Youth Culture Window
Hookups and breakups. Rebounds and regret. Divorce and domestic violence. Oh, and some wagging genitalia, too. Yep, those were just a few of the elements found in the most popular music from 2012.
And we’re only halfway there.
The Second Half
There were 13 songs that climbed to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 2012, and in last week’s article, we highlighted and dissected the first seven. We’re over halfway there, but if you haven’t taken the time to read Part 1, please do that first. Most of the #1 songs from 2012 had one clear theme that kept resurging in the lyrics and messages: the heartache of lost love. And that theme definitely connects with kids.
We’re in the home stretch, now. This week’s article will cover the final six #1 hits of 2012 plus a few “honorable mentions” that didn’t make it to the top of the charts but impacted young listeners, nevertheless. And as promised, we’ll give you a few tips and ideas that will help your teens make solid, godly decisions when it comes to their music.
Here we go.
Call Me Maybe (Carly Rae Jepsen)
If there was a song that could be dubbed “the single of the summer,” this would be it. For two whole months while the sun was shining (June 23 – August 24), Call Me Maybe was scorching up the top of the charts.
Like Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen is another young Canadian import that has landed on America’s playlist. She had a high finish on Canadian Idol (I’m not making that up) several years ago, but she didn’t hit the charts until Call Me Maybe was released…but it proved to be a really big one!
The music video has been watched on YouTube more than 360 million times, but when you add in all the other parodies that this song spawned, like this Olympic Swim Team one, and this US Marines one, and even this one from my hometown police department, you can get a glimpse of this tune’s impact.
The song is pretty simple: cute girl sees cute guy, cute girl gives cute guy number, and cute girl tells cute guy to “call me maybe.” It’s also “clean” by most standards; there’s no expletives, no sexual overtones or innuendos (like the next song on our list), and the video doesn’t feature tons of half-naked girls…although when the guy takes off his shirt it was comically reminiscent of the Twilight movies.
But after hearing this song for the 6,489th time this year, I got to wondering if so many relationships end badly (like in the other songs) because so many of them are based on superficial aspects (like in this song).
Enough of my musings. Let’s get to the song that really blows.
Whistle (Flo Rida)
A couple years ago Lil Wayne asked girls to lick his lollipop, now Flo Rida wants them to “blow his whistle.” I don’t know what’s more pathetic, the fact that a song about blow jobs went #1 on the charts this year, or the fact that people argue that this song is clean.
Here’s the chorus of Whistle:
Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby
Let me know
Girl I’m gonna show you how to do it
And we start real slow
You just put your lips together
And you come real close
Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby
Here we go
Ya gotta love how on the sly this guy is. He’s had several songs on the top of the charts, each one not really blatantly raunchy, just the typical lyrics today that are talking about sex without really talking about it. Try to decipher these lines after the first chorus:
Go girl you can twerk it
Let me see you whistle while you work it
I'mma lay it back, don't stop it
'Cause I love it how you drop it, drop it, drop it on me
Now, shawty let that whistle blow-oh, oh oh
Yeah, baby let that whistle blow-oh oh!
So much for the argument this song is about refereeing.
The song went #1 August 25 – August 31, and then resurged to the top September 15 – September 21 after Taylor’s song (below). Whistle also topped the iTunes charts for weeks, as well as becoming the #1 ringtone that people downloaded on their cell phones, holding that spot for over a month.
Artists today have mastered the craft of making sexually provocative songs and music videos under the guise of “clean.” The song doesn’t have any cuss words, so it’s not tagged with an explicit label. Parents who aren’t savvy to what pop culture is offering our kids don’t realize that their kids are walking around listening to racy music for literally several hours a day. Parents need to become more aware about today’s popular music.
And who is more popular than Taylor?
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (Taylor Swift)
In case you’ve never heard this song – which is utterly impossible if you’ve lived on Planet Earth at any point during the past 6 months – you can look at the title and guess what it’s about. Yep, another broken relationship.
Actually, one relationship that was broken over and over again.
In Never Ever, Taylor Swift sings about her “up-and-down, on-again-off-again” relationship with someone from the past. And since all of Swift’s songs are about her real life, there has been much speculation about who this song is referring to. As usual, the song is totally clean, and even offers listeners a message that we used in this MUSIC DISCUSSION resource to teach teenagers that God wants us to be in relationships that are loving, caring, and honoring to Him.
It’s nice to have pop culture icons that are actually a positive role model. Taylor usually keeps it pretty clean. I say “usually” because last week she showed up to the People’s Choice Awards wearing a dress with a plunging neckline, caving to the pressure to present eye candy, something many female celebrities don’t even think twice about doing in today’s sexualized culture. But usually, Taylor dresses modestly and her music is clean. We’ll have to see what the future holds for Taylor.
Surprisingly, even though Swift has been a HUGE part of pop culture for several years now, and she’s sold gazillions of records around the world, Never Ever was her first-ever #1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100. Even more interesting is the fact that this song went to the #1 spot twice; it dueled with Flo Rida’s song (above) for about a month, and put her on top of the charts for a total of three weeks, September 1 – 14th and then again from September 22 to September 28.
But Never Ever couldn’t last forever.
One More Night (Maroon 5)
One More Night went #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 on September 29th and stayed there just over a month, until November 30th. This song was the opening track on their July 2012 album Overexposed, an album that young people knew well by then because of the popular song Payphone, featuring the perpetually stoned Wiz Khalifa.
One More Night is another song about two people who don’t get along who can’t seem to “untie” the knot… not so much because of true love, but because of lust (and do teenagers really know the difference between lust and love?). The lyrics spell it out plainly. Adam Levine, the band’s front man sings…
So I cross my heart, and I hope to die, that I’ll only stay with you one more night
And I know I said it a million times
But i’ll only stay with you one more night
Trying to tell you no, but my body keeps on telling you yes
Trying to tell you stop, but your lipstick got me so out of breath
I’d be waking up, in the morning probably hating myself
And i’d be waking up, feeling satisfied but guilty as hell…
This song isn’t downright explicit, like the band’s earlier hit Payphone, but it’s the typical pop messages that teenagers are hearing, convincing them that one of the most important parts of a relationship is in the bedroom, and that temporary thrills are worth pursuing.
One more Night falls in suit with 2012’s songs about breakups, although it seems the writer of this song is more focused on the physical aspects of the relationship. And this was the last song about breakups for 2012…
Maybe people got tired of songs about breakups, because on December 1, Rihanna stepped back into the #1 slot with her song Diamonds, from her album Unapologetic (where the album title and cover probably says it all). Here are the lyrics:
You’re a shooting star I see
A vision of ecstasy
When you hold me, I’m alive
We’re like diamonds in the sky
I knew that we’d become one right away
Oh, right away
At first sight I felt the energy of sun rays
I saw the life inside your eyes
So shine bright tonight, you and I
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Eye to eye, so alive
We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky
The song rested in the #1 spot for 2 weeks.
I was just glad that she wasn’t singing another song about licking the icing off her “birthday cake” (and if you wonder what she’s referring to by “cake” watch her perform that song live and it will be crystal clear).
After 2 weeks of Diamonds, the physical part of a relationship is what jumped back on the top of the charts for the remainder of the year, this time from the mouth of Bruno Mars…
Locked Out of Heaven (Bruno Mars)
As of the beginning of 2012, Locked Out of Heaven is still sitting in the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart where it landed on December 16th.
The song’s music video is (intentionally) reminiscent of bad footage played on an old VCR and includes plenty of dancing, gambling, smoking, and drinking. Given what the song’s lyrics are about, it’s somewhat surprising that the music video isn’t more sexually graphic. Here, take a look at an excerpt from the first verse and chorus:
Never had much faith in love or miracles
Never wanna put my heart on the line.
But swimming in your world is something spiritual
I'm born again every time you spend the night
Cause your sex takes me to paradise
Yeah your sex takes me to paradise
And it shows, yeah, yeah, yeah
Cause you make feel like, I've been locked out of heaven
For too long, for too long
Yeah you make feel like, I've been locked out of heaven
For too long, for too long
This is yet another example of a song in our culture that talks about the pleasures of sex without ever mentioning the consequences. Sure, it’s paradise tonight…but what about the pain, tomorrow?
Sadly, even if he doesn’t understand it, there might be a really good reason why Bruno feels like he’s been “locked out of Heaven.”
There’s no way we could conclude our list without briefly mentioning a few other hits that stopped just short of the #1 spot. Even though the following songs never reached the top of the charts, they were wildly successful in their own rite.
Gangnam Style by Psy.
The unheard of South Korean rapper became a hit when his song and video went viral this summer. When it passed Justin Bieber’s Baby, it became the most-viewed video on YouTube. On the day we wrote this article, it set history again by becoming the first video to surpass one billion views. Speaking of Bieber.
As Long As You Love Me by Justin Bieber
This song was Bieber’s highlight in 2012. The music video told the story of Bieber’s strife with his girlfriend’s dad (played by Michael Madsen of Reservoir Dogs fame) as well as his efforts to keep her happy. The tension made for a song that many young people could identify with.
What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction
The British boy band that won Best New Artist at the 2012 MTV VMAs rode this tune to international fame. In addition to being viewed on YouTube more than 300 million times, the song also set pre-order sales records. You can read more about One Direction in the recent article we wrote about the new direction they seem to be headed in.
We can learn a lot about teenagers from the music they love. The question most parents and youth workers ask is, how should we respond?
I’ve seen two polar extremes. On one hand, I’ve seen adults not monitor their kids’ music at all, allowing them to listen to whatever they want. Unfortunately, research reveals the lyrics do affect us. On the other hand, I’ve seen adults make the mistake of labeling all secular music “bad” and just banning everything. This often results in rebellion.
So how should we respond if we notice that our kids are absorbing a steady dose of inappropriate media?
In short, we recommend interacting instead of overacting. In other words, talk with your kids about the music instead of condemning them for their music. I (Jonathan) wrote several articles about what this looks like in the home, interacting instead of overreacting, and setting realistic guardrails. Use our MUSIC DISCUSSIONS on our websites (TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com) from the FREE RESOURCES & IDEAS dropdown menu. These free resources provide you with discussion questions and scripture to help you dialogue about much of today’s top music.
Looking back at 2012, it’s pretty evident that music about the heartache of lost love really resonated with this generation of young people. Why is this?
Perhaps you should ask your kids.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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