My daughter has recently graduated from riding in the back seat of the car to sitting up front in the “shotgun” seat. As a result, I have gotten a crash course in the state of pop music in 2010. Before the move, our car radio rarely strayed from the far left end of the dial where our two public radio stations reside. Now the tuner makes regular forays all the way to the other end and I know far more about Jason Derulo and Ke$ha than I frankly care to know.
Isabel is ten and it was right around ten that I started to develop my own musical tastes, so I am trying to be as open-minded as possible about what we listen to. My parents somehow made it through ad naseum playings of entire albums by Styx and Foreigner so I figure the least I can do is bite my tongue as Isabel goes from station to station looking for Usher’s OMG one more time.
However, just last week a song that entered our car made me seriously consider my laissez-faire approach to Isabel’s musical exploration. It was Eminem’s duet with Rihanna called “Love the Way You Lie.” The song is a passionate first person look at a dysfunctional relationship and it ends with a threat of murder. It includes an infectious chorus sung by Rihanna in a sweetly angelic voice. Problem is, the words of the chorus excuse horrific male behavior, lies, and threats of violence with the refrain, “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts. Just gonna stand there and watch me cry, but that’s alright because I love the way you lie, I love the way you lie.”
I am no prude when it comes to lyrics. I cannot put my iTunes on shuffle when I am at work or when Isabel has friends over for fear of the “wrong” songs coming up while other people’s children are in my care. I am not especially protective about what Isabel sees, hears, or reads. Nor do I have a problem with Eminem—I find his brash, insulting, violent, and misogynistic singing persona interesting, insightful, and often very clever.
But at the same time I want my daughter to grow up to be a strong, self-assured, independent woman who will not sublimate her feelings and needs to those of an asshole. This song has presented me with a real parenting challenge. It is so catchy and so compelling a song that it is sure to be everywhere all summer long. I certainly can’t ban it from Isabel’s ears. Nor do I really want to.
What I have decided to do is to let it play every time it comes on, even to sing along full-throatedly as we tool down Whitney Avenue. And then, sometimes when the song ends, to have a conversation with Isabel about the lyrics and why I find them so horrifying. I do not want to be one of those humorless liberals who takes all the play out of life with political correctness, but I just cannot let his lyrics stand unchallenged. When I look to my right and Isabel is singing along with Rihanna’s excuse of atrocious male behavior, I want her to know that Rihanna herself was the victim of a violent man and that there is no excuse for violence in a loving relationship. Eminem is a masterful provocateur and instead of censoring him from our car I want to thank him for writing such a catchy conversation starter.
On the other hand, when Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” comes on, I simply exercise full parental control and change the station within the first four notes.