an age where you can hear songs called "Birthday Sex" on mainstream radio in the middle of the afternoon, I think Gore had a point and am wondering what the heck happened.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree!! I am a Top 40 fan, but now I go for more scintillating converstion in the car!! (gossip and sports are much safer!)

Anonymous said...

I have to say I'm flummoxed by this one. I loathe Tipper Gore. Always have. At the same time, I want to protect my boys.

Hard choices.

Anonymous said...

For the record, my 13 year old daughter is more offended by the lyrics than me and tells ME that it is "inappropriate" for her 10 year old brother to be downloading these songs to HIS ipod! Me, I am still in the same mode as when I was 13 - I cannot understand the lyrics enough to actually discern that they are offensive! Put me on the TV show, "do you know the lyrics" (or whatever it is called) and I would fail pitifully! Ok, back to work, but, just thought you would want to know that a 13 year old girl shares your concerns!!! xoxo

Dave S. said...

I am always reminded of something Steve Allen once said about TV: "Offended by something you see? Then turn the damn thing off."

Part of me views Tipper's crusade as an attempt to get the recording industry to do parents' jobs for them. Maybe she didn't know what "Purple Rain" might be like, but the "1999" song "Let's Pretend We're Married" should have been Clue Number One.

On the other hand a ratings system for music is analagous to one for movies, which I find more or less reasonable, although I clearly remember (while sitting in the theater) thinking the extremely brief and irrelevant cussing scene in "E.T." was included just to bump the rating up to PG.

Do I enjoy sitting on my porch yelling at the kids to get off the lawn? Yes I do.

Powaqqatsi said...

I think the open conversation you have with your daughter is the real key - rather than a strict list of do/don't songs she can listen to.

Sooner or later, beyond your reach at some camp, school trip, friends house, she's gonna hear something off your list - maybe even way off the radar (like say the #1 album for the past 2 weeks Eminem's Relapse) and the important thing will be that she knows she can talk with you/ask questions, etc the first time she hears some hard core rap or heavy metal song discussing heavy topics like drug addiction , murder, etc.

The world can be a very dark place at times.

larissa said...

Little Red Corvette
One day soon the storm will pass
I Would Die 4 U

J. said...

Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999, Larissa. Thanks for the Prince haiku.

And thanks for the good advice, Dr. Powaqqatsi. Good communication with your kid(s) is key, and we are a very communicative family. : )

Good for my niece, not-so-Anonymous! ; ) I can totally hear her telling her brother such-and-such a song is "inappropriate." (And I am with you re lyrics. Lyric FAIL.)

As for you, Dave S., I look forward to hearing from you when your daughter is 11. : )

EMM said...

Lady Gaga performed "Love Game" on Dancing With The Stars, "Disco Stick" and all.

Parents, not the government should be the first line of defense for what is seen, heard & consumed by their children.

I don't have kids, but if I did my 10 year old would not be downloading anything without supervision.

J, my parents were very strict with me too. By 12-13 they started to relax a little but were involved through HS. I can't blame it on the awesome music of the 80's, that I had one really super fun, slutty period of debauchery, experimentation & rebellion. OK, maybe 2. I turned out OK.

jjv said...

All Tipper Gore wanted was a rating so that parents did not have to spend days figuring out what was in an album of unlistenable music. For that she is Silas Marner. It will only get worse. This is why my kids listen to exclusively to my tapes (yes tapes)and talk radio.