Sunday, February 1, 2015

Katy Perry's Experimental Game and Superbowl XLIX

Katy Perry is charismatic, creative, and bold, and she sings songs that get stuck in your head (I dare you not to hum "Roar" once you hear it). She has more Twitter followers than anyone else in the world. She's also a great performer as seen by her impressive Superbowl halftime show that featured Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliot. If your measure of success is technical showmanship, musical talent and star power, it was a solid show. If your measure of success also involves the appropriateness of the show, a different kind of discussion takes place.

Quite a few people weighed in on social media commenting on how "family friendly" and "clean" the show was. There were no wardrobe malfunctions or nudity. Nobody twerked. I heard, "It wasn't Beyonce!" more than a few times as people recalled previous shows that pushed the envelope much further than this one did.

That's all true, but in order to conclude that it was "clean" or "family friendly" I think we need to define what that means. Yes, it was more visually appropriate than a number of recent shows. However, that's hardly the only marker for whether or not the whole family can sit down and enjoy the show. To a large degree the medium is the message, but the lyrics of the songs are messages too, are they not?  So to get a clearer picture of the "family friendly" or "clean" nature of the show, I offer a lyrical snapshot of what was celebrated during halftime of the Superbowl. (Not all of these lyrics made the cut for the show, and some that did were changed, but they are part of the original songs):

 "Work It" (Missy Elliot)
Is it worth it, let me work it, I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it, if you got a big ***, let me search you
And find out how hard I gotta work you
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it, I'd like to get to know you so I could show you
Put the p**** on you like I told you, gimme all your numbers so I could phone you
Your girl actin' stank then call me over."
"California Gurls" (Katy Perry)
California girls, we're unforgettableDaisy Dukes, bikinis on top, sun-kissed skin so hot we'll melt your popsicle...Sex on the beach, we don't mind sand in our stilettos we freak in my jeep, Snoop Doggy Dogg on the stereo
(Speaking of Snoop Dogg, on the original song he takes the time to comment on the "Homeboys bangin' out all that a**.")

"I kissed a Girl"(Katy Perry - and Lenny Kravitz during the Superbowl)
No, I don't even know your name, it doesn't matter. You're my experimental game, just human nature. It's not what good girls do, not how they should behave. My head gets so confused, hard to obey.
Us girls we are so magical, soft skin, red lips, so kissable. Hard to resist, so touchable. Too good to deny it. Ain't no big deal, it's innocent.
After the show, there was a thought-provoking advertisement about how young girls are damaged when boys make fun of how they run or throw a ball. It was a good message. But what kind of damage is done when a halftime show features strong, talented women whose lyrics celebrate a hook-up culture and  homeboys "banging out all that a**"? If hearing "You throw like a girl!" is damaging to young girls, surely we must consider what happens when they hear that experimental sexual games are no big deal.

I wonder what it would look like if we lived in a culture where boys honored girls with their attitudes and words, men did not reduce women to receptacles for banging, and girls learned from a young age that their value did not come from their sexual attractiveness, availability or boldness?

I'm not suggesting the Superbowl doesn't have the freedom to feature whatever halftime show the networks let them air. I'm also not commenting on the character of Katy Perry or any of the performers. I don't know what their private lives are like. I do, however, hear the lifestyle celebrated in their songs.  If that's clean and family friendly, we need to have a serious national discussion about what those words mean, why we think those values are important, and what the best way is to bring about a nation in which wholesome entertainment and education can flourish.

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