Stephanie Lewis - Music & Education Talks expert

Is It Really Children's Music?

Discuss with Stephanie about how commercial music impacts our kids

In this video, Stephanie talks about commercial music, and how our children are exposed to it, often in a dangerous way. Can we do something to change that and make it really "children oriented"?

Released on November 1, 2017

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi again, it's me, Steph, with Virtual Sheet Music. Today's discussion is particularly brief and personally motivated, concerning the commercial music industry.

So, I'll just set the scene here. My nine-year-old is "into" Ariana Grande. She knows a lot of the songs a bit bizarrely because we don't do commercial radio at home largely on account of the adverts, to be sure. And she has this diary full of Ariana Grande pictures. I wish it was full of writing, you understand? Anyhow, so before digging into today's theme, I need to point out that I'm not singling out Ariana Grande. She's simply flavor of the month for my kid. It could just as easily be someone else, okay?

So, as a music graduate, how do I feel about this current obsession? Well, you know, I don't like the music particularly. Just on account of the fact that it's a bit bland and predictable. But then, that's what sells, so I figure, fine. You know, we have a large range of music at home, anyhow. From classical, jazz, rock, baroque. And then, of course, I take my daughter to lots of shows, concerts, theatre, dance, opera. Last year we went and saw a projection of the opening night at La Scala, "Madame Butterfly," thinking we'll just stay for the first act and then we'll leave. Well, she insisted on staying for both acts. Because after all, it being a chick's opera, she had to stick to the bitter end, didn't she?

So, you know, we give her choice. And given that choice is all, and that choice is also based on being able to select from a wide range of inputs, and not just being able to select but to know, quite well, these inputs. I feel that my daughter's current obsession is nothing less than healthy and certainly within context. As a mother, though, I'm much more bothered. But before I go into this, does anyone remember Wagner's "Gesamtkunstwerk"? So, this is where Wagner linked music with word effects on stage, etc., etc., i.e. the individual arts subordinated to a common purpose. Okay? Right. So one would think, what's good for Wagner is good for others, yeah?

So, let's now look at commercial music, which, through the use of the music video, would seem to at least suggest some acknowledgment of this idea, i.e. linking song to film images, special effects, dance, lighting, etc., etc. So, even here, it's clear that the individual arts are subordinated to a common purpose. Here, though, the words, arts, and purpose pose me some issues. I'll get to that later.

So, back to Ariana Grande. A very beautiful lass of Italian extraction. Ex-childhood musical TV star, complete with, really, rather a good voice. Now, my daughter first started talking about her thanks to school, friends, and, you know, dance classes. But then the requests for YouTube consumption started. Absolutely fine.

Like any concerned parent, however, I stay to vet and turn off anything that a child shouldn't see. Unfortunately, I quickly came to resemble the Victorian Dad "Viz" character. Don't know what I'm talking about? Get a copy of "Viz," which is a magazine for adults, I'll hasten to add. And it does describe itself as having, and I quote, "an irreverent mix of foul-mouthed childish cartoons and sharp satire." Don't know whether that appeals or not, but that's now in your court.

So, the song in question was, "Everyday." Now, with the Gesamtkunstwerk idea of lyrics being supposedly a part of the music which ties in with visual effects, costume, lighting, whatever, it's important to point out that the music has repeated swearing and sexual references throughout. Inclusive of steamy scenes in, wait for it, a laundromat, and on top of the photocopier. Original, huh?

I'd originally misheard the chorus. I thought there was a repetition of the word "ship," interpreting this as being an analogy to safe harbor. Kinda nice, yeah? I was mistaken. The final letter was a "t." I have no problems with vulgarity. Hell, I grew up with two older brothers. But vulgarity should be context-based.

To whom is this song aimed? Children. Young people. The singer, after all, is a teen idol. And before Manchester, what mature adult would have heard of her? So, why the vulgarity and raunchy soft ***n? It is inappropriately out of context.

Now, this is nothing to do with the singer, per se. She'll have been given her instructions, of course. But it has got to do with record companies who have to hook in the kiddies while still retaining the teens and vaguely beyond. So, is it right to expect appropriateness from the music industry?

Certainly, music has no obligation to do so. And one could argue that any external interference is tantamount to censorship anyway. I do get this, and the retort would be that it is up to us parents to manage our children accordingly. It does presuppose, here, that we actually sit down, analyze the words, and scrutinize said videos before being released to the kids.

Not only is this time-consuming and actually quite tedious, most parents actually don't even realize they should be doing this. Take a look at me. Before studying "Everyday" I assumed the music was just harmless fun, it coming from a well-known pop idol loved by streams of children across the globe.

At an artistic level, it strikes me that with so much textual and visual vulgarity comprising this short song, and there are probably many others out there, though, you'll forgive me if I haven't put in the necessary research. Imagination does seem to be somewhat lacking, yeah? Children will of course, presumably get their kicks out of the four-letter swear words. And yet, it would appear that the videomakers and their contributors, i.e. the adults, they are the ones who get the most kicks.

Personally, and leaving aside the blandness of the music, such widespread use of all sorts of couples making out, gay, mixed, black, white, whatever, it just bores me. However, it is my maturity that gives me a buffer that my daughter, by comparison, doesn't have. And it's this that really worries me. And let's remember, widespread use of vulgarity is generally a good indicator for a society in decline. The parallels to music are obvious.

As for the Gesamtkunstwerk of pop videos, maybe we should just leave out kunst, which is German for art. Commercial music's arts, in any case, appear to be subordinated to the common purpose of selling. The artistic creation itself being merely the means. You know, personally, music has always meant much more to me than that.

So, where do you stand on all of this? Am I a Victorian Dad? A prude, a snob? Should I be worried about sexily-clad singers? Am I too demanding on pop idols? What responsibility should the music industry have anyway? Should I change profession, and enter into the field of censorship?

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