Last Sunday’s awards program demonstrated the depth to which American music has fallen.
The Dick Clark-produced Billboard Music Awards have been a TV fixture since 1989. In years past the awards show was a classier alternative to the American Music Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards, where talent, rather than bad behavior, was a reason for tuning in. But that is less and less the case with each passing year. It was during the Billboard Music Awards, for example, that Cher dropped an “F-bomb” when talking about her critics. And it was during the Billboard Music Awards that Nicole Richie talked about getting “cow s**t out of a Prada purse,” adding, “It’s not so f***ing simple.”
In media coverage of this year’s Billboard Music Awards, (aired on ABC Sunday, May 22nd), TV critics claimed that the show “shied away from controversy.” If that’s the perception, it can only be because those same TV critics have become inured to what is so obvious to the rest of us.
Aside from a handful of performances — Celine Dion’s touching anthem to life after loss, “The Show Must Go On,” Ke$ha’s cover of the Bob Dylan classic, “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” and a tribute to the recently deceased Prince performed by Madonna and Stevie Wonder — most of the songs performed during the program equate to little more than letter to the Penthouse Forum put to music. And although the copious “F-words” were (for the most part) muted or bleeped out, there is no way for any network standards and practices department to edit around entire songs.
Fifth Harmony’s “Work from Home,” for example, contains lines like, “We don’t need nobody, I just need your body, Nothin’ but sheets in between us, ain’t no getting off early,” and “Girl, go to work for me, Can you make it clap, no hands for me? Take it to the ground, pick it up for me.”
Ariana Grande, a pop star admired by legions of teenage girls, told those young fans in her performance of “Dangerous Woman,” “All girls wanna be like that, Bad girls underneath, like that.” She sings, “All that you got, skin to skin, oh my God, Don’t ya stop, boy, Oh yeah, Somethin’ ’bout you makes me feel like a dangerous woman.”
Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” conflates love and violence with lines like, “It beats me black and blue but it f***s me so good.”
And on, and on, and on.
It’s inevitable that when someone over the age of 30 starts talking about the music enjoyed by younger generations, comparisons are made to parental outrage over the music of the Beatles and Elvis. But such comparisons are too facile.
For generations, teenagers have applied a soundtrack to their lives, songs that perfectly encapsulate all of the complex feelings they are experiencing as they come of age. That soundtrack becomes an integral part of their memory, intimately tied to particular people or places or moments in time. Today’s teenagers face an emotionally barren landscape. There is no depth of human emotion or experience beyond just sex in these songs. There’s no exploration of the innocence of young love. No celebration of the joy of finding someone you want to be with all the time. It’s pornified pop. Nothing more.