Really, when was it? One minute I’m trying to decode REM lyrics, the next minute I’m trying to figure out why in the hell kids today have to play their music so damn loud. Bands I listened to in my youth are now featured on oldies stations. TV shows have decided that “Seriously riiight?” is a legitimate punch line. And the ladies on The Golden Girls look much younger than they used to.
Take Justin Bieber. (I’m not kidding. Take him.) I suppose I get the appeal. He’s cute. He’s perfectly harmless. He can kind of sing if you have the Auto-Tune turned up high enough. However, he’s turned into this THING that keeps showing up in US Weekly, frolicking on the beach and living a much grander lifestyle than most of us can ever hope for. He has a line of nail polish, for Pete’s sake. But I’m concerned because the boy can barely string a sentence together without uttering the word “Yo.” Take a recent interview I saw on the TV:
Random Reporter: So Justin, tell us about your new autobiography.
Justin: Yeroeks thswel blurgel swot shvwlfogh. Yo.
Or something like that. I tuned out pretty quickly.
By the way, he’s like, nine years old and wrote an autobiography a few YEARS AGO. Is it a pamphlet? A paragraph written on the back of an index card? What insights could he possibly have?
I read a blurb from it. He does a lot of “reach for your dreams” crap, and it contains other pearls about not listening to “haters,” and never saying never (which, I hesitate to point out, he did at least twice in that one sentence). All nice sentiments, but not very meaningful coming from someone who struggled for about six seconds before becoming famous. But at least he kind of works for it. He purports to have a skill. Explain Kim Kardashian to me. Her talent is literally her ass. I mean, I have a generous sized one as well, but you don’t see Entertainment Tonight following me around. (And I’ve worked for mine, man. A lot of couch-sitting had to be performed.)
So yeah, music. I will say that I used to teach middle school, and not one student I asked actually liked Justin Bieber. (To be fair, the school was 95% Hispanic and African-American, so I’m thinking that maybe his appeal doesn’t translate.) The kids liked music with suggestive lyrics and a bass line that would make your pacemaker (literal or figurative) explode. On a few occasions they asked me what kind of music I liked.
“Well,” I said. “I like a lot of things.”
Knowing they probably wouldn’t know any of the artists, I tried to go to the obvious.
“I’ve liked U2 for a long time.”
Shoulders were collectively shrugged.
“Ummm, how about The Beatles?”
Nothing. But I knew that was a bit of a stretch.
I was going to try to press on and find someone they had heard of, but I knew it was a losing battle. (They thought Duran Duran was a boxer.)
This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. I was doing some clinical observations a couple of years ago at a local high school, as part of my teacher certification program. The teacher was showing Cool Hand Luke. Afterwards, he talked about the movie a bit. He asked if anyone knew who the lead actor was. No one raised a hand. He said, “It’s an actor named Paul Newman.” The class was silent for a moment, and then someone said, “You mean the guy from the salad dressing?” The teacher paused, and he and I momentarily locked eyes. “Yes,” he sighed. “The guy from the salad dressing.”
I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.
In addition to music, the current vernacular has also changed radically, and I’m not able to hold on. “Yo” has become ubiquitous, and it seems to be a word that means absolutely nothing. Formerly an attention-getter (“Yo, I’m talking to you…”), it is now almost a punctuation mark. Case in point: a promo for a new adventure-reality show. Two people on a boat. One exclaims, “We’re in the ocean! We’re surrounded by water, yo!” (Apparently, “yo” can also be used to point out the obvious.)
I fought against it for a while, but as long as no one’s saying to me, “You’re on fire, yo,” I think I’m going swim with the tide. Besides, if you reverse the letters you’ve got “oy,” of which I’m very fond.
I actually like some of the new music today, but I’m rather selective. I will say that there are some recent songs I’m very glad are played out. I’m glad, for example, that the reign of Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” is long over, because after the first listening it made me want to stuff olives or erasers or my elbows into my ears just to make it stop. And there are other “artists” that I just don’t get – Lil’ Wayne makes me a lil’ nervous, for example, and I’m sorry, but that Ke$ha girl looks like she needs a bath. It’s not just on the radio, though. It’s everywhere. Once a student of mine was singing the chorus to a Rhianna song, which pretty much consisted of repeating the same two lines over and over again about popping one’s bubble.
This is what the young people listen to these days. So little creative imagery. So few interesting melodies. Just thump, thump, thump (or pop, pop, pop, as the case may be). I’m not saying my teen heyday of the ‘80s was exactly a musical renaissance (hello, Culture Club) but at least it didn’t all sound the same. There’s so much good older stuff out there. I really just want to walk up to a kid one of these days and say, “Led Zeppelin. ‘Black Dog.’ It will change your life.”
Some days I’m I know grasping at straws to stay relevant. Has everything always been geared for the young, or am I just noticing it now that I’m no longer minty-fresh? Fashion is impossible, most movies are banal, and if I see one more ad for osteoporosis featuring a woman who looks five years younger than I am, I’m going to cry.
So what’s the answer? I don’t want to be one of those women who clings madly to her teen years, strapping herself into skinny jeans that are, quite frankly, no longer quite so skinny, and maintaining the same teased “do” that she had in 1989. But I’m also not ready to hang out with the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” lady. (Although we’ve met. She’s very nice.) How do we find our own relevance in a society that seems ready to put us on a dusty shelf after age forty?
Maybe I’ll have to dig a little deeper into Justin Bieber’s book. He may be on to something. I will never say never, yo. I will not dislike haters, yo. I will reach for the constellations, yo. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, yo. Be your own sunshine, yo. (Or something like that.)
Yo, indeed, Mr. Bieber. Yo, indeed.