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Youth Culture Window

The 2009 Grammys
Do Adults Like the Same Music as Teens?
An article from David R. Smith at

When it comes to music award shows, teenagers have the VMAs on MTV and The Teen Choice Awards on FOX. Adults have always had the more elegant Grammy’s. But lately, it appears as though the line between music for adults and teens is getting blurred.

A Regal History
In spite of a few artists’ criticism, the Grammy’s remain the highest honor in the music biz. It’s the “Academy Awards” of the record industry. And on Sunday, February 8, 2009, the Grammy’s will celebrate their 51st awards show in spectacular style through live performances, an A-List crowd, and the bestowing of the coveted golden gramophones in over 100 different “categories,” spanning 34 “fields.” Some of the fields, like “Spoken Word,” are a bit obscure, but several of them, like “R&B,” “Hip Hop,” and “Pop,” give definition to our crave for music.

The awards show has been televised since 1971, and each year, the network that’s hosted the show has dominated adult TV viewers for that evening. Even though viewership was down a bit in 2008, they still captured the 18-49 year old crowd, their chief demographic.

So, what does a prestigious awards show do to get the ratings back up?

Their secret may be in the artists they nominate for the awards.

And the Nominees Are…
…a lot like those from the MTV Video Music Awards and FOX’s Teen Choice Awards.

For instance, in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category, Katie Perry is nominated for a song. Wanna guess which one? The biggest obstacle standing between Perry and a Grammy is the edgy artist Pink with her hit song “So What,” also nominated in the same category.

Not only have Rihanna and Kid Rock been nominated for an award, but both will also be giving a live performance during the ceremony. De ja vu. (Both of them performed at the 2008 VMAs?)

“4 Minutes,” the joint effort of Madonna and Justin Timberlake, is also up for an award in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category. It’s safe to say that this song and video has a questionable message.

Lil Wayne, everybody’s favorite foul-mouthed, baggy pants rapper, is hoping to grab at least one Grammy, given that he’s received eight nominations for his recent “work.” You can catch a glimpse of Lil Wayne’s worldview in this interview with Katie Couric. (We devoted some time talking about him in a previous Youth Culture Window article a short while ago.)

Beyonce and Usher are in the hunt for Best Female and Male R&B Vocal Performance, respectively. Neither of these megastars are new to the winner’s circle; each of them have five Grammys from the past. Now that Usher has his sex life figured out, maybe he can win another.

Maybe because of their talent, their sex appeal, or their ability to draw a crowd, the Jonas Brothers have been nominated as well. (You can see a complete list of the 2009 Grammy nominees here.)

In the past, the Grammy’s have always catered to the values of adults’ musical preferences. Does this year’s Grammy’s – or last year’s, where teen favorite Amy Winehouse cleaned house with five awards for her hit, “Rehab” – tell us anything about our music preferences as adults?

What Are We Listening To?
A lot of youth workers and parents complain that they don’t like the music, lyrics, or message of their teenagers’ music. But it seems as though the same music that teens like is creeping into award shows that attract the older crowd. Is it because we are listening to that music, too?

We need to be honest with ourselves as we answer that question. The music we condemn cannot also be on our mp3 players. Duh, right?

Well, there are some of us who are slow learners. A little confession:

Last week, Josiah, my just-turned-three year old son, and I picked up mommy for a surprise lunch. As we were leaving our favorite restaurant, AC/DC’s song “Shook Me All Night Long” came on over the speakers of the now-crowded eatery. Being “a rocker through and through,” Josiah promptly began to dance and sing along with the lyrics of the first verse, drawing attention to himself from other patrons.

Given the, um, “nature” of that song’s lyrics, I thought my wife was literally going to die of embarrassment. But when we got into our SUV in the parking lot, I quickly learned that it wasn’t her life that was in jeopardy at all – it was mine! I thought she was going to kill me!

I guess putting AC/DC on the playlist between the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana wasn’t such a good idea after all! Whoops.

Charting a Course through the Music Charts
Take a lesson from my stupidity. We can’t send mixed signals; the very least we can do is meet the musical standards we set for our teenagers. I probably shouldn’t point a finger at Lil Wayne for his sex-filled lyrics when I’m willing to listen to AC/DC’s sex-filled lyrics.

If music tends to be the ongoing debate with the teenagers in your lives, here are a couple of ideas that will help you and your teens move in the same direction when it comes to music.

  1. We must be willing to converse openly and honestly about musical choices. Some music is harmless, and some isn’t. If we hope to help our teenagers choose correctly, we must be willing to talk about our own likes and dislikes. They need to hear us say, “I like fill-in-the-blank-with-a-band-name, but I see how their music isn’t appropriate for the life I want to live.” Then talk about a decision-making process that will help your teenager choose music that’s great AND non-toxic for their mind and heart. Let’s be honest, the lyrics do sink in. The last thing I want to do is lead my son Josiah astray with my poor example. I simply cannot justify AC/DC’s message, so it has to go.

  2. Stay up-to-date on music available to teens today. You need to know what sort of music is out there that can make it onto your teens’ iPod. There are a couple of easy ways to do that. Besides our Youth Culture Windows, which are often on the subject of music, you can always monitor Just roll-over CHARTS and click on the “HOT 100” link to see the top songs of the week. Another really quick way to see what’s being grabbed up by teenagers is to check out iTunes’ “TOP SONGS” and “TOP MUSIC VIDEOS.” These two categories reflect the most popular music being downloaded at any given time.

Above all, make sure you lead by example when it comes to music. It’s tough for youth workers and parents to have a genuine conversation with teens about the message behind Britney Spears’ music, when “Womanizer” is on our iPod’s MOST PLAYED list.

David R. Smith 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, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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