Youth Culture Window
Revenge. Addictions. Death. No doubt about it, some of this year’s top-ranked songs definitely had a raw edge.
Fortunately, we’ve got some tips – and free tools – to help your teens process all of it.
Knowing that today’s young people consider music their “favorite media activity,” The Source for Youth Ministry takes a look back at the year’s biggest musical hits to see what was pumped into their heads (and hearts) via ear buds. This year, the stakes went up a bit after Common Sense Media released the findings of their Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens report which claimed that teenagers dedicate a whopping 1-hour-and-54-minutes of every day to their favorite songs.
And, just what are kids getting for their daily investment of 2 hours?
That’s what you’ll discover below. This article will list 2015’s #1 songs according to Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart – by date – and offer a brief discussion of the song’s artist, lyrics, video, meaning, impact, etc. Where applicable, we’ll also throw in free resources specifically geared to helping teenagers wrestle with the messages found in today’s top music. Finally, we’ll end with a few tips that will help parents and youth workers learn how to react to music’s messages in a timely and effective manner going forward.
As of this writing, 2015 has given us a total of nine #1 hits. Let’s get to them.
Blank Space (Taylor Swift)
2014 was a terrific year for Tay Tay! She never took her foot off the gas, and when the ball dropped in Time Square, she was still sitting on the throne due to the success of Blank Space.
Blank Space was Swift’s second #1 hit of 2014, behind Shake It Off, both of which were on her album,1989. In fact, it was Blank Space that finally bumped Shake It Off from the top spot on November 29, 2014, meaning that Taylor Swift replaced Taylor Swift, the first time in Billboard history a woman succeeded herself at the apex of the charts.
Like I said, 2014 was a good year for Tay Tay.
Blank Space, featured a more “grown up” version of Swift; in the music video (which has amassed hundreds of millions of views), she’s dressed in elegant gowns and spends most of her time in and around a posh mansion. Even the sound of the song is slightly less “pop” and more mature in nature.
Blank Space was basically a “blank check” for the talented, young blonde. Its run at the top came to an end on January 16, 2015, but it wouldn’t be the last time Taylor rose to the top this year.
Uptown Funk (Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars)
On January 17th a song rose to the top of the charts that would remain there for 14 weeks. The song was Uptown Funk, and to most of us, it was a song by Bruno Mars and a bunch of other guys. The catchy tune provided us with a retro vibe, with brass and a James Brown funky flair that made you feel like you were at an Earth, Wind and Fire concert.
The lyrics were typical of the genre, with a lot of “I’m hot” and “If you sexy then flaunt it, if you freaky then own it.” Pretty mild by today’s standards. If you have any Michael Jackson or Kool and the Gang in your phone, you probably want this one too.
But on April 25 the song eventually ended its reign for another song that would own the spot for 12 inconsecutive weeks.
See You Again (Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth)
See You Again is the fusion of rapper Wiz Khalifa and pianoist/vocalist Charlie Puth. The stirring ballad was featured on the soundtrack of the blockbuster Furious 7, and was written as a tribute to the movie franchise’s lead star, Paul Walker, after he died in a car accident in late 2013.
The song is essentially about the desire the artist has for reminiscing with his friend at the end of a long day, but knowing he can’t because of the separation brought about by death. The song’s lyrics are clean – a rarity for much of Khalifa’s work – and have a tendency of pointing listeners’ minds to thoughts of Heaven and the afterlife…which is exactly what we highlighted in the free MUSIC DISCUSSION resource we developed around this song.
The accompanying music video is a bit of a tear jerker and only adds to the drama of the song. Unsurprisingly, the subject matter found in the song struck a nerve with humans who are aware of the frailty of life; the video has been seen on YouTube more than 1.2 billion times.
That’s billion with a B!
And just like the title of the song implies, when Wiz and Charlie were bumped from the top spot on June 5th, they knew they’d see #1 again, which is exactly what happened on June 13th. But their run at the top officially ended on July 24th, bringing their reign at #1 to a total of 12 weeks.
Speaking of “seeing someone again,” here comes Taylor….
Bad Blood (Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar)
The world should know by now: don’t mess with Taylor Swift! Historically speaking, she’s had no problem whatsoever with publically shaming ex-boyfriends in a song for breaking her heart. But with Bad Blood, Swift’s second #1 hit of 2015, she spreads wrathful vengeance to her own gender and directs fury at a woman who’s betrayed her…probably Katy Perry.
The music video, which plays like a young female version of The Expendables, further supports this hypothesis by opening up with a high energy fight scene that ends with Catastrophe (Swift) being double-crossed by her ally Arsyn (played by real life bestie, Selena Gomez). The song’s lyrics lend themselves to a discussion about dealing with betrayal in a positive and healthy way, which is exactly what we did in this MUSIC DISCUSSION resource.
Bad Blood was a huge hit for Taylor this year. Not only did it reach the top spot on Billboard, but it also landed her the highly coveted Video of the Year Award at the 2015 VMAs on MTV. Even though the song was #1 for just one short week (June 6 – June 12), its impact was felt for months.
When Taylor’s tune of betrayal was knocked from the top spot, it would be by an artist who was singing about the exact opposite topic: commitment.
It’s always refreshing to hear a song about commitment, and frankly a little surprising when you hear someone sing about monogamy. But that’s what this song is about, a guy who has found himself a cheerleader, “she is always right there when I need her.” In fact, he admits that “other girls are tempting,” and when they call to him (like Proverbs warns us they will), asking “Do you need me? Do you think I’m pretty? Do I make you feel like cheating?” He replies, “no, not really ‘cause… I’ve found myself a cheerleader.”
As nice as it is to hear from someone so committed, it would be nice if his description of her were a little bit beyond…
She walks like a model
She grants my wishes
Like a genie in a bottle
'Cause I'm the wizard of love
And I got the magic wand…
Hmmmmm. There you go kids. That’s what a guy wants… and has.
The music video is just a guy singing with a bunch of sexy girls dancing.
The song rode the No. 1 spot from July 25 – August 21 and then again August 29 – September 11. Then it stepped aside for a guy known as The Weeknd.
Can’t Feel My Face (The Weeknd)
If you’re not familiar with Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, take a few moments to read this YOUTH CULTURE WINDOW article we wrote about the man who intentionally misspells his stage name (The Weeknd) and the dangerous messages he embeds in his music. It’s aptly titled Big Hair. Big Hits. And Big Problems?
Based on his performance at this year’s MTV VMAs, this young man’s career is LITERALLY on fire. The Weeknd served up a pyrotechnic-filled version of Can’t Feel My Face that had everyone downloading his music…even if they didn’t actually know what his song was about.
So, what is the song about? In a word: cocaine. Take a look at his somewhat misleading lyrics:
And I know she'll be the death of me, at least we'll both be numb
And she'll always get the best of me, the worst is yet to come
But at least we'll both be beautiful and stay forever young
This I know, (yeah) this I know
At first blush, it looks like The Weeknd may be describing a harsh, overbearing girlfriend or a slightly psychotic ex. In reality, he’s singing about his ongoing addiction to cocaine.
This guy is uber-talented. He’s handsome and charming. And his song is perfectly contagious. In fact, Can’t Feel My Face was so popular this year, it rose to the #1 spot not just once, nor twice, but three separate times! This tune was at the top from August 22 – August 28, then again September 12 – September 18, and once more from September 26 – October 2. That’s why we knew we had to write a MUSIC DISCUSSION resource on this song that would help teenagers confront their own addictions.
Can’t Feel My Face was first removed from the #1 position by the aforementioned OMI, and then again by fellow Canadian crooner, Justin Bieber (to be discussed below). But the third (and final) time Feel was bumped from the top spot, it would be by another one of The Weeknd’s songs. Sadly, his second smash hit would be just as irresponsible as the first.
What Do You Mean (Justin Bieber)
Bieber is back, and don’t underestimate his influence. Because he’s had several songs in the top 10 since the summer, and literally has three songs in the top 10 right now (as of the writing of this article), including this song.
What Do You Mean hit No 1 for just one week, September 19 – September 25, interrupted The Weeknd’s run at the top for a blink, but then has stayed in the top 5 since.
The song is about indecisiveness in a relationship, simply asking, “What do you mean? When you nod your head yes, but you wanna say no… When you don’t want me to move, but you tell me to go…”
The music video is another story. It’s not explicit because Bieber doesn’t cuss, and it won’t have any warnings because there’s no nudity, and no actual sex. But what you will see is Bieber go into a hotel room with a girl, she’ll strip down to her underwear, he’ll take off his shirt, and they’ll make out passionately. Very steamy… but rated PG-13.
What will young people glean from the video? It’s romantic? It’s hot? It’s what I want?
But it’s not the only song that will be talking about sexual relationships this year.
The Hills (The Weeknd)
In case one top-ranked song about drug addiction wasn’t enough for the year, The Weeknd followed up Can’t Feel My Face with The Hills, a song about a sexual relationship that’s so troubled it depends on a chemical addiction to endure. It starts off this way:
Your man on the road, he doin' promo
You said, "Keep our business on the low-low"
I'm just tryna get you out the friend zone
Cause you look even better than the photos
I can't find your house, send me the info
Drivin' through the gated residential
Found out I was comin', sent your friends home
Keep on tryna hide it but your friends know
Either that’s the world’s creepiest sales call…or he’s trying to hook up. In the second verse he confesses to “fu**ing two b**ches” en route to her house, but it’s the oft-repeated chorus that reveals his drug dependency:
I only call you when it's half past five
The only time that I'll be by your side
I only love it when you touch me, not feel me
When I'm fu**ed up, that's the real me
When I'm fu**ed up, that's the real me, yeah
The Hills reached the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart on October 3rd and stayed there until November 13th, a full six weeks at #1. When it was finally pushed out, it was by a female singer who’s no stranger to the top spot.
On November 14 Adele took the number one spot and hasn’t budged. The song has been breaking records since its release, with her music video beating Taylor Swift for the most views in 24 hours, and then the song selling 1 million downloads in a week. Hello is on fire (yes, even in the rain).
It’s clear. The world loves her music.
Most likely, because it resonates with them.
Adele sings about pain and regret, and let’s be honest, everyone knows what that feels like. This song is no exception. Hello is sung from the heart, looking back after a breakup and wishing things were different; but apparently, the feelings aren’t mutual and the efforts aren’t reciprocated. Of course, Adele says it a little better than that:
So hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I'm sorry for everything that I've done
But when I call you never seem to be home
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I've tried
To tell you I'm sorry for breaking your heart
But it don't matter it clearly doesn't tear you apart anymore
The song has already spun off plenty of video spinoffs, many of them going viral.
Knowing the song’s impact, we wrote a music discussion about Hello, using it as an opportunity to talk with young people about reconciliation.
Yeah, some of the music from 2015 had rather “mature” themes, but some of it also had wholesome messages, as well. Fortunately for parents and youth workers, the same tried and true strategies for helping young people manage their music still work as effectively as ever. Here are three great ideas that will help you steer their musical choices.
- Investigate the music your kids want. This takes all of about 7 minutes to do. When your tween or teen wants to download a new song that you’re unfamiliar with, do a Google search for the song’s lyrics and read for yourself what the artist is trying to convey. But don’t stop there! Move your investigation over to YouTube and search for the song’s accompanying music video. (NOTE: Sometimes, music videos are intentionally released a little later than the song.) This second step might offer additional clarity or help answer questions you had about the song’s message. The best part is, between these two simple strategies, you can get all the info you need about a song…in well under 10 minutes! Now you’re ready to act on that newfound knowledge.
- Set boundaries about “what kind” and “how much.” Most parents and youth workers are rightly concerned about “what kind” of music the kids in their lives listen to; after all, there are plenty of poisonous ideas found in some of today’s tunes. But loving adults should also be concerned with “how much” music their kids are listening to, as well. Think about what research (like Common Sense Media) has said and engage your teens with a few of these questions:
- How much time do you spend listening to music on an average day?
- How much time do you think the average teen spends listening to music each day?
- Do you think that 1 hour and 54 minutes is too much? Why or why not?
- How does the amount of time you spend listening to music affect other areas of your life?
- Are there times throughout your day that should be “music free”? If so, what are they?
Make use of helpful resources like Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone?, walking you through the process of setting helpful boundaries that really work.
- Talk with them about the music of their day. Once you’ve done your homework, having an influential conversation with your teens becomes much easier. Be ready to ask some well placed questions about these songs when you hear them. But don’t think one talk is going to do the trick. As you’ve seen, several of these artists had multiple #1 hits this year alone. That means new music is being released all the time. That means you need to engage the music – and your kids – all the time, too! The Source for Youth Ministry offers great resources for discussing today’s top music from biblical perspectives; they’re called MUSIC DISCUSSIONS…and they’re free! All you have to do is follow our simple directions for impactful conversations with your kids.
Keep paying attention to today’s music. And keep talking with your kids about it. Who knows what 2016 will have in store for your kids’ listening pleasure…or pain? Implementing these simple strategies will help your teenagers make sound choices when it comes to music. That sounds pretty sweet.
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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