The voice comes from the back seat of my car.
“I need noooooise! I need the buzz of a sub, I need the crack of the whip and some blood in the cut.”
It’s my six year old daughter singing along to a K.Flay song with the enthusiasm of a drunken college student. I laugh and cringe at the same time, wondering if I’m causing permanent harm to my child by letting her enjoy lyrical content far beyond her years. It’s a great song, but I’m pretty sure there’s a drug reference in there (though I’m too old and boring to know for sure). As I drive along, silently questioning the quality of my parenting, a Tove Lo songs comes on and my four year old son joins in. “You’re gone and I gotta stay hiiiiigh, all the time, to keep you off my mind, OOOH-OOOH!” The kids sing in unison, more or less cementing my Bad Mom status forever.
I’ve never been the type of mom to play The Wiggles at home or in the car (though we have seen them in concert twice). I love music, and to be honest, I wasn’t willing to give up my usual alternative-rock/indie/pop stations when my kids entered the world. After all, it’s just music – how bad can it be? Plus, let’s be real: I love my kids more than anything, but they’ve been robbing me of quality sleep and any form of leisure time for the past six years. Let me retain control of the playlist in my vehicle, at least!
I sang along to my mom’s CDs when I was growing up, but those were the days of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey (the wholesome ‘90s version) and Wilson Phillips. My dad was into Phil Collins and The Who, and at one point, I had my own New Kids on the Block concert VHS. It was pretty tame. I mean, Joey had a leather jacket and a fashion-forward fedora, but they were singing, ‘Please don’t go girl’ while synchronized dancing.
These days, popular music is a little different. First of all, the sexuality is unreal. Sex is everywhere! Which is fine – but it’s not exactly what I want my kindergarteners singing about at the top of their lungs. I remember when boy bands were considered risqué with their mild innuendo and choreographed pelvic thrusts – oh, how naïve we were back then! Boy band level sexy-talk has NOTHING on pop music today. Case in point? Pretty much any song by Bruno Mars, Katy Perry or Arianna Grande. Some are less overt than others, but make me cringe nonetheless. A few not-so-innocent lyrics I’ve heard sung by children:
“Baby, hold me closer in the back seat of your Rover…” (The Chainsmokers, playing on repeat on every station in North America.)
“Just like animals, animals, like animals…” (Maroon 5, not talking about what my kids think they are.)
“So let me get you in your birthday suit…it’s time to bring out the big balloons!” (Katy Perry, because who else?)
“They always wanna come, but they never wanna leave.” (Wink, wink! Elle King, you saucy thing.)
And then there are these current alt-pop gems, both of which are super popular with my kids:
“Cut that ivory into skinny pieces, then she clean it with her face, man I love my baby.” (The Weeknd singing about cocaine, from what I surmise.)
“Oh you’re hotter than the sun, and you’re better than the druuuugs I used to love.” (This one’s by Mother Mother, and could be about penicillin for all my kids know – but still.)
You can’t imagine my relief when Can’t Stop the Feeling or an Alessia Cara song comes on.
To be fair, my kids listen to a lot of Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, One Direction and other fluffy pop music that speaks more about “love” than actual sex (or is more subtle, at least). They’re super into bands like Strumbellas, City and Colour, Mumford and Sons, Metric and Arcade Fire…all great stuff. But then Selena Gomez comes on and I die a little inside.
So where do you draw the line? At swearing? Innuendo? Misogyny? It all comes down to individual choice. Personally, I can handle my kids singing something somewhat suggestive that goes right over their heads (see: Elle King, above). I’m not ok with overtly sexual lyrics (Nicki Minaj is never happening) and I’m definitely not cool with anything that includes the B word or veers in a misogynist direction. Swearing is less of an issue because the radio typically censors it out for me, and my kids don’t even know what drugs are, let alone catch those references.
But wait! You know how I just said swearing isn’t an issue because of radio censorship? Here’s a story and a pro-tip so you can avoid one of my stupidest mom-fails to date. My daughter asked me to download some songs for her iPod, and I gladly obliged. One of the songs she asked for was ‘Payphone’ by Arkells, which plays on the radio a lot. It’s a great song and we’ve sung along together a million times, so I downloaded it on iTunes and added it to her playlist. Cool, right? NOPE. While radio version is clean, the album version starts and ends with the f-word. Oh, and because she listens to her music with headphones on, I didn’t catch my mistake for weeks. Great parenting, right? Lesson learned: always download the radio version.
So as I blast Santoria in my car for the hundredth time and sing along with every word, judge me not on my level of censorship, and I won’t judge you back. Unless, of course, your toddler is singing along to that Side to Side song with the bicycle reference – I’m really sorry, but I’m silently judging that.
Author: Erin Pepler
Erin Pepler is a freelance writer, mom, and reluctant suburbanite living outside of Toronto, Ontario. She is usually drinking a coffee, or thinking about getting one. Erin is prone to terrible language, though not in front of her kids, and yes, she has an opinion on that thing you’re talking about. She loves music, books, art, design, cooking, travel, and sleeping more than four hours at a time (a rarity). You can find her at www.erinpepler.com or on Instagram, where she documents her passion for motherhood and caffeine.