A few weeks ago I was in my car with the kidlets, driving on the freeway and listening to the radio. My 7-yr-old son started singing along to one of the popular songs he recognized—Grenade by Bruno Mars—and even my 3-yr-old daughter chimed in. Now, I’d heard that song PLENTY of times before, but I guess I’d never paid attention to the lyrics. Something about those little kid voices really drove them home, though, and when that happened, my jaw pretty much hit the floorboard.


Now, if you’re part of the YA community, you’re undoubtedly aware of the heated debate over whether or not YA books should promote good role models and healthy relationships.  Love interests in particular, especially in paranormals, are hotly contested.  The classic example is Mr. Sparkle Pants himself, Edward. Is he a psycho, murderous stalker or the epitome of true love?

I’ll leave that decision up to you.

I’m curious, though.  We talk about books a lot, but what about music?  Do you all ever ponder the messages about life and love being relayed in popular songs lately?  Do you think they’re promoting unhealthy relationships?

For example, back to Grenade. Now, I know several people who think it’s a great song. So romantic!  So sweet!

My thoughts, after listening to the lyrics spill from my children’s mouths?  So obsessive!  So creepy!

No, really. Here are a few lyrics from this “romantic” and “sweet” song:

I’d catch a grenade for ya
Throw my hand on a blade for ya
I’d jump in front of a train for ya
You know I’d do anything for ya

I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you, baby

Um, okay. Because nothing says, “I love you” quite like flying body parts, spurting blood, and oozing bits of brain.

It goes on to say:

But you won’t do the same

Yep. That’s a little thing I like to call Not-Being-an-Obsessive-Crazy-Person.  Basically, the narrator of this song is lamenting the fact that his girlfriend will not engage in a Romeo-and-Juliet-mutual-suicide-pact kind of love with him.  You know what I say to that? BRAVO GIRLFRIEND!

Now, let’s take a look at another popular song, this one by Eminen and Rihanna. First, the narrator talks about a physically abusive relationship but begs the girl to come back, promising to change. At the end, though, he says this:

I apologize
Even though I know it’s lies
I’m tired of the games
I just want her back
I know I’m a liar
If she ever tries to f*cking leave again
I’mma tie her to the bed
And set the house on fire

Dude. Do you really need me to tell you all the ways in which threatening to burn your significant other to death is Not. Okay?

But—wait! It gets better! Here is S.O.’s response:

Just gonna stand there
And watch me burn
But that’s alright
Because I like
The way it hurts

Note:  When your ex threatens to light you on fire, the appropriate response is not “oh, that’s okay—I kind of like it.”  No, it’s RUN YOUR BUTT off to the nearest police station and get a restraining order, STAT!

(Obviously, these are just a couple of examples. I’m positive there are other disturbing send-your-girlfriend-up-in-flames songs out there, just like there are songs where turning your significant other into a pile of ash remains a no-no, too.)

Back to my kids. I wasn’t sure how to handle it at first—should I turn every time those songs came on?  Quit listening to the radio with them altogether?  But that’s not really my style.

Ultimately, my decision regarding songs is the same as the one I support for books.  I talked to both of my kids—especially the older one—about how ridiculous I found the ideas in those particular songs. We all had a good laugh, and now it’s pretty much a running joke every time those songs come on.

What do you all think? If you think books with unhealthy relationships are problematic, do you extend this to songs as well?  And if so, how do you/would you handle it with kids?

Also, tune back in on Thursday, when I’ll post another ARC giveaway!

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15 Responses to “Forget books…are popular songs promoting unhealthy relationships to teens?”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    “What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” – High Fidelity

    I have a serious hate-on for that song. The thing is, I don’t mind creepy, bitter songs. Shame by Stabbing Westward is a very creepy song about obsession and the thought of not being able to exist without someone. The thing is, the band knows it’s a creepy song. They don’t play it off like it’s romantic.

  2. Kaitlin Says:

    I like creepy songs, but I’m with Kathleen in that I like when they don’t pretend not to be creepy.
    I may be giving them too much credit, but I assumed that the Eminem/Rihanna song is intended to shock you with its lyrics. I don’t think it’s an unrealistic portrayal of an abusive relationship. But the problem is, probably there are people out there who think it IS romantic, and honestly I think parents are more likely to discuss bad themes in books with their children than in songs–you just don’t think about the effect as much with a three minute song, when the impact can really be huge. I think you have a very valid point here.
    Kaitlin recently posted..RTW- Favorite Literary Couples

  3. Laurie Says:

    I changed the words to that song to “I need therapy” a couple of weeks ago. I point out to everyone anytime they mention it just how weird it is. Seriously, if a guy said that to you, you would get a restraining order. Or at least I would.

  4. Cory Jackson Says:

    I like Laurie’s suggestion. Let’s just change the words to the songs. Nice post, Deb!
    Cory Jackson recently posted..Best Valentine’s Day Present EVER

  5. houndrat Says:

    Awesome quote, Kath—haven’t read that book in forever, by the way, but it’s a great one!

    Kaitlin–totally agree with both you and Kath. When songs ACKNOWLEDGE that they’re warped or twisted, it doesn’t bother me (says the Nine Inch Nails fan). But it kind of creeps me out when they pose as harmless, romantic pop songs.

    Laurie and Cory–HA! We do a lot of lyric changing around here already! (love the “I need therapy” suggestion–how perfect is that?)

  6. Yahong Chi Says:

    Well, I’m hoping that kids understand a lot of songs are exaggerations. I like songs usually based on the melody, not the lyrics, and I’m thinking most other teens do too.
    Yahong Chi recently posted..An ode to a fellow writer for Valentines Day

  7. houndrat Says:

    That’s a good point, Yahong, and I agree that we often need to give kids more credit. That said–I was TOTALLY into lyrics as a teen, and I had friends who were as well. Curious–does your view on songs spill over into books as well? I’ve actually said similar things about books–that I think teens can distinguish between healthy relationships and unhealthy ones–but others suggest that while this may be true of the majority of teens, it might not be so easy for those at risk or lacking positive role models in their lives.

    I’m pretty much into having my kids read or listen to anything they want–within reason–so long as we keep an open dialogue going. But I know many disagree.

  8. Kristin Rae Says:

    Funny you should mention Grenade, because I’ve had that song stuck in my head for days. I guess I’m not one to take lyrics like that quite so literally (maybe it’s the songwriter in me?). To me, it’s just a catchy song, and he’s found a clever way to say I’d protect you with my life but obviously you don’t feel that strongly for me. Now, I also don’t have any kids, and I suppose if I did I’d also want to explain to discuss it with them if I caught them singing it. And that awful Eminem/Rhianna song… I haven’t even listened to the whole thing because the melody is just soooo bad to me. Can’t stand to listen to it.

    There are some songs that you can’t help but take literally–”I kissed a girl and I liked it”… not really a song I want to listen to/want my kids asking questions about (again, if I had any).
    Kristin Rae recently posted..In Which I Sing Penguins Praises – And ATU Review!

  9. Fahib Says:

    I disagree completely. Books, music, art… You are free to dislike anything and you can choose not to listen, read, or look upon…

    Beyond that you are trying to force your judgment (based on your literal perception of the lyrics) upon someone else: in this case, your kids. As a parent, you probably need to draw the line somewhere (porn, snuff films), but trying to eliminate pop songs or shield your children from them is futile – unless you go Amish…

    I think your energy is much better spent having a lengthy discussion with your child(ren) to address what you dislike and why. Personally, I rarely ever know the actual lyrics and don’t care. I know songs by the melody, the beat, or in some cases, the location where I first heard it.

    This mentality is also the slippery slope to censorship. “I know what’s best for YOU, and I’m not going to let you think for yourself.”

    On that same note, you should also recongize and appreciate the legal framework we have in place in the USA that allows you to protest outside a radio station when you get upset about the evil, anti-Christian messages in “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.”

  10. houndrat Says:

    Kristin–that’s so funny–I don’t mind “I Kissed a Girl” at all. Which probably just reinforces the fact that everyone is different, so it’s important to talk to your kids.

    Fahib–I think you misread my post. I agree that censorship is a slippery slope, but that’s not what I recommended at all. If you read the end of my post, you’ll see that allowing my kids to listen to the songs and discussing them is EXACTLY what I endorse. :)

  11. ChristaCarol Says:

    Yep, I’m pretty much in the same boat, though I don’t plan on discussing anything until I feel it’s the right time. I still don’t think my eldest, at 5, gets the lyrics or the words and meaning. If I ever find a situation where I’m not sure, I’ll just ask what she thinks the song is about….but if she’s as naive as I am, maybe she’ll never truly get it….I never realized how bad Prince’s songs were until 5 years ago when my husband told me what a lot of them really where about LOL.
    ChristaCarol recently posted..I has a Sekret

  12. JennW Says:

    OMG good point. I don’t think I ever listened to the lyrics either. Don’t worry though your kids prob have no idea what they’re saying when they sing it, but still – eeek and LOL.

  13. Lela Gwenn Says:

    This is interesting– My son’s a Capella group wanted to sing Grenade– they practiced it and had it all ready and then the chorus teacher vetoed it. This group is mostly boys. Yet every concert for the women’s choir the girls sing songs that have lyrics that basically say that they want to get married ASAP and can’t be with out a man. (Lyric from a Christmas song this year- “I hear the bells, they go Jingle JING-le, I wonder if I’ll get a diamond RING-le?”

    It makes me a little bit ill.
    Lela Gwenn recently posted..Interview with Roxanne Rhoads!

  14. houndrat Says:

    LGwenn–I can totally see how that would be frustrating! I’m not for censorship at all…just awareness! (and those other songs would bug me, too). That’s a bummer about your son’s a Capella group.

  15. Heather Says:

    Wow – how relevant is this to my life today. The last few days have pretty much involved at least one conversation about the appropriateness of a song/book/tv show. My oldest is 10, and a prude (the way all 10 year olds should be), and it’s been interesting to me to watch her realize somethings just aren’t “right” around her. In fact Love the Way You Lie was a big conversation this morning. She said she didn’t understand why Rhianna was talking about enjoying being hurt – especially after she was hit by Chris Brown and that was a bad thing. OY – what a box of worms that is. In the end I know she’s thinking seriously about these things – and I’m so happy she recognized that something was off and that we were able to have a discussion on it.

    Grenade is her favorite song, so I guess we’ll have a conversation about that next.

    Great post Deb – as always!

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