I'm the proud mother of a bubbly, bright 12-year-old girl named Skylar. She reminds me a lot of myself when I was that age, back when you couldn't see the ugly paneling on my bedroom walls because they were plastered with posters of The Boys and New Edition, and my soundtrack to life was created by my own personal she-roes: Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige...
Judging by what’s going on in that messy room down the hallway, nothing much has changed as far as preteen girls and their music star worship goes, just the cast of characters. There’s Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars instead of Hakeem Abdulsamad and Ralph Tresvant, and Nicki Minaj and Rihanna where JJ and MJB used to be.
Oh and there’s one more important distinction — Janet and Mary never blasted a dude’s brains out in any one of their videos.
I love Rihanna. Not so much musically, but her style, creativity, and the way she flipped her image from boxed-in pop princess to rebel with a hot-to-death wardrobe. She sucked me in as a fan. When I heard “Man Down,” though, it immediately became a song that both The Girl and I were yodeling along with at the top of our lungs. It reminded me of “I Shot the Sheriff,” but a contemporary version sung by a girl with an axe to grind.
As a mama, I get why other parents would be irked over the portrayal of gunplay, sexual assault and vengeance in the video. I can see the argument that she has an overactive appetite for violence and darkness. I might even be able to agree that this release and the details of her Chris Brown attack are just a little too close for comfort. Heck, she even tweeted that the song was for girls like her, which doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
But at the end of the day, Rihanna is a chick with some videos on MTV and a few tunes on the Billboard charts. So while her antics may raise one or both of my eyebrows from time to time, she doesn’t bear as much influence over my child as I do. Folks are so busy chastising celebrities over their fame-induced craziness, but watching Rihanna shoot a man down in central station in front of a big ol’ crowd doesn’t wield nearly as much impact over a girl as seeing how her mother and father behave on a daily basis. Everyday life? Yeah, that’s the real stage. And we should be watching how we act.
Musicians have a responsibility to know who their audiences are, yes, particularly when the bulk of their listeners are kids. But we place too much value in what these fallible famous people do, in their personal lives and their artistry, and how that reflects on our kids. Much as Skylar likes Rih Rih, she emulates me. She picks up my mannerisms, behaviors and habits. So if I decided to let a stream of men parade in and out of here, if I choose to snort a line or boost a bag, if I was the one who opened fire as the ultimate payback, that would be the behavior most likely to affect her. Forget what Rihanna was singing about.
In a perfect world, the Rih Rihs, Weezys and Kanyes in Celebrityville would clean up their act. Still, they’re entitled to their creative license and First Amendment rights. None of them should have that much influence over our kids anyway. And if they do, we might need to edit our own program.
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