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Do You Feel What I Hear?

“Turn that racket down!”

Most likely, we all heard that phrase when we were teenagers as our parents shouted it toward our rooms. And surely, we all have, or all will at some point, shout the same desperate pleading toward the bedroom doors of our own children. But these days our primary concern shouldn ?t be on the decibel level, as much as it should be on lyrical content. Now more than ever, we need to pay very close attention to the lyrics of what our children think are “cool jams.”

Do you know what your kids are listening to? If they’re listening to pop radio, and you’re not really paying attention (or can’t understand what they’re saying), then let me enlighten you. These songs are filled with every gross and disgusting slang term for sexual body parts, their functions, and even describe different sex acts. They glorify violence, promiscuity, drunkenness, drug use, brutality against women, and even murder. They use every curse word in the book, and threaten police officers.

Many parents are very aware of this already and are frustrated because they don’t know how to talk to their kids about the music they ?re listening to, without World War III erupting in their living room. Somehow, we have to get our children to understand how horrible most of pop radio music is ?and to help them to change their listening habits.

But this is a very touchy subject with teenagers. And if we’re all honest with ourselves, it was touchy with us as well. People don’t like to hear their favorite song or artist being criticized. So how do we talk about this with our kids in such a way that it affects a change?

First, we must approach it with understanding. Music is something that marks times, places and events in our lives. I ?m sure we’ve all had the experience of hearing a song and immediately being transported back in time. We’re suddenly back in high school, on a date, at a dance, a football game or movie. Some songs make us think of a particular person; a first crush, a parent, a good friend, or someone that hurt us terribly. Maybe we’re being proposed to, dancing at our wedding, or crying at a funeral. Whether the memory is one that we cherish or one we’d rather not recall, that song will take us there no matter what, absolutely, every time, period. So, even if what our kid is listening to is in our opinion, complete junk, we need to remember that to them, it means something. Even if it’s just to fit in with their friends, there’s a reason why they’re listening to it.

Second, when kids tell us that they just “love the music” and aren’t “really listening to the lyrics,” we need to give them the benefit of a doubt. Yes, I’m saying that it’s very possible, and even likely, that they’re telling the truth. Of course, there’s always the kid who knows perfectly well, and in rebellion just doesn’t care or think that it affects him. But more often, our kids are simply oblivious to the content of the songs they’re listening to everyday.

“But how can that be?” you ask.” They’re singing right along! How can they know all the words and not be listening to the lyrics?”

Aha! This is where science comes in! Let’s take a little trip back to high school for a while. Do you remember learning about that “right brain, left brain” thing? Sound a little familiar? It may, but in case you don’t really remember what it’s all about, let me refresh your memory.

The two hemispheres of the brain are responsible for different aspects of thinking.

They each interpret and process different portions of all the data that ?s collected by the brain. There ?s a lot of overlapping that happens, but depending on the format in which data is being presented, there will be a ? hemisphere that is predominately functioning.

The left hemisphere is the analytical, logical, objective part of the brain. So the “left brain” deals with facts, figures, and words. Because it’s analytical, it looks at details, the parts and pieces.

The right hemisphere however, is the intuitive, random and subjective part of the brain. It’s the “right brain” that ?s chiefly over emotions and creativity. Because it ?s subjective, it looks at the whole.

What part of the brain processes music? Aren’t songs creative expressions of thoughts and feelings, written in a poetic form? And isn’t music itself a form of creative expression of thought and feeling?

When words are directly connected to the emotion evoking power of music, the two are processed in the brain as one whole. We’re talking about major “right brain” processing, people!

This has been demonstrated scientifically. When the left brain is sedated, a person cannot speak, but he can sing the words to a song. When the right brain is sedated, the person can no longer sing, but can speak without hesitation.

The famous country singer, Mel Tillis, is an example of the amazing science of the right brain/left brain function. To this day, Mel Tillis can do a two or three hour concert, singing his heart out in front of his fans without a problem. But, he can barely speak a sentence. Mel Tillis stutters. It takes him time and a concerted effort to be able to complete a sentence. But, almost miraculously, the stuttering disappears when he sings, allowing a song to flow from his lips smooth as silk.

Especially with young and still developing minds, songs are often heard as a whole, rather than as words and music. The words are “left brain” data, but it’s the music, that catchy tune, that driving rhythm, that attracts the listener and causes the right brain to do the bulk of data processing. This is especially true with most of pop, rock, and hip/hop music, since lyrics are generally secondary in importance to the music and the groove of the song. (You could replace the words with almost anything and it would still be a hit.) Plus, let ?s not forget that the really popular songs are played over and over again on every radio station in America. Repetition has it ?s effects. The big hits are played on a three or four hour rotation. So a popular song can be heard six or seven times a day on the same radio station, everyday, for months at a time.

Put words, good or bad, to an awesome production of drums, guitars, synthesizers, and a catchy tune, and the lyrics that our kids hear a million times will slip right past the analytical and logical part of the brain, and seep into their heads almost without notice. Yes, even though they’re singing along and know almost every word.

Don’t believe me? Let’s do an experiment. I’m going to tell you to think about a specific and very popular song back in the 80’s. This particular song may not work with everyone since we have a broad range of readers of different ages. But, if you weren’t listening to Dick Clark’s Top 40 Countdown every weekend in 1985, just think of a really popular song from back in your own high school days. You may have to go through a few songs to find one that fits our experiment, but I can almost promise that you will.

So here we go. For 15 weeks, Whitney Houston ?s hit love song Saving All My Love for You ? was in the top 40. It was number one for weeks and eventually won the 1986 Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance. It played (seemingly) a hundred times a day, and all of you 30 and early 40-something females out there probably sang along like I did, every time it played. It was a romantic love song, and we knew every word. Or did we?

A few stolen moments
Is all that we share
You have your family
And they need you there
Though I try to resist
Being last on your list
No other man’s gonna do
So I’m saving all my love for you.

What??? You ?re kidding me!

Nope. Let’s skip a little further.

I’ve got to get ready
Just a few minutes more
Gonna get that old feeling
When you walk through that door
‘Cause tonight is the night
For feeling all right
We’ll be making love the whole night through
So I’m saving all my love for you.


Those disgusting words are bad enough, so I’ll spare you the choice and descriptive word I would use to describe any woman who would even say such wanton filth.

But I said those words! I sang them over and over again with the radio every morning for weeks as I was getting ready for school in front of the bathroom mirror, curling my hair and accidentally burning my forehead. And I’ll bet half of you did, too! (Speaking of the singing not the burning though you probably did that, too!)

How is that possible? How could I know every single, solitary word and have them pass through my lips so often and not realize what I was saying? That’s not a romantic love song! It’s sick!

The music almost works like an anesthetic, numbing the “left brain.” If words are spoken to us, the left brain is predominately engaged. Set those same words to music, and the right brain takes over.

Having a basic understanding of how music and lyrics are processed in the brain, we can approach our children about the problem we have with the songs their listening to in a more effective way, with understanding, rather than skepticism or accusation about whether or not they’re “not listening to the lyrics.” This can make a huge difference in the tone of our conversation, and encourages them to be more open to our counsel.

Since a main obstacle stopping our teens from being cognizant of the vulgarity in so much of popular music, is the actual music itself, separating the lyrics from the synthesizers and drum machines can be a very effective tool in trying to sway them from inappropriate songs. When lyrics are separated from the music and are nothing more than printed words on a page, it ?s much easier to see them for what they really are.

There are several online lyric sites where you can pull up the lyrics to almost any song, simply by typing in the song’s title or the name of the artist who recorded it.

[Editor’s note: The links below contain explicit lyrics.]

So, for example, if you notice your teen listening to the radio this week, singing along to the #1 song in the nation this week on pop radio, Buttons, the #2 song SexyBack, #3 London Bridge, or #5 Give It Up To Me, all songs with vulgar, sexual lyrics, consider printing out the lyrics for him or her to read. Another possibility is to ask your child to write the lyrics down themselves. When they see the lyrics written out, or actually put them on paper themselves with no hypnotic beat to distract, they may very well have the awakening of a lifetime.

Sometimes kids do realize the nature of the lyrics their singing, but don’t believe that they influence them. But research has shown that music affects us in body, mind and spirit; blood pressure, brain-waves, breathing, heart rate, the production of some hormones, pulse, muscle reaction and strength, and comprehension are all affected. Some hospitals use music as a healing tool in newborn intensive care units. The results of studies using music in NBICU ?s demonstrated that music stimulation reduced newborn weight loss, increased formula and caloric intake, increased daily weight gain and reduced the length of their stays in the hospital. In fact, throughout history and in almost every civilization, music has been used to heal.

We also know that music affects us psychologically. Think of the millions of dollars Hollywood spends on the music for film and TV. The music causes us to react emotionally and physically. Can you imagine a scary movie, without the intense music building in the background? Retailers play certain styles of music shown to have the effect of getting you to tarry and loosen your wallet as you shop! Songwriters are paid to come up with the perfect 10 or 15 second jingle for an advertisement a jingle with a catchy tune and rhythm that will get stuck in your head. These companies wouldn’t spend all that money on music if they weren’t sure it would either make you feel something, think something, or do something.

Music has its sociological impact as well. We even use it in church! Before each meeting, prelude is played to induce us into a peaceful, reverent and worshipful mood. At the beginning of meetings, we sing a hymn. This unifies us in thought and purpose as we all join together in song.

A teen may relate more to the “school spirit” that suddenly swells at a pep rally, as the band starts playing the school fight song and all the kids start singing. There’s a purpose for those songs! It rallies everyone’s energy, unifies them, gets them hyped up and puts them in a “conquer the enemy” frame of mind.

Using these examples can help kids to think logically about it, and maybe even help them realize that it’s actually impossible for music not to affect them. When you combine that information with the reality of how vulgar and violent the lyrics much of today’s pop music are, it makes it harder for them to deny that what they hear on radio is affecting them. The point is, it does, whether they can feel it or not, and whether they believe it or not.

One of the most important things, however, when teaching our children to clean up their “musical rooms,” is helping them to replace the garbage with something better. On the other hand, if all you have to offer is an EFY or Janice Kapp Perry CD, then you can probably just forget it. Inspirational and gospel related music is uplifting and beautiful, but no one wants to hear it at a party or the next church dance. And they don’t have to! There’s plenty of fantastic, well written music out there, created by LDS and non-LDS artists alike who are committed to writing clean and positive lyrics in almost every genre.

Now hear this! LDS artists aren’t only writing gospel-related music! They’re writing in every style; rock, pop, hip/hop, techno-pop, alternative, country, you name it. The best place to sample music from the hundreds of LDS writers and performers is LDS Music World. You can select a genre of music, be it pop, rock, country, etc and a list of artists will appear. You can click on their name, listen to a few songs, and find a direct link to their website.

Many of these same artists belong to LDS Musicians, an internet based support group for LDS musicians. Each year, the group produces a CD called LDS Styles, which is a compilation of songs by various members of the group. Several of them are award-winning singers and songwriters. And though some of the songs on the CD are inspirational in nature, many are not. Clips of songs from each CD can be heard at LDS Styles. Most of the artists also have their own websites where more of their music can be heard.

There are also LDS Audio and LDS Music Today, both sites where you can listen to the many LDS artists who are creating music in every genre from inspirational, to country, pop and rock.

Of course, there are artists who are not LDS, but who also are committed to producing only clean and positive music. Many of them are actually contemporary Christian groups that also do secular music, or are groups that don’t necessarily classify their music as “Christian,” but that promote positive and moral messages. A few suggestions are ZOEgirl, Jump5, Superchick, and Switchfoot.

Some of their songs that are overtly Christian may be considered irreverent by Mormon culture ? standards, so some screening may be necessary depending on personal feelings regarding the issue. But they have great songs, with fantastic lyrics and messages.

For good or evil, music is truly a powerful force. A forc, I ?m sure we still don’t fully comprehend. But it’s one I’m eternally grateful for, and something that moves me in ways that nothing else can.

I remember my mother telling me as a child, how she believed that other than the light of Christ, music was the one thing we brought with us from the pre-existence. And I, for one, believe her.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • davidson November 4, 2007, 5:24 pm

    This was excellent! Informative, thoughtful, proactive, and Spirit-directed. Good job. I will use these ideas with my kids.

  • SilverRain November 5, 2007, 4:38 am

    Thanks for this!

  • east-of-eden November 5, 2007, 7:38 am

    Tracy, as always you have written a great essay.

    I remember that Whitney Houston song, and when I relized the lyrics, I was really sad. But, after reading those lyrics, I am really glad to live where I cannot get radio reception and have to rely on my own music collection.

  • momof2 November 5, 2007, 8:23 am

    I must have been a weird kid, because I would actively listen to the lyrics so that I could memorize them in order to sing along more effectively. I wouldn’t listen to songs I found offensive. In fact, that particular song I remember very well, because it bothered me so much that it was about an affair. OTOH, there were lyrics I was innocent enough not to understand, either. Remember, “Hey, Mickey”? I loved that song. It wasn’t until I nostalgically listened to it again a couple of months ago that I realized just what the second verse was referring to. :shamed: Whoops!

    And then there were the songs that I thought were just fine – until the day that I was looking for a tape to give my little sister for her birthday. All of a sudden all my favorite albums just didn’t seem appropriate. They weren’t clean enough for the innocent ears of my baby sister! I wound up giving her a collection of movie theme songs and wasn’t really happy about that, even. (Did you ever even listen to that, Charity?) As I recall, she was, ummm, less than thrilled. :rolling:

  • facethemusic November 5, 2007, 10:10 pm

    I must have been a weird kid, because I would actively listen to the lyrics so that I could memorize them in order to sing along more effectively.

    Actually, that’s not weird at all. I specifically remember playing songs over and over again for the same purpose– rewinding a tape and playing a short clip over and over, trying to figure out what the words were because they were said too fast, or unclearly– but I STILL didn’t get that often, they weren’t appropriate lyrics. I wasn’t trying to figure out what they MEANT, just how they fit into the music so I could sing along.
    Since I put such an emphasis on it now, my kids (8-10-13) are very aware from a young age.
    It’s pretty neat because they can really filter for themselves. They actually LISTEN to the lyrics and pay attention to the meaning.
    It has an extra benefit too. They really enjoy the creative part of the songwriting and are doing some analysis. We’ll be listening to a CD or the radio, and the older two, my son especially, will comment about how well written a song is- how a certain line is really poetic– or is really a metaphor for something else, they talk about near rhyme vs. exact rhyme- they identify the parts of song form, the bridge, the hook line, the chorus, etc. So REALLY listening, and trying to capture the meaning of the words, rather than JUST listening to the song as a whole, is helping them discover the “art” of a song.

  • davidson November 6, 2007, 6:02 am

    Cool! Your kids are lucky to have you for a mom! Wonder what they’ll do and be when they grow up.

  • agardner November 6, 2007, 7:55 am

    Very nice article.

    It’s amazing what we are willing to sing (or listen to) without giving it much thought sometimes – when we would NEVER dare to use that same language in normal conversation.

    A few weeks ago my husband and I were driving and the radio was on, and I found myself singing along to a song from way back when…I knew every word. So I’m singing along and then it hits me what the words are talking about: “She’s just sixteen years old, leave her alone they say…separated by fools, who don’t know what love is yet…”. Then I said to my husband, “Is this song REALLY about an adult man pining over a teenager? Man, I never realized that before”.

    The same could be said for any number of songs that we mindlessly listen to and ingrain into our memories. Sad.

    BTW, I checked out some of those links to the lyrics of songs that are on the charts today, and was amazed.

  • facethemusic November 6, 2007, 8:26 pm

    Good example, agardner. I never understood some of the lyrics to that song. I couldn’t decipher what he was saying. But back then, I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to what they meant, even if I COULD tell what he was saying.
    There are so many songs that I LOVED but I couldn’t tell what they were saying. It was the music and the “sound” of the song that was so captivating. Like “Take On Me” by AHA. I LOVED it, and couldn’t tell half of what the guy was saying.
    I’d be singing along, going

    “Taaake Ooon Meee, Taake Mee Ooon.
    I’llll Bee Goone, blah, blah, Teeeeeeee!”

    Then I thought he was saying
    I’ll be gone– that’s guaranteeeed”

    Then one day I was looking up lyrics and according to most lyric websites the lyrics supposedly are
    “I’ll be gone, in a day or two”

    And I’m like, “”In a day or two????”

    But again– that’s one of the things about pop music– that song could have been saying ANYTHING and it still would have been a hit– it was the music and the overall sound of the song– no one gave a hoot what the words were.

    Then there were the songs with “hidden” meanings, at least hidden to anyone who didn’t know any better. Then we get older and realize what Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” was all about. :shocked:Yikes. I never knew all the lyrics to that one anyway, but it’s amazing to me that even back then, anyone would let a song like that out on the radio, much less play it at a church dance!! But then again– people can’t always tell what the lyrics to a song are– they aren’t necessarily always intelligible. And even when they are, too often, people just aren’t paying attention in the first place.

  • jennycherie November 6, 2007, 9:02 pm

    Posted By: facethemusicThen we get older and realize what Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” was all about.

    okay, I give up. what was that song about? I loved Cyndi Lauper and all her many colors but I can’t say I could ever figure out what she was singing!

  • facethemusic November 7, 2007, 6:09 am

    I was hoping I wouldn’t have to say what it’s about, Jenn! Some people get offended, just by the use of the word. In recent years, when doing interviews she’s been very forthright about it and her ‘music agenda’ so to speak. (Very pro-gay ) So I hoped that anyone who didn’t already know would start singing the song to themselves and figure it out! 🙂
    But since you couldn’t understand what she was saying–( I couldn’t half the time, either) and I can’t help but wonder if she did that intentionally…so let me just put it this way, the song is about “private sexual sin.” At the time, I thought it was about dancing!

  • kiar November 7, 2007, 8:28 am

    very tactfully put!

  • jennycherie November 8, 2007, 9:57 am

    okay! enough said!

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