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Youth Culture Window

Cover Your Ears
Rampant Vulgarity Ruling the Charts
An article from Jonathan McKee and David R. Smith at TheSource4YM.com
3/8/2013


Dynamic ImageOver the years, song lyrics have often dipped into areas of controversy causing some to debate their appropriateness. But music is art… right?

Regardless where you land in that deliberation, this week’s top songs can’t help but make you wonder, “Do these artists kiss their mothers with those mouths?”

The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Disgusting
Foul language in mainstream music isn’t anything new; just ask those who remember the 2 Live Crew controversy. But a quick glance across this week’s top songs on iTunes and Billboard’s Hot 100 might lead some to think that the frequency of vulgarity has increased…along with its acceptance by our culture.

Of course, not everything in this week’s music has gone vulgar. Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble talks about the red flags she ignored in a relationship that recently ended, and she does so in a healthy way. Bruno Mars’ When I Was Your Man speaks (cleanly) about the regrets of lost love, a highly popular theme from 2012 that seems to be carrying over into this year. And since Harlem Shake, this week’s #1 song, only has 5 words in English, it’s fairly innocuous as well (even though it’s viral homemade videos might not always be so innocent).

But then there’s will.i.am’s collaboration with Britney Spears entitled Scream & Shout. In this dance hit, Britney repeatedly asks the DJ to “turn the sh*t up” and even refers to herself as a “b**ch.” If our kids happen to navigate to the extremely popular new music video remix of this song (still in the top 10 iTunes music videos as we write this), then they’ll encounter Diddy, Waka, and Lil Wayne joining in with too many vulgarities to list, including encouragement to smoke, drink, etc. (No need to go into too much detail, Jonathan unveiled more about that music video in his blog recently.) Suit and Tie, the offspring of a Justin Timberlake and Jay Z partnership, starts off with a repetition of “I be on my suit and tie sh*t, tie sh*t, tie, I be on my suit and tie sh*t, tie sh*t.”

Strange? Yes.

Unnecessary? Definitely.

But then we go shopping and it just gets worse….

THRIFT SHOP by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (featuring Wanz)
Thrift Shop, as the title implies, is a throwback to things of the past, from the gull-winged doors on the DeLorean…to the gaudy clothes from by-gone decades that the Seattle-based rapper picks up at his local secondhand store. This song, which has fallen from the top position to #2, has an almost comical sound to it, but many of its lyrics are anything but funny. See for yourself:

I'm gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I - I - I'm hunting, looking for a come-up
This is f**king awesome
Nah, Walk up to the club like, "What up, I got a big c*ck!"
I'm so pumped about some sh*t from the thrift shop
Ice on the fringe, it's so damn frosty
That people like, "Damn! That's a cold a** honkey."
Rollin' in, hella deep, headin' to the mezzanine,
Dressed in all pink, 'cept my gator shoes, those are green
Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin' next to me
Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly's sheets
(Piiisssssss)

Thrift Shop is the rappers’ way of explaining their rejection of hip hop’s glam lifestyle. In an interview with MTV, Macklemore said, “Rappers talk about, oh I buy this and I buy that, and I spend this much money and I make it rain, and this type of champagne and painting the club, and this is the kind of record that’s the exact opposite. It’s the polar opposite of it. It’s kind of standing for like let’s save some money, let’s keep some money away, let’s spend as little as possible and look as fresh as possible at the same time.”

As you can see, this song is sort of messy to evaluate. I (Jonathan), blogged about this little diddy when it first went no. 1. The theme is noble, but the lyricist is a foul mouth. I talked with some teenagers about this song recently and found it beneficial to be objective in my evaluation. Let’s be honest. Teenagers are probably a little tired of adults complaining about their music. So I started by just asking questions about the song, like, “How is it musically?”

They were quick to tell me, “It’s awesome. I love the beat.”

I replied honestly. “I agree. It’s catchy and it’s funny. I can see why it’s popular.”

Then I asked, “What do you think the theme of the song is?”

They thought for a moment and then verbalized what they thought Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were saying. “We don’t need fancy clothes to feel good about ourselves. Why not buy something more affordable?”

I agreed again. Then I asked, “Is this a good message?”

They looked at each other as if it was a trick question, but asserted, “Yeah… that’s a good message.”

I agreed once again. They seemed surprised that an adult actually saw reality about this song.

“Now,” I continued. “Tell me how this guy decides to deliver this message.” And that opened the door to talk a little bit about his language and foul references. This kind of talk, while common in this world, probably isn’t the best way for a believer to communicate.

In the end, we had a healthy conversation where I challenged them to evaluate and think Biblically about the messages they were hearing… like the ones in this next song.

STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM by Drake
This is the song Macklemore just warned you about….


Young Money rapper Drake released this song last month, and so far, Started From the Bottom has done nothing but climb the charts, currently resting in the #6 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. It’s got plenty of the elements usually associated with hip hop music: braggadocios amounts of bling, lots of alcohol, the objectification of women, and of course, plenty of vulgar lyrics. Take a look:

Started from the bottom now we’re here
Started from the bottom now my whole team f**king here
Started from the bottom now we’re here
Started from the bottom now the whole team here, nigga
Started from the bottom now we’re here
Started from the bottom now my whole team f**king here
Started from the bottom now we’re here
Started from the bottom now the whole team here, nigga
I done kept it real from the jump
Living at my mama’s house we'd argue every month
Nigga, I was trying to get it on my own
Working all night, traffic on the way home
And my uncle calling me like "Where ya at?
I gave you the keys told ya bring it right back”
Nigga, I just think it’s funny how it goes
Now I’m on the road, half a million for a show

The music video – with its foul language and scantily clad ladies – has racked up millions of views on YouTube. Started basically chronicles Drake’s rise from obscurity in a menial job to that of hip hop superstar. Instead of working the night shift at some corner store, Drake now claims he has become the intersection of wealth and fame.

When Drake released the song, he also gave an explanation for the song’s meaning. “My family and my second family (consisting of the best friends anybody could ever have) all struggled and worked extremely hard to make all this happen. I did not buy my way into this spot and it was the furthest thing from easy to achieve. I am proud of every part of my past and I’m excited for this song to find a place in your life as well.”

For way too many young people, that place in life is their playlist. This song is the antithesis of a godly and generous lifestyle, opting rather for debauchery, overt sexuality, and unchecked materialism described in shamelessly foul language.

But this isn’t even the worst song in the Top 10 this week.

LOVE ME by Lil Wayne (featuring Drake and Future)
When a song opens with “I’m on that good kush [marijuana] and alcohol, I got some down b**ches I can call,” you know it’s going to earn its explicit warning label.

Or, speaking candidly, when the artist is Lil Wayne… you know it’s going to earn its explicit warning label.

Love Me is Lil Wayne’s collaborative effort with Drake and Future that has absolutely nothing to do with love. There’s plenty about lust, but nothing about love as we’ve understood the term for centuries. But since the song has made a significant jump from #19 to #10 this week, it’s like Tina Turner said: “What’s love got to do with it?”

We’ve written about lots of foul music in our Youth Culture Window articles across the years, but this tune has to crack the top three most-vile songs we’ve ever covered. Here’s the song’s first verse:

Pu**y-a** niggas stop hatin'
Lil' Tunechi got that fire
And these hoes love me like Satan...
F**k with me and get bodied
And all she eat is d**k
She on a strict diet
That's my baby
With no makeup she a ten
And she the best with head
Even better than Corinne
She don't want money
She want the time we could spend
She said "cause I really need somebody,
So tell me you're that somebody"
And girl, I f**k who I want
And f**k who I don't
Got that A1 credit
At that Filet Mignon
She say "I never wanna you make you mad,
I just wanna make you proud"
I say "baby, just make me c*m,
Then don't make a sound"

There is no need to go into verse two; the song’s ultra-vulgar music video remains equally filthy throughout.

It’s terribly unfortunate that a person of Lil Wayne’s mass appeal and influence has chosen to produce such toxic lyrics for millions of young people to consume. The rapper was released from jail in 2011 and by the looks of this song, it seems he is making up for lost time.

I just hope his perverted definition of “love” doesn’t catch on with today’s teenagers.

Filtering the Filth
Media is a huge force in kids’ lives, but with the constant release of new music, it can be tough to keep up with all the influences competing for your teenagers’ affections. But, as you’ve seen from some of this week’s music, it’s important to know what’s out there. We can learn a lot about teenagers from iTunes and the music charts. Fortunately, there are a couple ways you can filter today’s music so that your teenagers steer clear of the filth.

  1. Do your homework. When we lead parenting seminars (both Jonathan and David), one of the most frequently asked questions is, “How do you know so much about today’s music?” The answer is so simple; we use three well-known websites to stay current: Billboard, Google, and YouTube. We begin with Billboard’s Hot 100 and simply read down the list. If a new song has entered the Top 10 and I’m unfamiliar with it, I jump over to Google and search for the song’s lyrics. After perusing the lyrics, I turn to YouTube to see if the song has a music video. (Note: Some songs never become videos and some songs are released on the radio well before they’re released in video format. Thus, you may have to check back a few times. Just make sure you look for the “official” music video.) Depending on the length of the song, this entire process takes about 7 minutes to complete. This “homework” is simple, so make the small investment that will give you a big return on your kids’ lives.

    Another great way to ‘do your homework’ is to let us do most of the work for you. We both are constantly writing about music, media and youth culture in these Youth Culture Window articles, our Parenting Help articles, and in Jonathan’s blog. Subscribe HERE for any of those free resources and we’ll send them to you each week.

  2. Counter culture with truth. The three songs above reek of materialism, drugs, alcohol, greed, lust, sexual immorality, and more. Left unchecked, the messages embedded in these songs will soon embed themselves in teenagers’ minds and hearts. The best way to overcome these influences is with the truth of God’s Word. Fortunately for you, The Source for Youth Ministry has lots of totally free tools that can help you combat culture with the truth of Christ’s teachings. For instance, here’s a great resource about blindly seeking riches and wealth. This is another music-based resource that illustrates the pain of a party lifestyle. This YouTube Discussion Starter tackles the tough issue of lust and pornography, while this one shows that drug and alcohol addictions require the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Telling a kid to “cover your ears” stopped working when they were in preschool. As parents and youth workers, we must be far more proactive in helping our teenagers make pure choices regarding their music selections. The discernment they gain could guide them for life.


Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.


David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.


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Comments on this post

   Ed Konieczka         4/10/2013 8:41:04 AM

This article was rated but no comment was left

   Jonathan McKee         3/13/2013 8:26:41 AM

Rico... I don't think we disagree about Taylor. I was a little disappointed with the way she showed up at the People's choice awards this year... she needs to remember young girls are watching and looking up to her. All we were mentioning above is that her song was good. Her songs usually are.

   Rob         3/13/2013 8:21:57 AM

This kind of music has always been available, but it definitely seems to be getting more popular and mainstream. Thanks for the article.

   Rico         3/11/2013 1:29:59 PM

I wouldn't be so quick to hold up Taylor Swift as some sort of role model, if only through her lyrics. She's hopped from celebrity bed to celebrity bed (and made a career of it through her songs) for the past several years.



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