I am a sucker for singing contest reality shows, but my hands-down favorite is The Sing-Off. The show premiered its third season last Monday and features acappella groups from across the country who arrange and sing their own versions of popular songs. They are then judged by the incomparable and yet "normal" Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles, and Sean Stockman (shout out to the BTW class of '93 and our senior song, Boyz 2 Men's "End of the Road," which in hindsight is a really depressing senior song but great to sing en masse, tears flowing.)
I don't listen to a great deal of pop music so the show introduces me to what people, and I assume mainly teenagers, are listening to. The show started with the University of Rochester's Yellowjackets singing the uplifting World Cup theme from K'Naan, "Wavin' Flag." Great beat, great lyrics:
"When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag..."
Everybody's on their feet, waving arms and flags to the beat. Goosebumps.
Then came an all-girls group, Delilah, singing Bruno Mars' "Grenade." Now I love joyfully bopping around to Mars' "Just the Way You Are," but when you slow down and clearly enunciate the lyrics to "Grenade" your mind is filled with disturbing and violent imagery.
"To give me all your love is all I ever asked 'Cause what you don't understand Is I'd catch a grenade for ya I'd jump in front of a train for ya You know I'd do anything for ya See I would go through all this pain Take a bullet straight through my brain Yes I would die for ya, baby But you won't do the same..."
Do we really want our young people to believe that love means threatening to do violence to your body and brain until the person reciprocates your level of emotion? And yes, I know drama sells. In this day and age, Bruno Mars is not going to sell songs about calmly understanding that sometimes a person just doesn't feel the same way about you as you do for them, and that at the end of the day, you'll be okay. There's a reason that Romeo and Juliet were not in their 30's but were teenagers. The odds that a teenager will look at a list of multiple choice answers concerning how to respond to heartbreak and choose the most dramatic one is fairly high. Thankfully, most of us reach our 20's and our frontal lobe finishes developing and we realize that if answer C. ends in death, DON'T PICK C!!!
I was saddened to see the violent trend in song selection continue on the show with Urban Method, a group that features a rapper, choosing to perform Eminem and Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie." This song tells the story of a couple where the man beats the woman and she stays because she both likes like it and likes pretending that when he says he won't do it again he's telling the truth. The woman sings the chorus again and again:
"Just gonna stand there and watch me burn Well that's all right because I like the way it hurts Just gonna stand there and watch me cry Well that's all right because I love the way you lie..."
The man's part, which walks you through his possessive rage as well as the incidents of abuse and physical threats toward the "woman he loves," at least acknowledges that what he is feeling and doing is wrong, evil, and something he wishes he didn't do:
"...it's awful I feel so ashamed I snap, 'Who's that dude?' I don't even know his name I laid hands on her, I never stoop so low again..."
She, of course, responds with the chorus telling him it's all right, I like the way it hurts.
Now, I am not terribly naïve. Are there many real, non-rapper/pop artist people involved in sick, sadistic relationships? Sadly, I'm sure, yes. Are there much sicker and perverse songs out there about those types of relationships? I imagine so. But those songs are not being sung by young kids, a cappella, at 7pm CST on The Sing-Off where the judges responded, "Wow. That was powerful." I wanted to yell, "No!! Sadistic and sick is not the same thing as powerful!" And bopping around the Sing-Off stage talking about shooting ourselves in the brain for someone or tying the person we love to a bed and setting the house on fire in order to ensure that she never loves anyone else, is normalizing some pretty disturbing behavior.
With these violent lyrics filled our young people's mouths like gravel, is there any hope they'll ever sing "Wavin' Flag?"
"When I get older, I will be stronger..."
No, they will not be stronger but instead weaker and enslaved to violent and sick images of human relationships that the market proclaims and sells as "powerful."
To read more from Amy Ziettlow visit www.familyscholars.org