A funny thing happened on the way home from school the other day, a friend told me; she was doing the usual carpool duty escorting a flock of grade two children home when a song from Rihanna came on the radio.
The mom had bopped along to the track in her head for a few weeks, but the chorus coming from the back seats of her Odyssey almost stopped her dead in the highway.
"Sex in the air, I don't care, I love the smell of it," they were screaming and giggling.
The girls were singing along. They're all of 7 and 8 years old, they had no idea what they were singing. To them they were just random words put to a good music track, but they were shouting them out like it was an anthem for their weekend. To my friend it was petrifying.
Rihanna doesn't want you to blame her for that scene, though. She's fighting back against criticism of her latest video by claiming she's not anyone's parent.
“I’m a 23 year old rock star with NO KIDS! What’s up with everybody wantin' me to be a parent? I’m just a girl; I can only be your/our voice! Cuz we all know how difficult/embarrassing it is to communicate touchy subject matters to anyone especially our parents!” she wrote. “The music industry isn’t exactly Parents R Us! We have the freedom to make art, LET US! It's your job to make sure they don't turn out like US.” [source]
It's a hard thing, to be a young 23-year old pop star. Your hardcore fan base is not usually your direct peers, it's a group a decade or so behind. Sure, people Rihanna's age dig her music, but they're not the rabid ones propelling her career. Just ask Avril Lavigne - once she stopped inspiring tweens, her career stalled out.
Rihanna may not be your kids' parent, but one has to wonder what would happen to her career if she stopped getting your kids' disposable income.
Same for Katy Perry. Her bubble gum image is candy for little kids. Her sickly sweet songs infect your ears and brain in hum along verses that are dripping with sexual innuendo.
I Kissed a Girl and Teenage Dream are two of the most catchy songs you'll ever hear, with lyrics entirely inappropriate for the Bieber patrol.
I admit, I'm partly to blame. I'm a morning radio dj on a top 40 station that plays songs for "moms in minivans." We tailor our program to be positive and family friendly, while at the same time walking a line to keep the single crowd interested.
I finally listened to the lyrics of Katy Perry's latest with Kanye West, ET, and just about spat my coffee all over the control board.
Tell me what’s next, alien sex
I’ma disrobe you, then I’ma probe you
Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me
Infect me with your love and
Fill me with your poison
How could I be playing that knowing little kids are memorizing the words and singing them in the back seat?
Both Rihanna and Katy Perry will be touring Canada this summer. Tours that will not rely on a crowd of bar stars to fill the arenas, but rather moms and dads escorting troops of kids who have begged for months to see live what they've been singing on the radio all summer.
No, Rihanna is not your kids' parent. You are.
So what do you do when your family's favourite radio station jams a song with lyrics that are uncomfortable to you?