A sincere kudos to Ke$ha for supporting the pulling of her hit song "Die Young" from the airwaves following the Newtown tragedy. It shows a sensitive and thoughtful side of the artist rarely on display. I just wish the song had never made it to market in the first place.
I'll start by laying my bias on the table. I've worked for years in youth suicide prevention so on first hearing of the song came an instant cringe. I shook my head in disbelief at the eagerness of artists and labels to have a hit single no matter the message. Ke$ha, who claims via her debut hit "Tik Tok" to brush her teeth with Jack Daniels after a hard night of partying, makes no claims to be a role model. But even she briefly admitted on Twitter to having serious second thoughts about the now ill-fated song she claims she was "forced" to make. I can hear some people now, see them rolling their eyes at what they must think is the product of stick-up-my-butt "ancient-ness" for getting all in a tizzy over a song.
"Lighten up," they'd say. "The song is about having fun and seizing the moment!" Yet, in a very informal verbal survey I recently took, not once did people associate death with being a light topic or dying as being fun. Yet, like in so much of our music, we carelessly throw words around, using them because they cleverly rhyme, or shock or have the potential to make us a buck.
A few of the lyrics in question ring painfully awkward in light of recent youth-related tragedies:
Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young
Young hearts, out our minds
Runnin like we outta time
Wild childs, lookin' good
Livin hard just like we should
Don't care whose watching when we tearing it up (You Know)
That magic that we got nobody can touch (For sure)
Looking for some trouble tonight
Take my hand, I'll show you the wild, side
Like it's the last night of our lives
We'll keep dancing till we die
After the pulling of the song, Ke$ha responded, "I'm so so so sorry for anyone who has been effected [sic] by this tragedy, and I understand why my song is now inappropriate. Words cannot express." Here's the thing, words can and do express. The moment "Die Young" hit radios it was possibly painful for anyone who's lost a young loved one, especially a young one who clung to or fought for life in the process of dying. Did record execs forget about Columbine (Colorado 1999) or Jonesboro (Arkansas 1998) or Kurt Cobain (1994) or Virginia Tech (2007) or did they figure enough time had passed? How much time is enough to return to being mindless, to return to talking about death and recklessness as if it's not the exact opposite of what we should be encouraging our kids to look forward to? Any parent who has lost a child to suicide, other violence or to alcohol-related hazing on a college campus would probably shutter at the callously cheerful lyrics. It makes you wonder if there wasn't some other way to say "carpe diem" in a catchy pop hook.
Argue as much as necessary on the scientific facts, but the emotional truth is that music moves us. Whether or not it's a factor in violent behavior is still up for furious debate, but we can each attest to the fact that music joins with our moods and heightens our experiences. I listen to hip hop with hard-dropping bass when I'm lifting weights because it makes me feel stronger. Steve Reich chills me out and focuses me on the task at hand. Azealia Banks, as awesome as her beats are, her unapologetic potty mouth makes my mind repeat very bad words I'd never say in real life so I stopped listening to it. To this goody two-shoes, the latter is proof enough that music gets all up in us. It has the power to help us be in the moment and that's what makes it crucial to our being. Shouldn't the message being carried be at least partially mindful of that? It's definitely not about banning every great sad tune or every song with a wayward lyric. But when the demographic is so obviously 15-24-year-olds, the same demographic where suicide is the third leading cause of death, topped only by homicide and unintentional injuries (often including drug and alcohol-fueled incidents). We should probably think before we sing.
And don't even get me started on misogynistic rap...