First, I must admit that I’m obsessed with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” featuring Wanz. When it comes to music, my wife is much cooler than I am, and she turns me onto music that I might otherwise overlook. This was one of her work-out mix jams, and I totally stole it for my iPod. I love every aspect of it: from the saxophone to the anti-couture lyrics. It probably plays in my car a minimum of three times every trip. On some of these trips, my son is my co-pilot.
My question is this: Is the “clean” version clean enough for my son’s young ears? Thrift Shop is an explicit song, but whenever possible, we download the clean(-ish) versions of songs, and wouldn’t expose him to songs with overt swearing. But even in our clean iPod version, the chorus is a thinly veiled: “I’m gonna pop some tags / only got $20 in my pocket / I’m I’m a huntin’ / Lookin’ for a come up / This is ***king awesome.”
Luckly, my son’s young enough that he doesn’t yet know the f-word, so he can’t fill in the blanks. Also, all the “m-f’ers” and b-words are extracted as well, so it’s not explicitly offensive. But some of the content is questionable, like references to R. Kelly’s sheets and lyrics like “up in her skirt”. So, of course, I’m torn.
Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, my parents had lame musical tastes. The only things I can remember my parents liking/listening to were Barry Manilow (my mom) and Jim Croce (my dad). In my late 30’s, I can now admit that “Copacabanna” and “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” are awesome songs, but not when you’re 9-years-old. Even in elementary school, I knew my parents’ musical tastes were stagnant, and due to the limited exposure to music at home, I knew practically nothing about music growing up. For example, my parents had this big-ass turntable stereo and about 8 albums between the both of them. I recall that in the 5th grade I won a contest in music class and my teacher offered to buy me any single that I could name. I couldn’t name one. The whole thing played out in front of my class, so it was just the tiniest bit mortifying.
So, when I think about my son, I’d like him to have broad exposure to music. At the heart of it, my wife and I want our son to have a positive relationship with music. This means we pick songs that have upbeat choruses, goofy lyrics, or great dance beats. But it’s mostly about the dance beat. We started early with children’s music (Raffi, They Might Be Giants, etc.). Slowly, my wife started introducing him to house music, hip hop, and rap. I would come home and “Jump Around”, “Groove is in the Heart”, or “California Love” would be blasting out the stereo, and my wife and son would be bouncing off the walls. By age 3, his favorite lyrics were “Whatcha whatcha whatcha want, whatcha want / You’re so funny with the money that you flaunt / I said where’d you get your information from huh? / You think that you can front when ‘revolution’ comes?” Yes, he messed up the lyrics, but he was hilarious.
So, as he gets older (and we do), we continue rocking out in the car and kicking up the base. I think the issue is this: as he gets older, in spite of the “clean” versions of the songs, he’s more likely to pick up on the suggestion or the content of the trashy lyrics. When he was little, everything seemed fine so long as he didn’t hear a 4-letter word, because any of the innuendo was lost on him. Now that he’s 6, he’s so damn perceptive. I just worry sometimes.
But I think the outrageous-ness of certain lyrics are just that, outrageous lyrics. If we use music for music’s sake, and don’t elevate it or deify the artists, it remains music. Not a lifestyle, not an ethos. Just songs to dance to. If I play a song that’s a little wild, it’s just a song. I think it takes the mystique and the glamour out of it when your parents put it on in the car. On the flip side, I went through quite a metal phase in high school and was a huge Metallica, Megadeath, Ozzy fan for years, but it was all just rebellion against the crooners I grew up with.
I’m mindful of my song choices, just like any other media I expose my son to. At the same time, I take an even-handed approach. While overt swearing and sexualized themes are still things I want to protect him from, there’s sometimes a grittiness to the lyrics that I don’t mind exposing him to in small snippets. Music, like all forms of art, is a means to exploring the profane and the fantastic, and if we can be good models of how and when that exposure is okay, we as parents can help our kids see that trashiness has its place.
Either that, or I’m training the next gangster rapper. So long as he steers clear of those $50 Gucci t-shirts, I’ll be fine with that too.