Youth Culture Window

The 2008 Teen Choice Awards

The annual Teen Choice Awards (TCAs) always provides an eye-opening glimpse into the world of youth culture. And the 2008 show was the cleanest we’ve seen in years!

Don’t get me wrong, this year’s show still awarded racy TV shows that kids shouldn’t be watching in the first place, movies they can’t get into, and celebs who shouldn’t be role models… that’s a given.But the show itself was a breath of fresh air compared to past years.

This year the TCAs were hosted by Miley Cyrus, making the two hour television experience a huge draw for not only teens, but tweens and young kids as well. So I was extremely pleased (and surprised) when the show that has, in past years, twice topped the Parents Television Council’s “Worst Family TV Show of the Week” went over 60 minutes without any racy performances or adult humor.

Yes… 60 minutes is only halfway through the show. That’s when they introduced Mariah Carey. (Need I say more?)

Mariah was present in her archetypal streetwalker apparel and singing her typical risqué lyrics. She performed her song “Love You Long Time” (with small excerpts of her hit song “Touch My Body” in the mix). Here’s a tidbit of the lyrics she sang to the… dare I say… “children” in the audience:

Touch my body…. Touch my body….

…Addictive just can’t get enough
And every time I’m with you I want some more
Just close the door
And let’s explore each other

And a little later in the song…

Scoop me up and we can go
To that little spot where no one knows
Spend a little time just us alone
You can caress my body and never let go

Not exactly the kind of thing I would want an adult saying to my kids. But that’s Mariah.

Mariah aside, the show itself kept a pretty clean slate for 2008 (hey… that’s kind of catchy).

But there’s a bigger issue at hand here: the content behind all these names. In other words, what is all this stuff that kids voted for that they are watching and listening to?

The Content Behind the Names
This year the TCAs provided keen insight as to what kids are watching and listening to. The show always is a great pop culture barometer, allowing teens (or anybody who logs onto their website) to vote as many times as they want on a huge collection of entertainment-based favorites including movies, TV shows, music, fashion, and more. Just as the show boasts, the TCAs lets teens share “their choice and their voice.”

Every year this two hour show reveals volumes to parents and youth workers about the content being thrown at our kids- we should pay attention. But understand, a glimpse of the list of winners doesn’t reveal a thing if you don’t know the content behind the names. That’s why I am filling this article with links so you can click to read more or even peek at videos and lyrics from some of these “role models.”

What’s Hot… or a Little Too Hot
This year the toughest pill to swallow was the ubiquitous presence of TV’s “Gossip Girl.” This sexually charged show won more awards and graced the stage more than any other show, song or artist the entire evening. This is just sad. The audience was filled with kids, and secular critics are admittingthat this show is way over the top for even teenagers.

But the TCAs have never been shy about plugging shows, songs and celebs that are a tad racy… okay, very racy. In addition to “Gossip Girl,” shows like “Greys Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives,” “The Hills,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious” were in the running. Movies like “Sex in the City,” “Superbad” and “Prom Night” were also in the hopper. (Hello! Many of these films are R-rated. Kids can’t even see these films without a parent!)

The show maintained its momentum propagating the popularity of celebs that most parents would not choose for their kids as role models. Musical artists like Usher were nominated, with quick clips of his “Love in the Club” (aka: “Let’s Make Love in the Club”) video provided. Musical newbie Katy Perry (“I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It”) was nominated for Choice MySpacer. Thankfully, someone in the Miley Cyrus camp had good enough sense to decline an opportunity for Miley to kiss Katy on stage at the TCAs, reliving the Brittany/Madonna moment at the MTV VMAs years ago.

“Heroes’” cheerleader Hayden Panettiere also received an award. Last week America saw a little more of Hayden in her new music video, “Wake Up Call.” In my recent blog about this video, I mentioned my interview with Hayden years ago when she told me that she’d like to stay away from being known as a “sex vixon,” instead, being known as “classy.” Well… I don’t think the director of her music video received that message. I know none of the viewers did! That’s why it was rather ironic when Hayden received her TCA award and said, “This means so much to me. Not only because it’s from all of you, but because it stands for something I’m very passionate about, and that’s female empowerment. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to the character of Claire (“Heroes”). She allows me to be a role model for young people and to prove just how powerful each and every one of you are.”

Role model? Modeling what?

Cleaning Up a Little Bit
But the whole evening wasn’t dedicated to racy content. Some of the biggest stars are fairly clean.

Chris Brown, who has kept a pretty clean slate, beat out Usher, Justin Timerlake and Kanye West for “Choice Male Artist.”

Will Smith accepted two awards. Will started his career as one of the only clean rap artists and has maintained a reputation as a family man while starring in fairly clean films (yeah, I said “fairly”).

I held my breath when I first heard that Miley was hosting. Let’s be honest. Miley has made a few mistakes herself lately. But Miley brought nothing but good clean fun to the 2008 TCAs. Her outfits were very tasteful, and she kept the conversation clean.

The highlight for me was when she received the award for Choice Female Artist, beating out Brittany, Fergie, Mariah and Rihanna (that list is no joke). When Miley won, we had already heard two “I thank God” references that evening (Will Smith, Chris Brown). But anyone who has watched these shows long enough knows those references often mean very little. We’ve seen artists like Usher, Outcast, and Kanye West say, “I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” only to go on and sing songs with graphic sexual references and explicit language. Even the Pussy Cat Dolls thanked God two years ago at the MTV VMAs for their song, “Loosen Up My Buttons.”

But Miley’s speech seemed heartfelt. Her first words were to Jesus, and it was no small plug:

First of all, I’ve got to thank the most important man in my life, who I love so, so much, and that’s big Jesus Christ up there (pointing up). Thank you so much for putting me here. I’m so blessed. And I cannot be more excited to be walking this amazing path that He has me on.”

I hope she continues to live it.

Another highlight was America’s cleanest boy band, the Jonas Brothers, who won about the same amount of awards as the show “Gossip Girl.” Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas frequented the stage, regularly answering questions from the internet audience and showing us a few of their moves.

It was a relief to see a few of these clean role models on stage this year.

So how should we walk away from this year’s TCAs?

Our Response as Caring Adults


  1. Keep our Thumb on the Pulse of Youth Culture

    You don’t need to watch “Gossip Girl” every week or run out and buy Mariah Carey’s new CD to stay current. But I do suggest watching “Gossip Girl” once, or jumping on YouTube and watching a Mariah Carey video.

    Better yet, let us update you, giving you the links where to go. Subscribe to my blog where you’ll get a regular dose of youth culture and youth ministry news each week. Be a regular visitor to our weekly updated Youth Culture Window articles where we give you a continuous glimpse into the porthole of pop culture, media, trends and attitudes. In addition, we review important youth culture barometers like this year’s TCAs or the MTV Awards within 24 hours of their showing

    Stay current with what our youth are putting in their heads.

  2. Use Youth Culture to provoke discussion

    No parent or youth worker would argue the importance of dialoguing with our kids about important issues. The question is, what can we talk about? Will they even listen?

    What better place to start than a place where teenagers spend an average of 6.5 hours a day—the media. As we grow in our awareness about pop culture we can use that as a springboard for conversation. Just like Paul used the “idols of the day” as a starting point for his message to a secular audience (Acts 17), we can use many of today’s “idols” to provoke discussion.

    Our web site at provides a gold mine of these discussion starters… all for free. Use our MOVIE CLIP DISCUSSIONS page to springboard discussion. We provide an idea for a movie clip to show, transition statements, small group questions, scripture, questions about the scripture, and a quick wrap up talk. Everything you need. Our new MUSIC DISCUSSIONSpage provides the exact same thing using current music as a starting point.

Keep current, and keep pursuing conversations. Your time devoted in these two areas will help you make an impact.

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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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