do you have an opinion / a mind of your own? / I thought you were special / I thought you should know (from Garbage’s song “Special”, 1998)
The other day, I saw this thing on TV where a chef was giving tips about how to make a cheap meal look fancy. Like, cut out a piece of chicken breast in a way that it resembles a scallop and place it in a shell (which you’re practically supposed to steal from a restaurant). Peel an eggplant, chop the peel into bits and mix it with pasta and cheap truffle oil – the eggplant peel is supposed to come off as the actual truffle.
WHAT!? The TV bit actually suggested that this make believe gourmet dinner was a smart idea! I don’t get it, and I’m getting sick of this fake society surrounding me where everything has to have and image and make an impression, and it doesn’t seem to matter if there’s any substance behind most things.
you do what you do / you say what you say / you always try to be everything to everyone / you know all the right people / you play all the right games (from Everclear’s song “Everything To Everyone”, 1997)
Where are we, in the whole youth/pop culture process? I guess I’m not really there anymore – agewise – but I think of myself as an urban, unmarried, childless womanchild, so I can’t be that far away. But still, I wonder what today’s youth thinks, what they worry about – IF they worry about anything. Because to be honest, it does kind of look as if most of them couldn’t care less about stuff except for the right labels showing off on their clothes.
I don’t want to come off as better as I am – when I was a teenager in the late 90’s / beginning new Millennium, I wasn’t exactly a political activist. But it was the time before heavy product placement formats like “Sex and the City”, “Gossip Girl” or “The Hills”. The term It-Girl kind of came up, but it a) appeared strictly limited to Paris Hilton and b) I never understood what was so great about being popular and famous just for the hack of it (without having contributed good music, movie performances etc to the world).
However, more and more It-Girls popped up from all sorts of backgrounds; the thing they had in common was probably the right outfit and being invited to the right parties. And nowadays most chicks and guys between 17 and 23 seem to aim at the It status, carrying a fake or real designer purse, Ray Ban sunglasses and a coffee to go (in a paper and plastic cup – get the environmental message, people!). The It uniform…
sittin’ in a park in Paris, France / readin’ the news and it sure looks bad / they won’t give peace a chance / that was just a dream some of us had (from Joni Mitchell’s song “California”, 1971)
In the 60’s, it was the breakout of the uptight, prude society. In the 70’s there was the war in Vietnam. The 80’s brought nuclear power and its waste into the picture. Looking back at the 90’s, when I was becoming a teenager and where it would have been my turn to show society the finger, I guess my special problem (and that of the people I knew) was that there was no obvious hard to take circumstance. I come from a middle class to upper middle class background.
Financially our parents had done way better than their parents (who themselves were young adults during World War II). That meant that us teenagers enjoyed a pretty comfortable lifestyle. Laptops, iPhones, designer bags and brand clothing didn’t yet play a part, but we wore clothes we liked, our parents took us on one or two vacations a year, and when it was our birthdays we didn’t exactly suffer a shortage of presents.
Our parents were too young in the 60’s to rebel or drop out, so my peers and I weren’t raised by politically overly opinionated ex-hippies. We were told that when it’s election day you better go and make your little cross on the ballot. That it’s important to participate in a democracy. But that was about it.
Nuclear power was still there, and yes, it was kind of uncool, but whenever I switched on the light in my room I didn’t make the connection that this worked due to nuclear power – that produced radioactive waste and bore the chance of atomic accidents.
I remember a couple of alternative looking dudes and chicks from my school who did participate in anti nuclear power demonstrations, but I always suspected that some of them really just did it for the party factor of a demo. (The slightly dangerous party factor. Maybe you’d get busted.) But I may have been wrong about this…
As always, pop music had the potential to catch falling teenagers. Like me. Personally, I was attracted by songs that dealt with personal soul conflicts. As I’ve said before, I didn’t have to suffer from a visible circumstance like divorcing parents, but still, like most teenagers, I did carry around pain about stuff. And so, when Shirley Manson would sing “somebody get me out of here / I’m tearing at myself” or John Rzeznik “and now we’re grown up orphans that never knew their names” or Courtney Love “when the glitter fades in morning / turn away and you will find my empty eyes” it didn’t matter to me what they were really talking about. Feeling trapped in a narrow minded suburban town, it seemed as if the songs and their writers understood me. Good.
I always knew I wanted to be a singer/songwriter. I wrote poetry almost everyday as a teenager, and sometimes I thought of melodies for my lyrics. That was before I was able to play the piano. I was interested in certain music genres, I watched music television and I read music magazines in order to stay informed.
Today, among many other things, I’m a vocal teacher. That means I get in touch with teenagers claiming to like or be interested in music on a daily basis. Sadly, when I ask them “What do you want to sing?” they answer “I don’t know.”, and when I take it farther with “What kind of music do you like?” it’s either “Everything.” or, again, “I don’t know.” COME ON! (As I write this, I wonder if this is a proplem about singers. Or about girls. Of course, mostly girls want to sing. Could it be that in daily life, girls leave the choice of what’s being listened to up to their boyfriends/male friends? Guys absolutely have a tendency to think they are the music geniuses – but when I was a teenage girl I didn’t discuss about this, on parties I would stand around at the CD player with the guys and participate in the DJ-ing process.)
Back to my musically undecided, indentityless vocal students. I tell them that they can tell me anything, no taste in music is embarrassing, even if it’s Justin Bieber (of course, as a private person I think a little differently about this…). But more often than not, I can’t solve the problem with my students and I end up offering them the latest Rihanna song. I tried Joni Mitchell with one student once but wasn’t successful. Now I just keep it simple.
Now, that alarms me. Maybe I’m too strict about this, but I find that deliberately picking out certain music as your teenage soundtrack is one of the keys to your identiy during that time. And a way to communicate it to your peers. Being into the Backstreet Boys or being into Nirvana – two very different statements!
When I started listening to Nirvana (sadly only after Kurt’s death), my parents weren’t exactly shocked. How could they, rock’n’roll already existed while they grew up, so it wasn’t that exotic. But the silver lining was they didn’t understand what I heard or saw in those distorted guitars, the screaming vocals and that guy behind the mic who seemed to never wash his hair. They just didn’t understand. Good. That’s probably the best news for a teenager. You successfully become independent from your parents because you’re worshipping a band whose magic won’t reveal itself to them.
Todays teens parents had access to AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne etc while they themselves were teens. So I’m wondering: even if today’s 15-year-olds turn up the speakers with drum’n’base stuff in their rooms: are their parents at all shocked or at least shake their heads? Because if it does nothing more than produce a nostalgic smile on their faces remembering how they went crazy to “Highway To Hell” back in the day, the whole concept of becoming independet from your parents by shocking them a little has kind of broken together.
You can get piercings and tattoos, you can go homosexual, you can date someone from a different ethnic background, you can convert to a new religion, you can dress gothic, you can turn up the noisiest music – chances are your parents will be relatively understanding of all that. If worst comes to worst they might even get a juvenile flash (because today, our body’s might age but we all stay young and trendy at heart) and claim they like the same music, too.
Is that healthy?
Cathy I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping / I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why (from Simon & Garfunkel’s song “America”, 1968)
So I can kinda see that subconciously, there might be little need for today’s teens to make deliberate choices about what’s playing on their smartphones. Maybe aiming for the It-status with a Hollister shirt, Ray Bans, the right phone and the latest trend color nail polish is the way to go for teens in order to become independent from their parents. Because even I, with my 30 years of age, don’t get it. I keep telling my students that I got my first cell phone when I was 18 in order to make emergency calls when I was out at night, but I never brought it to school since all my friends were there, too, and I had the chance to talk to them in person. I didn’t need to chat with them via What’sApp while they were practically sitting next to me. And it wasn’t a topic whether it was this or that cell phone model, it just was a cell phone. Man, I must sound like a grandma! 🙂 Talk about zeitgeist… So yeah, maybe the right brands wrapped around your body and the right phone in your pocket is today’s teens way to confuse their parents.
Danger: these things are on the surface. Thus, the surface seems to get more important. Result: the fake gourmet dinner mentioned at the beginning.
let’s start a fire / let’s have a riot yeah it’s awful / it was punk / yeah it was perfect now it’s awful (from Hole’s song “Awful”, 1998)
Call me romantic, call me old school. I’m still convinced that music is the parachute that carrys a lost teenage soul safely to the twens.
Go ahead and take a step away from your parents by cuddling with your phone if you must ;). But Facebook will never give you wisdom and solace. Music surely does.
* from Madonna’s song “Music”, 2000