Earlier this year, Rocks Off took a curious delve into the bewildering appeal of today's successful female pop singers. When such artists are aptly and comfortably categorized into a subgenre called "Slutwave," it makes us wonder what affect these entertainers might be having on today's youth, considering the very women who embody Slutwave are believed to be idolized by droves of tweens.
It grew hard for us to believe Katy Perry's whipped-cream-spewing bra doesn't somehow affect already naturally self-doubting 13-year-olds. Once we tracked down a few kids who satisfied our age-ranges (pre-tween, tween, teen), we posed this very question: How much influence do these pop singers have on today's youth?
Abby, who is 8, sits back on the feathery pillows of her family's living-room sofa, as her sun-kissed legs barely dangle from the cushion's end. Her younger brother Jackson plays video games in the next room, while his older sister tells me about her favorite pop singers and shows off her artwork.
"She's a rock star," Abby says, after I show her an image of Disney star-gone-racy pop vixen Miley Cyrus. Though Abby's reasoning for liking Cyrus is mystifying ("She wears a wig!"), the first-grader certainly knows a lot about her.
In one swift motion, she darts from her dainty positioning on the couch and bolts up the stairway, spacily singing the familiar nursery rhyme "K-i-s-s-i-n-g," as she climbs the stairs and disappears into her room. A minute later, she returns, clutching her - what else? - Miley Cyrus doll. (It does look like she's wearing a wig.)
When Rocks Off showed Abby some additional photos, she recognized Lady Gaga instantly, as she often hears her songs "on (her) MP3 player." She recognizes and likes Taylor Swift "because she sings country music" and "likes the way she dresses."
Without notice, Jackson dashes into the room, football in hand, and accusatorily teases his sister about "loving" Justin Bieber. Instantaneously blushing, Abby fervently denies his claim, and changes the subject to songs they've heard on Rock Band.
Abby doesn't recognize the images of Katy Perry, Britney Spears, or Madonna. She moves on to showing me projects she's done in class - paintings of cats, smiling faces, and snowmen - as she ponders the question of what she'd like to be when she grows up.
She gazes at the raindrops streaming down the window, and seems to lose herself, if only for a moment, as she traces a raindrop's path. "Can I... write a book about... me, one day?" she wonders. "I want to be an author when I grow up... except you have to type and do stuff." After careful reconsideration (and a glance in our direction), she adjusts her answer: "I want to be a singer - like Hannah Montana."
Ultimately, and refreshingly, this 8-year-old was wholly unaware of any influence by these singers other than a positive or innocent one.
As we began our interview with 13-year-old Maddy, we noticed a trend: Where one sibling is, the other is not far behind, and wants to be interviewed too. So with Maddy came the welcome peanut gallery of her 9-year-old sister, Kate.
Maddy dreams of one day becoming a doctor and likes "anything but jazz," enjoys "riding horses, playing basketball and volleyball, and hanging out with friends." When asked whether she liked Miley Cyrus, she quickly proclaimed an emphatic "No." Upon elaboration, she decided the pop singer's "going from Disney to what she is now" is "kind of weird."
Her feelings on Ke(Dollar Sign)ha seem to mirror the majority of the rest of the world's - she's puzzled. "Her music is OK, I guess, but I'm in the middle about her... and I heard she gets her clothes out of the trash!"
While she clearly isn't sold on Ke(Dollar Sign)ha's trash-tastic duds, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are both OK in Maddy's book. Little sister Kate, however, thinks Perry "wears weird clothing" and "looks like a brat."
"I like Katy Perry's music, and I guess the way she dresses is fun," Maddy maintains. "I don't really look at fashion magazines or anything, though."
While Maddy is evidently able to dodge these singers' saturation of pop media, she insists they don't influence her. "I just listen to their music," she explains. "I look up to the girls in my family, I guess, because they're all, like, pretty successful... I don't really want to be like any of [these singers]. I guess I want to just be like myself."
Next up is a minor who has likely pondered the familiar topic of musicians before. 13-year-old Olivia is the singer/guitarist for Chicago-based all-girl band Purple Apple. The eighth-grader, who enjoys snowboarding and playing lacrosse when she's not playing with her band, was eloquently poised as we spoke.
"Artists like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Ke(Dollar Sign)ha aren't my top music choices," she said, collecting her words and visibly attempting to maintain her politeness. "I respect them as musicians and for doing what they love, but they all have the same sound. They're all very pop."
While Olivia doesn't choose to listen to these artists, she hasn't ignored their mainstream presence: "If you watch their concerts, you notice their outfits," she says. "And they are old enough to wear those kinds of clothes, but I suppose a girl my age shouldn't wear that stuff."
But Olivia is clearly wise to the "business," so to speak: "It's all for stage presence and entertainment purposes, I guess."
While she doesn't seem to be personally affected by these entertainers' "revealing but cute" attire, she believes their influence is strong: "Celebrities are a huge influence on kids and teens - the things they do, the way they dress. I'm sure some girls do feel the need to dress like them."
So which female musicians does a precocious 13-year-old admire?
"I like Sheryl Crow and Joan Jett - [Joan] is talented and kind of legendary, and I like the rock image she puts out there."
While Olivia is perhaps more so schooled in music than the average 13-year-old, she listens to a range of age-appropriate artists like Muse, Coldplay, and Snow Patrol. "I also like Local H, the Beatles, Paramore... I've been exposed to a lot of music in my 13 years," she jokes, nearly poking fun at her own cool precociousness.
As avid proponents of women rockers, we're pulling for the continued success of Purple Apple; Olivia is too. But this 13-year-old knows she has options.
"If music is doable, I'd totally like to keep doing this when I grow up," she says. "Otherwise, I'd like to be a surgeon."
Olivia and 17-year-old Ali could probably be BFFs. Ali, who enjoys fencing, writing poetry, hanging out with friends, and "trolling the Internet," didn't hold back on her opinions of today's pop singers. While she names Amy Lee-led Evanescence as her favorite group "because Amy has a great voice and writes her own music," she also appreciates modern pop artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.
"[Perry] has an upbeat personality," Ali says. "She dresses a little inappropriately sometimes, but she's not as bad with that as other singers."
As for Taylor Swift, Ali likes her because "she has a unique style to her music--it's not exactly pop and it's not exactly country... it's kind of in-between." Aware of Swift's considerably more modest style, relative to her counterparts, Ali acknowledges, "She dresses elegant, like she's not trying too hard to look hot."
But Ali puts the brakes on for Ke(Dollar Sign)ha: "She's kind of a poser and a tool," she laughs. "Her pretending to be a slut is just for her 'bad girl' image, and her songs are heavily edited; the singing you hear on the radio is fake!"
Joining Ke(Dollar Sign)ha's bad-company is Miley Cyrus; "At least she can act," Ali credits the ex-Disney star, "But she's coming out of the Disney influence and becoming more risqué, trying to shed that 'pop girl' image... she's trying too hard to act like a 'grown-up,' which to her, means dressing like a slut."
Cyrus' downward spiral reminds Ali of the familiar path of Britney Spears: "I think (Britney) is the perfect example of the danger of being a child star."
While Ali certainly and thoughtfully acknowledges celebrities' media omnipresence, she too claims to be mostly unaffected by their choices.
"I'm sure there is some subconscious influence in the things around me that affect how I dress, but I don't make a conscious effort to dress [like them]," she says. "Most singers today dress very slutty for attention. Most can't do much else besides dance and look good, so it's all for a certain image."
While Ali is quick on the attack, she manages to temper such opinion with compliments where she deems they are deserved: "I respect singers like Amy Lee and Pink because they're 'real' in their work - they don't follow a company image. They're true to themselves."
Ultimately, Rocks Off was amazed not only by the deep thought these young girls put into their responses to our questions, but at their evident overall confidence and awareness that entertainers are just that - people who satisfy entertainment purposes, and are not necessarily there to be personally idolized.
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In other words, these kids are sages. So Katy can keep her flame-throwing brassiere and Ke(Dollar Sign)ha can continue rockin' her dumpster-chic duds because, as it turns out, many of today's youth are impervious to being dumbed down by such superficiality.
If this small handful of girls we spoke with is a general indication of the modern tween consensus, that is.