Okay, I really will get back to my YA BOOKS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE next week, but this week I’m annoyed. This is a music thing.
Last week, as part of the day job, I attended some awesome training with the Brighton & Hove Healthy Schools Team (the “team” is now one woman, thanks to public spending cuts). A big part of the training was on Sex and Relationships Education in primary schools. This work so inspires my writing – work around sexist and sexual bullying in particular found its way into book 1.
The government wants teachers to focus on the early sexualisation of girls in particular (hint, have a word with Rupert Murdoch…oh wait…). Rather than tackle the media directly, the ConDems would like teachers to explain the perils of air-brushing, teen soaps and body image. Of course, teachers will happily adapt to whatever we’re told to do – we’ve been doing it for years.
The pop music industry isn’t helping. Jessie J may well be “doing it like a dude”, but she does so in skimpy hotpants. Lady Gaga may be “born that way”, but she’s also a skinny white woman, so I doubt she minds. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE pop music, I always have – the drama of it, the silliness. But do kids understand that it’s a fantasy? A multi-million pound, image-obsessed industry? The X Factor instructs us to believe anyone can be famous, but as Joe McElderry found out, it doesn’t hurt to be hot and straight like Olly Murs.
However, I really lost my rag today on discovering that “Biggest Star in Music besides Gaga or Beyonce”, Rihanna, is releasing not-very-good album track “S&M” from not-very-good album “Loud”. Here’s a sneak peek at the video:
So, we have “chains and whips excite me”, “sex in the air, don’t care, I like the smell of it” and a video full of sex toys and lube. And the thing is, 4Music WILL show this video to kids. Radio 1 WILL add this to its daytime playlist. I PROMISE 7, 8, 9 year old girls ARE going to watch this video. I’m not sure that’s okay.
Another don’t-get-me-wrong-moment: I am all for appropriate, open and frank discussions about sex with children and young adults. I don’t think there should be a big mystery at all, and have always really enjoyed teaching SRE in Year 5 and 6 at school. In schools in England, pupils are taught that sex is enjoyable and a part of a healthy, adult relationship. That said, it’s not up to Rihanna or the executives at Universal Music to decide when children should get their bondage on. It’s one thing to have it as an album track on an album which is labelled for explicit content (NOTE – the individual track S&M is NOT labelled as explicit on iTunes. Goes to show you can be as explicit as you like as long as you don’t say “f**k”), but another to release the single to radio and TV.
This comes only a few weeks after the artist caused a fuss for her suggestive performance of “What’s My Name” on the X Factor final. Perhaps after her last album Rated R bombed, her new “thing” is being sexified? I’m against censorship, I really am. Rihanna should be able to write (how much Miss Fenty actually writes is something of a mystery) and sing about anything she likes. It’s a question of responsibility – Universal must know that as a mainstream pop artist, Rihanna’s target audience is little girls (and gay men). Moreover, they take aim and sell AT little girls through magazines and TV spots. For instance, the amazing Peaches is a good example of an artist writing about highly explicit things, but not selling them to little girls via Cosmogirl etc.
In 1992, when Madonna released Erotica, her audience had grown up. The album and the Sex book were never meant for, or marketed at kids. Her earlier saucy efforts, “Like a Virgin”, “Dress You Up” or “Hanky Panky” went nowhere near as far as S&M and neither has Gaga – even “bitch” was edited from The Fame Monster (she’s a “free bit, baby”). Actually, the limit of Lady Gaga’s raunch ended at oblique references to “disco sticks”. Racy.
Censorship is mentioned in relation to YA fiction all the time too. More and more books, both on the web and in book stores are being clearly labelled at “Teen Fiction”, with some publishers printing suggested ages on the back. This at least gives parents and teachers a rough guide so they can pre-read and decide for themselves if they’re happy to share it in class or allow their kids to read. After all, it’s parents and teachers that get the follow-up question time. Perhaps someone from Universal Music would care to explain the “smell of sex” to my Year 5 class.
Rant over. I suppose it gives teachers something to talk about in the “Sex and the Media” lessons. That’ll be nice, parents and teachers can all explain why Rihanna gets excited about whips and lube. Really, really interested to see if 4Music post-watersheds this one.