Say What?! Kids and the Song Lyric Conundrum

As a parent of two boys who thoroughly enjoy listening to music, I am finding the vast array of musical options for them to listen to is an extraordinary thing. One second they can listen to boy band pop, and another heavy metal, hip hop, or emo. I’m someone who enjoys dance as a hobby, while my husband was a former music major and lead singer of a teenage death metal band. It’s pretty much a given that our kids would take to music whole-heartedly. Then again, who doesn’t? Remember that feeling that came over you when purchasing your very first cassette tape or CD? It’s part of life to identify with certain songs that somehow take us back to particular moments in our lives. But listening to music ain’t always rosey. Sometimes the words being sung, are not, um, age appropriate. In these instances, parents want to hurl ourselves at the pause button.

Remember the red hot embarrassment you felt the first time a suggestive song came on the radio and your parent turned it off and asked if you knew what that song meant? Or maybe you had the parent that just turned the radio off, then gave you a side eyed look wondering how much you knew about the lyrics that had single handedly just detonated a bomb of awkwardness in the car? Now imagine you’re the parent, you’re in the car, and ta-da! It’s your turn to have that moment with your own kid.

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Gone are the days of being limited to what is on the radio or having to choose from your very own CD collection. There is an entire galaxy out there now to choose from it doesn’t matter what gets radio play. The radio obviously no longer dictates the only songs our kids hear. Not by a long shot. Whatever is popular on YouTube, or the latest background music in their Roblox game, usually contributes to how they find new songs. Kids can request any music they would like to hear now as long as they have a streaming device to play it from.

In the now of 2019, our family uses Google Play, which essentially allows us to play any song we want on the various Google Home devices we own. This means our children are able to grow up hearing all different genres of music at a mere verbal request. They simply say, “OK Google, play ‘Bark at the Moon’ by Ozzy Osbourne”, or “OK Google, play ‘I’m in love with the Coco’ by O.T. Genesis” or “OK Google, play ‘Help Me Help You’ by Logan Paul”. As you can see, the options are quite broad. Along with this amazing capability to listen to any song we want, comes the need to police some of what comes on right after said song. Your child might request “Rolex” by Ayo and Teo, which is immediately followed by a song chock full of expletives and sexual experiences by Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz. Now picture this scenario when the volume is turned all the way up and Google can’t really hear you over the song saying “OK Google, STOP THE MUSIC!” five times over until every unspeakable lyric you can imagine has already infiltrated your child’s ears. This should seriously be an SNL skit because to be an outsider watching this is likely a scene to behold.

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Comparatively, in the late eighties and early nineties, there were some hardcore risqué songs my friends and I were listening to. In fact, I vividly remember singing just about every lyric to one of Eazy-E’s most raunchy songs when I was a bright eyed, innocent little 9 year old. I first heard it at a friend’s birthday party at her house. One of the boys there had brought the tape, and we all liked the beat so much we rewound the tape a hundred times and listened to it again and again. By the end of that day, whether I had access to that song ever again didn’t matter, the lyrics were engraved in my brain forever. I recall singing that song with reckless abandon in front of her parents not even thinking twice about what it meant.

When I think back to what those parents must have been thinking watching me confidently slay every word to that song, I want to absolutely curl up and die. I feel a little better when I remember that everyone around me knew the lyrics to “Funky Cold Medina” (Tone Loc), “The Humpty Dance” (Digital Underground), “Do Me” (Bel Biv Devoe), “Doin It” (LL Cool J), and the list goes on. Did I dissect every lyric? Definitely not before I was in the 7th grade. I loved to dance to those songs, but I had no clue what they meant. Once I was in junior high, of course that story changed. The lyrics of songs became so important. Suddenly, you’re identifying with a specific band and their songs become the soundtrack for that point in your life. Love songs, heartbreak songs, songs about sex, songs about rebelling, sticking it to the man, whatever it is you were going through at the time, that song will always remind you of that time.

Every generation has had their version of racy music. Elvis was of course considered massively sexual in his time with his hip shaking and snarled upper lip. To think that Elvis was considered “naughty” is hysterical, considering the overtly sexual songs/outfits/videos that came out in the late 80’s, and early 90’s. Think of Madonna, George Michael, and Salt N’ Pepa. In fact, “Let’s Talk About Sex” was the song my dad had turned off and nervously side-eyed me about from the front seat when I was 11. The difference here is that for some reason, my kids ARE paying close attention to the words, and it’s making me think I was either just plain dumb or willfully ignorant so I could shake my head and say no way do I know what that means Dad …so as to avoid further discussion.

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The lyrics my 6 and 10 year old are often repeating and giggling about constantly are in the songs getting the most airplay on the radio, of course. These are the ones on the top charts that I’m sure many kids are listening to across the country. I’d love to know how parents are answering the questions about the lyrics. That may be a great topic for a follow up to this article.

For instance, here is an example of what I told my son when he asked me about the song “Beauty and the Beat”.

“Hey Mom, what does it mean when Nicki Minaj says, ‘Buns out, weiner, but I gotta keep an eye out for Selena.’ in that song with Justin Bieber?”

Wow. Hmmm…. She is talking about how much she likes eating hot dogs and when you’re performing as a musician at a stadium, there are these men that walk around and sell hot dogs, like at a Yankees game, and she’s got to keep her eye out for people that want to steal her hot dog away, like Selena Gomez.” That question that was asked by my oldest, when he was 8, and thankfully, he bought my ridiculous answer.

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The two words that are in about 100 different popular songs right about now that I’m trying to conjure up how the hell to explain is “your taste”. It’s getting tricky folks. I’m all for a good double entendre, but when it’s just blatantly out there like that…how do you explain that one? Your guess is as good as mine. I will probably go with kissing as the explanation…which is the least offensive. But kisses in their minds aren’t usually spit swapping ones, so this plants that seed. Ugh, see what I mean? There’s nowhere good to to go from here.

There’s always the “waking up with you/next to you/in your or his bed,” etc., but this pales in comparison to some of the other lyrics. The truth is, I’m running out of clever things to come up with. Sure it’s easy to just turn the channel or change the song. But sometimes, you’re hearing the song for the first time and it’s by an artist the whole fam loves, and well, there she blows!

Sometimes it happens to be the chorus of their favorite song. “You’re unbelievable, you’re in my heart, you’re in my head, and now I’m waking up and you’re in my bed.” The lyric could be worse, but then comes this beauty of a question after gazing out the car window in deep thought, “Why can’t a girl sleep over again, Mom?”

Lord help me.

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Sometimes, instead of changing the station or song, I’ll turn down the naughty part of a tune and conveniently strike up a conversation. This way it’s not so noticeable. My older son picked up on it, and the other day, turned down the inappropriate part of a song while his brother was in the car and then looked at me and smiled. I didn’t know whether to be proud or mortified that he had picked up on my tactic.

So it seems that with each generation, the lyrics get more and more brazen, and the culture around the songs falls in step. I mean, after Miley Cyrus came along, does anything really have shock value anymore? I think not.

There was an excellent comedian opening a show that had a hilarious bit on just how raunchy mainstream radio and music now in general is. He mentioned that soon, every one of the worst words you can think of will make up an entire song and next thing you know, that very song will be playing while you’re on hold with your doctor’s office.

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Being a parent can be sheer comedy and terror at the same time. I can’t wait to see if my kids remember some of the song explanations I’ve given them. When they do actually figure out what some of these lyrics mean, if nothing else, they can look back and laugh. Well either that, or they’ll say, So that’s why I’m screwed up. Better yet, here’s hoping they’ll pilfer them for their own parenting bag of tricks when they’re in the hot seat.

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