Cast your mind back to the noughties, every couple of months or so getting the new ‘Now that’s what I call music’ CD’s blasting out the likes of The Black Eyed Peas, Avril Lavigne, Mcfly on your grey Woolworth’s CD player, you know the one. That along with radio and music channels provided you with your musical entertainment, particularly as a child that was most if not all of your exposure, all of which were obviously highly censored and governed ‘Now’ CD’s and many compilation albums alike were clean, music channels and radio complied with rules set by their various regulatory bodies.
Nowadays with the rise of music consumption through streaming, monitoring and censorship has vanished. I want to start off by saying I have no issue with artists producing and performing music as vulgar, sexual or explicit as they wish, I’m all for self-expression in whatever form that takes but I do have an issue with how accessible and targeted towards children that certain music is.
A throwback to 2006 ish how did we listen to music then? CD’s, and for all the explicit stuff that wasn’t appropriate for kids what did we do? Release compilation albums like ‘Now’ that delivered the music in a way that allowed everyone to enjoy within boundaries. In a way I guess Now was the child friendly version of music consumption that’d give parents peace of mind while still allowing their child to explore and consume popular music. For example on Now 67 the Rhianna track “Umbrella’ featured, that was a child-friendly snapshot of Rhianna as an artist. Parents then wouldn’t have let thier child listen to the album ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ that the single was taken from due to its explicit content. Unless the kid then went to the shop and brought the album they wouldn’t have been exposed to it.
Now in 2018, how do we consume music, streaming, so why haven’t we got a child appropriate version of it. In April of 2018 spotify released an ‘Explicit content’ feature, I finally thought we were heading in the right direction until I tried it out for myself and realized that tracks of a sexual nature or featuring profanity still show up on the charts section of the app and that if you try to play one it doesn’t simply not play but instead has a massive pop up that says ‘if you would like to play this item, allow explicit content’with a lovely big green bright button that takes you without question to the settings and without any authentication you can just switch the filter off.It’s actually pointless, it’s massive and bright green, if a child can’t read then they will instantly click it as the button to actually minimise the pop up is much less noticeable. No pin. When I started to write this post back in December there was nothing required to turn this option off, however, now they do request the fingerprint or access pin that is used to unlock the phone, however, this is about as pointless as the child most likely has theirs on the device to allow them to get into it so not much of an improvement in my opinion. Not to mention this is only available to spotify premium users. This should not be a premium feature, this should be available to everyone regardless of if they can afford the £9.99 a month.
That taken into consideration their terms of service state that no one under the age of 13 can use the site without parental consent, I personally feel like this is all one big contradiction, so are Spotify suggesting that under 13’s shouldn’t listen to music? Streaming is the only way some children know, I can feel like there are already people out there saying well you can still buy cd’s now and yeah,you can, but they are outdated almost before they are even released at this point because of the fast-changing climate of the industry, music, particularly pop music is so disposable that some artists don’t even release physical copies and the rise of the string of singles or a mixtape over the album format makes that even more difficult. Purely because they suggest that under 13’s shouldn’t be using their platform doesn’t mean they aren’t and Spotify know that so I personally find not offering a clean version hugely irresponsible.
They’re in house curated playlists are extremely unmissable and prominent upon opening the app, these streamed by millions daily and contain explicit material that children should not be exposed to. I can also feel the argument coming of ‘But there’s Kidz Bop’. If you aren’t aware of what kidz bop is then, lucky you. It’s basically a load of kids that re- record pop tracks but change out the explicit lyrics for there own. It’s a great principal but so poorly executed. It’s very much aimed towards young children I’d say 4-8 perfect for them but that’s not the ace that we need to worry about because that’s the age that parental censorship works if a parent of a 5 year old doesn’t want them using Spotify then they just won’t let them. It’s these 9-13 ones that will start having phones, who will know how to get around this very easily switched off explicit content blocker that we need to really be looking at. Youtube have thier kids app that only select content can be viewed and while they did have some issues with content getting through the filters by twisting the algorithm it works pretty well, so what is stopping Spotify from doing the same?
There are so many examples I could be pulling on here but I’m just going to do a couple, one of the biggest hits of last year was Post Malone’ “Rockstar’ featuring the lyrics ‘Cocaine on the table, liquor pourin’, don’t give a damn’ and ‘Ayy, I’ve been fuckin’ hoes and poppin’ pillies’ this would have been easily accessible to children by simply playing the UK top 40 playlist, the drug use references here are blatant, there is no glorifying or disguising them with metaphors, they’re just there being portrayed as a positive. Another one that particularly stood out to me was Kanye West and Lil Pumps track ‘I love it’ of which the lyrics couldn’t be any less child friendly if they tried, ‘You’re such a fuckin’ hoe, I love it’ repeated over and over again, ‘I’m a sick fuck, I like a quick fuck’, ‘I’ll buy you some new tits, I’ll get you that nip-tuck’ I mean do I really need to go on? Repeated exposure to this is damaging, it instils in young boys that a woman is sexual being for their pleasure first and a human being second, while an adult may be less influenced by these lyrics and be able to apply some context and consciousness to them these pre-teens/ children cannot and as a result we will have another generation reinforcing unrealistic expectations of women.
Don’t be fooled there is still plenty of wholesome artists releasing child-friendly music but for me personally, I feel like there has to be some differentiation of the two within playlists or even better separate playlists of clean versions of tracks because some of the language and themes children are getting exposed to couldn’t be more inappropriate and I don’t feel like we really understand the possible effects of this as this generation of children are the first to consume music this way and that scares me a little.
This is how music is consumed and there is no way for children to do it safely, and that needs to be sorted, let me know what you think either in the comments or over on my Instagram @lucy_mccourt_blog I’m always up for a healthy, measured debate.