Lil Nas X has recently been under attack by parents who are mad about the video for his song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name.)” In the video, the rapper, clad in only a pair of boxers, slides down a stripper pole into Hell and gives Satan a lap dance. Many parents know Lil Nas X thanks to his earworm “Old Town Road,” which became a Kidz Bop hit for the under-10 crowd. It was a big hit with my kid when he was in kindergarten. But just because a sanitized version of the song became popular with elementary school aged kids doesn’t mean he makes music for kids. He makes the music he wants, and if kids like it, it’s the parents’ responsibility to talk to them about the content. Parents set boundaries for their kids, and decide what’s right for them. It isn’t musicians’ responsibility to uphold the moral standards parents set for their own children.
Because of their forward facing jobs, people tend to forget that musicians are still just doing a job. It just so happens that a large part of their jobs include being themselves. So it’s easy to blur the lines between what their job is, and who they are. And sometimes that line is purposely blurry, but that’s the celebrity’s choice. If they choose to put themselves into their work, they’re doing so based on their moral level. That means that there are going to be a lot of people who don’t necessarily agree with them, but it’s still their choice (and their record label and management team too) as the artist to decide what their comfort level is. And it’s our choice as parents to choose how our kids engage with those musicians. But it’s not their responsibility to cater to your comfort level.
Unless it’s The Wiggles or Laurie Berkner, most music children enjoy isn’t made for them. Parents think that because Kidz Bop does a cover, Katy Perry makes music for children. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sometimes musicians make songs that appeal to kids, like “Old Town Road,” but they’re not the intended audience. But once the songs become popular with kids, then parents make these musicians into something they didn’t necessarily ask for. Suddenly Lil Nas X is being called a “role model” for kids when he sings a song that has the lyrics “Bull ridin’ and boobies.” And it’s not that he can’t be a role model. It’s just that he never claimed to want that kind of responsibility, especially if parents are going to hold him to a certain standard.
A few weeks ago, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion performed a very sanitized version of their song “WAP” at the Grammys. Many parents were aghast that the musicians were even allowed to perform the song on TV. But, of course they did. The Grammys would have been stupid to not have them perform it. That song will go down in pop culture history. Watching the show, it didn’t even seem like the same song. The performance isn’t as salacious as some people make it seem. Yes, it was overtly sexual, but much of their moves were legitimate dancing. My seven-year-old son was watching with us, and I let him continue to watch the performance. He thought the dancing was “cool,” and was amazed at their skill. I mean, the things they can do with their bodies is amazing. They are talented artists. And it was cool he recognized that.
Many of the same women who are freaking out over their kids hearing or seeing “WAP” forget the kind of music we were listening to as children. I was probably about my son’s age when musicians were singing songs like “I Wanna Sex You Up,” “Let’s Talk About Sex,” or “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” My friends and I were singing “My Neck, My Back” and “How Many Licks” and we were barely through puberty. Honestly, I don’t see the difference at all. So how could I sit here and cover my kid’s ears when I was doing the same thing? At least I’m willing to have a conversation with him about it. Maybe some people think they’re doing better than their parents did, but it hardly seems like it. They just sound like a bunch of uptight hypocrites.
Our kids only make a big deal out of these things when we make it a big deal. I don’t really shield my son from much of anything. Because I know that there’s always a chance he hears stuff from other places. I’d rather be the one sharing this stuff with him, and keeping an open dialogue. We often have conversations about how musicians are doing a job and that what he sees on TV isn’t always real. We listen to songs like “WAP” and “Savage” in the car. And I tell him that he’s allowed to enjoy our music, but it’s not music for kids. He loves Megan Thee Stallion, and I would never use her music as a moral compass for my first grader. It’s just for entertainment.
I’ve noticed that we only have these morality conversations when the artists are women (especially Black women) and/or members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Both groups are groups that already face a higher amount of public scrutiny. It’s almost as if people don’t want these folks to have any autonomy over their own bodies. I don’t understand what it is about two women of color owning their sexuality that makes people so upset. Or what they find so abhorrent about an openly gay man taking control of the narrative he’s always been fed. Why is it that musicians are only supposed to fit into the boxes people arbitrarily create for them? And who do people think they are making judgments on people? If you don’t want to see two women simulate having queer sex, that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean you can tell them not to do it. If you don’t want your kids to “see that,” then you turn the channel, change the song, or put them to bed. It’s that simple.
Celebrities, be they musicians, actors, or internet personalities, are doing a job. People can choose to interact with it however they see fit, but that’s your choice as a consumer. The artists creating the work have no obligation to adhere to the general public’s moral compass. Like Jesus Christ, Karen, no one comes to your job and tells you they think you’re morally bankrupt for the way you organize your desk. Why don’t you just keep your moral outrage to your group text? Do you really think Lil Nas X, Cardi B or Megan Thee Stallion care what you think? And even if they do, they’re crying about it in their very nice homes while you’re bitching from your podunk town. If you don’t like it, don’t let your kids listen to it. But don’t tell the artists what they should be doing based on your opinions.