I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the dual personality of mainstream music. It seems that so many artists say and do things (in conversations or interviews and with their music) that totally contradict each other. This is nothing new, but I’ve been struck by some recent examples, like Katy Perry’s songs “Firework” and “Last Friday Night.”
There’s a great re:tuned discussion starter for Katy Perry’s song “Firework” in our latest YLO Resource Book (click here to get the PDF). The song speaks to the struggle for self worth that we all face at one time or another (and is so concentrated during the teen years). I will restate the caveat that re:tuned author Eric Gargus wrote: there are portions of the music video that don’t reflect Godly values. But the lyrics taken as a whole offer positive encouragement to all of us.
So it gives me a bit of whiplash to go from “Firework” to Katy’s latest release “Last Friday Night (TGIF).” While I appreciate the homage to all things ’80s, the message of the song is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start.
The video features the Friday night escapades of a fictional eight grader (yep, no room for the “this is really aimed at adults” argument on this one), and from the opening lyrics, it spirals quickly into a tale of debauchery:
There’s a stranger in my bed
There’s a pounding in my head …
I smell like a minibar
DJ’s passed out in the yard
Barbies on the barbecue
Is this a hickey or a bruise?
I really don’t need to elaborate … the video and song speak for itself. So how do we balance Katy’s encouragement and positive message in “Firework” with her party-party-party message of “Last Friday Night”? More importantly, how do our students make sense of the two divergent messages?
I’m reminded of a post I read a while back by Jonathan McKee over at The Source For Youth Ministry. He was talking about how Lady Gaga is more than a pop culture sensation, but that she has become a role model for students.
Many of our Christian kids are confused. One moment they see her stripping down to a g-string and dancing seductively in her music videos, and the next minute, she’s thanking God and raising money for homeless, or more recently, the people of Japan.
He’s right. Students are confused; heck, some days I’m confused. Mainstream artists spend millions to promote an all-about-me lifestyle of self-indulgent, self-gratifying behavior in their songs and videos. At the same time, they offer their insight on personal and spiritual matters, are making a genuine difference in the world as social activists and are touted as role models.
What other examples of these “mixed messages” can you think of? What are you doing to help students understand the divergent messages in mainstream music? What ideas do you have to share with other youth leaders about how to shine a light on the clash between words and actions, and what the Bible has to say about the conflict between the two?