A Parent's Guide to Pop Music
What those songs on the kids' radio are really all about, and should they be listening
The walls of the Top 40 continue to fall. For the first time in years, alternative, classic, and folk rock mingle with dance, rap, and rhythm & blues on a chart that is as diverse as the great Top 40s of yore (pre-1990). Meanwhile, the messages about anger, hope, confusion, nostalgia, bliss, and the gamut of sexual urges provide parents with an extended playlist of kids’ most pressing concerns.
TOP POP SONGS
BACK IN THE DAY
Who? 18-year-old rapper from South Central L.A.
Musical Style: Easygoing rhythm and rap.
What It’s About: Obsessively detailed nostalgia for the good old days — circa 1988.
Sexual Content/ Language: Explicit about hairstyles and attitudes, but otherwise as innocent as small kids on a stoop.
Subversive Message: There’s more to black youth culture than sex, gangs, gangsta rap, and drugs.
BACK & FORTH
Who? Seductive 15-year-old protegee of R. Kelly (”Bump N’ Grind”) — who wrote, produced, and raps on this tune.
Musical Style: Urban dance crossover.
What It’s About: A steamy invitation to dance all night.
Sexual Content/ Language: Aaliyah’s request to ”let the funky melody put you in the mood” is submerged in the mix.
Subversive Message: After some ”Back & Forth,” can ”Bump N’ Grind” be far behind?
CAN YOU FEEL THE LOVE TONIGHT
Artist: Elton John
Who? The grand old man of the grandiose pop ballad.
Musical Style: Grandiose pop ballad from The Lion King, with lyrics by Oscar winner Tim Rice.
What It’s About: Reassuringly Disneyesque cosmic travelogue.
Sexual Content/Language: Bambi had more.
Subversive Message: None.
COME TO MY WINDOW
Artist: Melissa Etheridge
Who? Gay rocker, who recently raised her profile even higher with appearances on Late Night With David Letterman and the Eagles tour (she’ll next be seen at Woodstock ’94).
Musical Style: Driving, anthemic folk rock.
What It’s About: The inconvenience of carrying on an illicit love affair (presumably at her parents’ house).
Sexual Content/Language: Why else would she be suggesting this arduous moonlight tryst?
Subversive Message: Performer and presentation lend potent credence to the age-old teenage plaint: ”What do they know about this love anyway?”
PRAYER FOR THE DYING
Who? British-born Sealhenry Samuel, who had a hit with his 1991 debut single, ”Crazy.”
Musical Style: Reggae-influenced rock whose soul has been psychedelicized.
What It’s About: A positive, sobering message to drug users — ”There is a light through that window/Hold on, say yes while people say no.”
Sexual Content/Language: None.
Subversive Message: Life goes on, with or without you.
Artist: Collective Soul
Who? Stockbridge, Ga., quintet that has struck it big after 12 years on the local scene.
Musical Style: Your basic AOR concoction of Southern grit and hot licks.
What It’s About: Looking to the heavens for the answers to life’s questions.
Sexual Content/Language: So pure it could fit on most Christian-rock radio playlists.
Subversive Message: For a lost generation, a revived spirituality may be the only hope.
UNTIL I FALL AWAY
Artist: Gin Blossoms
Who? Out of Arizona, the other alternative band whose main songwriter (Doug Hopkins) committed suicide within the last year.
Musical Style: Jangly guitar rock.
What It’s About: Like their previous hits, ”Hey Jealousy” and ”Found Out About You,” this moody tune is obsessed with love’s dark side: failure, futility, and betrayal.
Sexual Content/Language: There’s a complete lack of sexual content.
Subversive Message: The Blossoms, as much as any alternative band, voice the frustrations of today’s youth — but melodically, so you can sing along.
Artist: John Mellencamp and Me’shell NdegeOcello
Who? The gentleman farmer of classic rock teams up with the classy alternative soul singer (and Madonna discovery).
Musical Style: Classic rock-and-soul duet.
What It’s About: Remake of the ’71 Van Morrison hit, which sets down some pithy observations about the eternal mating dance.
Sexual Content/Language: The street is filled with strutting boys and girls who preen and glance but hardly ever connect.
Subversive Message: The wild nights of our youth seem pretty tame by today’s standards.
YOU MEAN THE WORLD TO ME
Artist: Toni Braxton
Who? This year’s reigning rhythm & blues diva.
Musical Style: Pop-soul ballad.
What It’s About: In no uncertain terms, Braxton takes a strong and positive position on fidelity and sexual responsibility.
Sexual Content/Language: The message here is No sex until marriage or an otherwise committed, monogamous relationship.
Subversive Message: Men have to be stronger at resisting temptation than they are now. And women have to be stronger than men.