How I Became a Katy Perry Sympathizer

Currently making the rounds on Facebook is this parenting blog post about our responsibility to teach kids about “good music.” Or, as the title states: “How to Talk to Your Kids About Their Shitty Taste in Music.” It’s a weakly argued call to arms in reaction to the whole VMA/Miley Cyrus twerking debacle.

What a load of hipster-douchebag crap. My retort: How on earth did your kids get exposed to this “shitty” music in the first place? Pro tip: don’t leave your kids in front of Disney XD all day, or they will think music is meant to be overly synthesized, un-artistic pop.

I’ll admit, pop music is heavily marketed to our young people. Whether you realise it or not, a lot of money is spent on product awareness — that’s the music biz. What is on the album takes back seat to the mysticism or hype built on what you think is going to be on the album. You already know what to think and feel, before hearing a note. That is marketing.

If done well, the potential audience will be worked into a frenzy. So let’s get accountable for our actions: instead of pointless, complain-ey blog posts, why not get our mom-and-dad brains into the game? The question should be: Are your kids getting caught up in marketing? Do they know what marketing is? Do you know what marketing is? Do you understand the intersection of marketing and the arts?

Few people, including most people who work in the music biz, care to understand this concept. They willfully ignore it, and gleefully get caught up in it. And, so, our kids follow suit. New Arcade Fire anyone? Gawd, white people — adults, even — are SO PUMPED about their new album. It’s exhausting.

So when my 8-year-old daughter decides her favourite singer is Katy Perry, what do I do? Is Ms. Perry a suitable role model, considering the mainstream options? Is anybody? Or is this an opportunity to impose my jaded, post-feminist, post-indie rock opinion?

In my mind, my daughter must make her own decisions. If I listened to my parents, I would only like Kenny Rogers and 80’s Tina Turner. Our kids must create themselves for themselves. Our job is to give them a loose set of rules, parameters inside which to make good and positive decisions. When my kid asks to listen to “the radio” in the car — which inevitably means Top 40 dance pop stuff — I abide. We listen. I tell her to listen for the sidechain compression, the auto-tuned vocals, the recurring use of beats and fills, arrangement structures that are copied form song to song. I want her to listen with her brain, unhindered by any marketing message.

Point being, life is a perpetual learning experience to be enjoyed. This is the main lesson I teach my children, and happens to be my prime directive. Most music, yes, is shit. Katy Perry balances on the razor’s edge of being a mega-YOLO-slut (ever listen to the lyrics to “Last Friday Night“?) and being a young, powerful, inspiring woman with an incredible voice. RAZOR’S EDGE, PEOPLE.

So sure, we’ll watch the “Roar” video on YouTube together. We did that with “Gangnam Style,” too. Trendy music will ebb and flow, but it’s those times when we’re walking home from school and my daughter is humming “Ring My Bell” by Blood Sisters that I feel a tinge of redemption.

This entry also appears on HuffingtonPost.ca

Where Have I Been?

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I’ve been a little incommunicado lately, due mostly to the addition of a son to our family. As you’ve probably read somewhere, Murray and I welcomed Apollo into this world on Oct 31 and therefore blogging has taken a backseat to many other things. I will be back in the new year, but in the meanwhile have a happy holidays.

Pop Culture + Kids + Aging Hipster Mom = ???

I am now in the twilight of my second pregnancy: with less than two weeks to go and the baby already “in position,” I’m finding I have to force myself to focus on the marathon I’m about to run. Labour is similar to just that — running a marathon — it is mentally and physically exhausting, but the reward at the finish line is like nothing else we, as human beings, will ever experience in our lifetime. This goes for moms and dads.

This being our second child, I feel more confident than I did the first time around. And while this confidence still comes with its own hesitations, I guess I am more relaxed knowing how the whole labour thing is generally going to go down. I pulled up my previous birth plan and whittled it down to the “best of,” a half-page of point-form notes detailing my personal list of dos and don’ts for whoever is staffing the maternity ward that day.

As I was working on the plan, I decided to consult the Internets to read about plans for second births. One of the resources I came upon was a blog called TheFeministBreeder.com. The name of the blog was one thing and the advice was fine, but more captivating was the blogger’s bio:

Gina Crosley-Corcoran — writer, doula, childbirth educator, activist, and mother of three littles. Used to play in a famous rock band. Now earning a Master of Public Health in Maternal Child Health.

I mean, “famous rock band?” How could I not Google this? The rabbit hole led me to ’90s femme-grungers Veruca Salt, of whom I was a big follower in my mid-teens. While mommy-blogger Gina was not in the band while I adored them, I was nonetheless fascinated to learn that the band is still kicking around. I watched YouTube videos for Seether and All Hail Me two of their singles from their seminal 1994 American Thighs album.

Thank the heavens that tight, ringy snare sound, which I would vocalise as a tonal schpincks, has gone out of style.

Beyond that, I began thinking about our seven-year-old daughter who can memorize and sing back a song after hearing it once. She comes home from school with all this total musical garbage in her head — stuff her peers are “into” — though I’m sure they don’t know why they like this music other than the fact they must be mainlining the Disney Channel where it’s being marketed aggressively to them. I mean, these kids are in grade two and their parents are buying them head-to-toe Selena Gomez and Hannah Montana apparel. Call me a snob, but yuck.

Do people even listen to music? Following my alternative lifestyle, harsh words for most mainstream music and dangerously “aging hipster” attitude, I mostly think that music is an empty escape for most of the consuming public.

But I digress. I want my daughter to actually listen to music, to hear and appreciate what she is listening to. She is immediately drawn to music with female singers — she likes Feist and Robyn but we rarely listen to music at home so nothing is forced upon her — and for a moment I thought maybe she would like Veruca Salt.

Parenting is an odd, amorphous journey you take with your children. We have to avoid cramming our own nostalgia down their throats and let them discover who they are and the culture that will inevitably inform their identity. So as I shepherd a seven-year-old carefully around the edges of the music industry, I will also welcome a new person, who will grow up hearing me talk crap about music marketing and false-representation in the arts.

Wish me luck.

This post also appears on the HuffingtonPost.ca

GeekMom: Focus on Maths

This morning I came up with the ultimate parenting strategy: instill the force (of nerdiness) within your child. I’ve always wanted to get my daughter into science and math, engaging the everychild’s wonderment of the world. Literally everything that surrounds us contains science content. Everything. I defy you to come up with something (action, item, emotion, thought, colour, food, etc.) that cannot be informed by even a simple nugget of scientific or mathematical knowledge.

Lately around here, our daughter has been obsessed with colours and mixing them to create new colours. I get asked about four times a day: “What does….red and…purple make?” It’s been a serious Pantone challenge, let me tell you. Especially when she gets nuanced, asking for the result of three or four colours combined. Constellations and galaxies are a new one, and bath time has become an exercise in bouyancy vs. surface tension.

As my child enters the public school system this fall, I can’t help think maniacally about all the variables she will encounter, all the things totally beyond my control that will shape her into an inevitably pain-filled teenager: friends, bullies, frenemies, teachers, and the stuffs of learning itself.

I found the catch-all: mathematics. People who are capable at math are like the Vulcans of the Earth. Wikipedia describes Vuclans as a “humanoid species” who “live by reason and logic with no interference from emotion.” And I think: YES. What better interpersonal coping skills than pure logic? Math and even basic principles of physics both lay this groundwork down, with the idea that there are fundamentals that cannot be questioned. You just don’t mess with logic.

CHILD: “Should I start smoking?”
VULCAN REASONING : “No, that would be harmful to my physical well-being, and thus survival.”

CHILD: “Should I skip class?”
VULCAN REASONING: “That would be against protocol.”

CHILD: “Should I partake in spitballing the bathroom ceiling? All the other kids are doing it and it looks like lots of fun.”
VULCAN REASONING: “This activity poses a scheduling conflict with computer science class.”

Etc, etc. In my schooling years, I had no interest in being cool. I was not cool, though kept a handful of close friends. We would be not cool together. I was in Gifted class in grade school, a place where we went to play Below the Root and solve Logic Problems. In high school I wrote national math competitions (I didn’t stand a change against Ko-Hua Chu, a peer who, rumour has it, stormed out of class for only scoring 99% on a math test). My parents had a Commodore 64 at home, and me and my sister would get with those books that had the pages of BASIC programs you could type in to make your computer do stupid shit. Like repeat a word on the screen until you hit a button, or do math, or load a game on casette tape. That was such a discovery, beyond just spending hours trying to finish that Bruce Lee game.

I’m trying not to make this about me, but about how my childhood could relate to my daughter’s. The other day Murray, Neptune and I were watching our first David Tennant episode of Dr. Who. And even though Neptune said she didn’t like it, she could not take her eyes off the TV for the duration of the episode. I recall my dad watching Dr. Who, and have kept in my memory the quirkiness of the Tom Baker (the best, IMHO), Peter Davison and Colin Baker-era doctors. I must have been around 10 when this was going on. Why did I love it so much? Because it was simply around? What was going on in other people’s houses that made me so predisposed to geekery, and other kids so into, well, clothing?

Therein lay the mysteries of western parenting. Now ask yourself: do you want to raise a Mischa Barton or Bill Gates? There is no wrong answer.