Youth Culture Window

Sensuality and Vulgarity Without Much Sobriety

Dynamic ImageThe songs in this week’s Top 10 offer lots of diversity: Americans and foreigners, pop and electronic and hip hop genres, singles, duets, and even quintuplets. Is there any commonality to be found?

Yep. All the stuff you hope your kids aren’t doing!

But it’s okay when they just listen to it… right?

Many parents and youth workers know how important music is to today’s teenager; according to the experts at Common Sense Media, tweens and teen average 1 hour and 54 minutes of every single day listening to music. That’s a lot of tunes!

But what are kids gleaning from these songs and music videos?

Well, it only takes a quick glance at this week’s Top 10 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart to see a lot of sexuality, vulgarity, and drug & alcohol references. We’ll walk you through the content of these songs by themes to give you an idea of what millions of teenagers are pumping through their ear buds. Then we’ll provide you with a guide on how to engage our kids in meaningful conversations when we encounter this content. Let’s start with a cultural favorite: sensuality.

Bring on the Booty
Yep, sex is big business…and unfortunately, it’s easy to spot in much of today’s top music. For instance, the #1 song of the week, Work, by Rihanna (featuring Drake), puts sexuality front and center. This song has been No. 1 since February, the newest No. 1 since we provided you with our year-end music review, and a song putting Rihanna on chart history.

While the meaning of her lyrics in English-mixed-with- Barbados-patois might be a little contested, the music videos clear everything up. It’s about overt sexuality.

The song actually has two official music videos rolled into one, and even though Vibe calls both of them “glorious” we won’t be linking it/them here. In the first version, the artists – and everyone with them in the bar – grind on each other for the duration of the song. In the second version, it’s just Drake and Rihanna in a neon-lit room with her wearing a see-through top. Perhaps that’s why the music video has been viewed on YouTube more than 200 million times.

Are we starting to see a pattern from Rihanna?

On the other end of the booty spectrum – sort of – is Meghan Trainor’s No, currently sitting in the #3 position. Based on (most of) the lyrics, the song is about her shutting down a guy’s advance at a club. When he walks up to her, here’s what she has to say in response to his pick up lines:

Nah to the ah to the no, no, no
My name is no, my sign is no, my number is no
You need to let it go, you need to let it go
Need to let it go

Basically, she tells the guy “no” over and over again. However, she then goes on to share the following tip with her female listeners in case the guy just won’t give up:

All my ladies, listen up
If that boy ain’t giving up
Lick your lips and swing your hips
Girl all you gotta say is…

So, let me get this straight. Licking lips and swinging hips is supposed to discourage a guy?

In spite of the mixed messages embedded in the lyrics, once again the song’s accompanying music video sets the record straight. Throughout the video, Trainor and her dance crew do plenty of lip-licking. And hip-swinging. And cleavage-flashing. And boob-grabbing. And butt-caressing. And….

OK, OK, the music video is basically just a group of young girls wearing fishnets while writhing all over each other. Maybe that explains why it’s been viewed 50 million times online.

Unlike the first two songs, it’s not hard to figure out what Work From Home by Fifth Harmony, (featuring Ty Dolla $ign) is about. Without a doubt, the “construction site” from the #10 song’s music video is the sexiest on Earth. Throughout the song, the scantily-clad female quintuple take turns singing about “occupational endeavors” in the most erotic ways possible:

I’m sittin’ pretty, impatient, but I know you gotta
Put in them hours, I’mma make it harder
I’m sending pic after picture, I’mma get you fired

Let’s put it into motion
I’mma give you a promotion
I’ll make it feel like a vacay, turn the bed into an ocean
We don’t need nobody, I just need your body
Nothin’ but sheets in between us, ain’t no getting off early

It’s pretty obvious what most of these songs are talking about. The question is… are you talking about it? Who would you rather they hear this “TALK” from?

But it’s not just overt sexuality that’s in this week’s songs…

The F Bomb
Several of the songs in the Top 10 have vulgarity interspersed in their lyrics with a couple of them carrying the explicit F bomb. Zayn’s Pillowtalk, currently sitting in the #4 spot, is the highest ranked tune to do so.

Now that he’s no longer a part of the boy band One Direction, Zayn Malik has more time for the ladies, and he sings about the roller coaster of emotions that describes his sex life:

So we’ll piss off the neighbours
In the place that feels the tears
The place to lose your fears
Yeah, reckless behavior
A place that is so pure, so dirty and raw
Be in the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day
Fu**ing in, fighting on
It’s our paradise and it’s our war zone
It’s our paradise and it’s our war zone

He repeats this refrain three times during the song so that no one has to guess what’s going on in between the sessions of pillow talk.

But he’s not the only one to go verbally explicit in the Top 10. Jumping down to the #8 spot we find rapper G-Eazy and female singer Bebe Rexha’s Me, Myself, and I which also contains some angst-driven vulgarity. As the duo takes listeners on a journey through their inner conflict, they repeatedly declare that they can only count on themselves during trying times…but they do so in an expletive-laden way. Here are several excerpts scattered throughout their song:

F**k all this modesty
F**k fake friends, we don’t take L’s we just make M’s
So get the f**k off me I’m anxious
I’m tryna be cool but I might just go ape sh*t say f**k y’all to all of y’all faces
This sh*t is lovely, this sh*t ain’t random, I didn’t get lucky

G-Eazy isn’t exactly easy on the ears. But there’s one more troubling theme to cover before we’re done with this week’s top music.

Controlled Substances
What’s music without a little self-medication?

This week’s Top 10 has plenty of liquid refreshment and drug references to keep the party going. Flo Rida gets things started in his #6 song, My House.

Open up the champagne, pop!
It’s my house, come on, turn it up
Hear a knock on the door and the night begins
Cause we done this before so you come on in
Make yourself at my home, tell me where you been
Pour yourself something cold, baby, cheers to this

Yep, it’s gonna be a party. And a very, very wet one, at that. The corresponding music video shows the rapper and his crew pushing alcohol consumption to the limits. But Flo Rida’s not the only one having a really good time….

In the #9 position, Mike Posner offers a song entitled I Took a Pill in Ibiza which is about exactly that. In fact, that’s even how the tune begins:

I took a pill in Ibiza
To show Avicii I was cool
And when I finally got sober, felt 10 years older
But f**k it, it was something to do

Yeah, I know, another F bomb. But the vulgarity isn’t as taxing on our intelligence as is the fact that this entire song is based on an actual event in the singer’s life that was considered “inspirational” enough to be turned into a song…that landed in our Top 10. (By the way, Ibiza is an island off the coast of Spain, and Avicii is a Swedish DJ that Posner worked with in the past.)

Ask Questions
So how should parents and positive adult role models respond when we hear our kids playing these songs?

Should we freak out, quickly cut the power and tell our kids, “Stop thinking about this stuff!”

Or is there a chance that this music is so ubiquitous we might need to start dialoguing with our kids about it?

Luckily we have provided parents with some simple tips as to what these kinds of discussions can look like. After all, sometimes these moments happen in the car or somewhere on the fly where we don’t have a ready-made discussion guide handy. So CLICK HERE for four steps to asking well-placed questions when we encounter this kind of content.

Consider a little bit of research on your end can only help those conversations. We’re not suggesting you start buying all of Rihanna’s CD’s and writing your masters thesis “sexualization of today’s young girls”… we’re just suggesting you take a few minutes to read articles like these or simply do a Google search about a song.

Sure, this article didn’t cover every song in the Top 10. For instance, Justin Bieber’s Love Yourselfdidn’t get mentioned…even though the music video has been viewed online more than 500 million times! Lukas Graham’s song, 7 Years, is a fairly introspective song that openly addresses the artist’s fears and failures about both his past and his future. And though it’s not mentioned above, we have a totally free small group Bible study based on twenty one pilots’ Stressed Out on our MUSIC DISCUSSIONS page at The Source for Youth Ministry.

What we did cover was all the reasons parents and youth workers should be familiar with the songs that make it to the top of the charts and should be prepared to engage in meaningful conversations about stuff that matters.

Are you ready to engage in these conversations?


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Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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