My kids love Top 40 music. No, I’m sorry, that’s not quite correct. My kids LOVE, are obsessed with, are smitten to, are absorbed in, are possessed by, Top 40 music.
If they had their way, Top 40 music would be blaring just above my comfort level from the time they wake up ‘til the moment they rest their sweet little heads on their pillows, my middlest humming her favorite Taylor Swift song as she drifts off to sleep.
I wasn’t expecting this.
I had a mix tape… no… make that six mix tapes… in the birthing room for my first childbirth. Not knowing what kind of mood I would be in… Joni Mitchell or the Rolling Stones, Sarah Vaughan or Guy Clark, Portishead or Mushroom Jazz, I was prepared. My husband and I are both musicians, and I assumed that music would be a central part of our birth story, as it was a central part of our getting together story and our wedding story and our life together story. Of course, when it came down to the serious work that is childbirth, music was the absolute farthest thing on my mind and those six CDs were utilized about as much as the pack of handmade visualization and meditation cards tucked away in the birthing bag.
I expose my kids to music every chance I get. We go to music festivals and concerts as a family, we listen to classical music on lazy rainy mornings, and listen to funk music every Saturday night (thanks to WMPG, our amazing local college station). We have a drum kit, piano, ukelele and guitar set up in our house. Nothing is off limits, because when it comes to GOOD MUSIC, regardless of the genre, it’s all good.
But like I said, my kids LOVE Top 40 music. And at first, that offended my sensibilities and made me wonder what I was doing wrong.
At first I doled out Top 40 music like the secret stash of sugary snacks I keep ready in my purse for those occasions when walks go 30 minutes too long or the grocery line is six carts deep. Top 40 music was for long car rides or to start an instant dance party when they needed to keep their hands off of each other’s bodies and needed to burn energy instantly. But like sugary snacks, Top 40 music is INSIDIOUS. It is like a drug. Kids get addicted to the hooks and the predictability. Like sugary snacks, pop music is omnipresent – all of their friends know it, it’s in every store, and on every Top 40 radio station from Maine to California, and everywhere in between. As much as I gave them little tastes of Top 40 music, they wanted MORE.
I know there are kids out there who haven’t bought in to the whole Top 40 thing, who prefer the Beatles and Michael Franti and Queen to Katy Perry and Pit Bull and Rihanna. To those parents – Good on you! But for all of the other parents, this Top 40 thing can be confusing. On one hand, I love that my kids have musical preferences, even if at this point it leans toward the… crappy. I love that my daughter, Nell, loves to sing and has a remarkable memory for melody and pitch. But do I love her singing about sex and drugs and getting drunk? Not so much.
My biggest problem with Top 40 music is that so much of the messaging tends to be misogynistic, sexual, shallow, vapid, or all of the above. Yes Juicy J, it’s too soon to rap about Jeffrey Dahmer. No Jason Derulo, I don’t know what to do with my big fat butt. Hey Megan Trainor, I love your message about positive body images – “Every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top,” but does it have to be because “boys love a little more booty to hold at night?” Can’t it just be… because. And don’t even get me started on songs by women with strong female narratives, like Beyonce and Rihanna, that get turned into nothing more than musings on foreplay by a 20 second male rap interlude.
Suspect messaging isn’t a new problem in pop music. When my oldest son first started to listen to LMFAO, I decided it was time to introduce him to some real party rap, some “good music,” and grabbed my copy of the Beastie Boys License to Ill. What the hell was I thinking? When was the last time you listened to the lyrics of “Girls”? I love the Beastie Boys. I will always love the Beastie Boys. But are they the best choice for 8 year old boys? Nope.
At a certain point, I decided I don’t need my kids to have good taste in music… yet. Right now, it’s important that they LOVE music. It’s important that it becomes part of their lives, that they can’t imagine a day without it. That when they hear a song they love, they know it is absolutely appropriate to break into song, or dance, or both. That it’s OK for them to like music that other people don’t like, yes, even their mom.
In that spirit, I have an ever evolving Spotify list that is our musical equivalent to “anytime” snacks. Like pretzels and peanut butter, it satisfies their needs to have kid snacks, and it satisfies my need for my kids to not be bombarded by messages about sexuality, alcohol and other age inappropriate material.
For the other parents in this Top 40 trench with me, I thought I would share what we are listening to right now. This list is NOT crafted for your musical enjoyment, in fact, some of these songs make me want to stick my head out of the window of the car while driving 70 mph on the freeway. But I bet your kids will think this list is just fine.
- “Roar” – Katy Perry
- “Girls Chase Boys” – Ingrid Michelsen
- “Thriftshop (radio edit)”- Macklemore
- “Shake it Off” – Taylor Swift
- “Best Day of My Life” – American Authors
- “Good Feeling” – FloRida
- “You Don’t Have to Try” – Colbie Caillat
- “Radioactive” – Imagine Dragons
- “Peace” – O.A.R.
- “Waves” – Mr. Probz
- “Happy” – Pharrell Williams
- “Counting Stars” – One Republic
- “Mean” – Taylor Swift
- “Royals” – Lordes
- “Magic” – B.O.B.
- “Firework” – Katy Perry
- “Party in the USA” – Miley Cyrus
- “Wake Me Up” – Aviicii
- “Try” – Pink
- “Same Love” – Macklemore
- “Fly” – Nicki Minaj
- “Summer” – Calvin Harris
- “Stonger” – Kelly Clarkson
- “Home” – Phillip Phillips
- “Classic” – MKTO
- “Let her Go” – Passenger
- “Hey, Soul Sister” – Train
- “Everything is Awesome” – Tegan and Sarah
Do you have a favorite kid-friendly Top 40 song? Please add it to the comments!
Carolyn Smith Fernald is a mother of three, a writer, a songwriter, a wife, and a friend, who tries to juggle as many of these things as possible in and around Portland, Maine. She is currently experiencing a career renaissance as an SEO analyst and social media consultant. Her musings on motherhood, SEO and Fantasy Football can be found on twitter @asthecrowfl13s. Check out her music here and contact her at Carolyn dot fernald at gmail dot com.