Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Teenage Songs

I decided to examine teenager songs for my final project. I focused on songs with the word “teenager” in the title and songs that are aimed at teenagers. In my research for this project, I noticed some common themes in these types of songs and their music videos. These themes include: teenage angst, rebellion/going against the mainstream, depression, isolation/loneliness/not fitting in, and being in love for the first time or finding your teenage love, and in some songs death. My question is, aren’t these just reflections of popular stereotypes about teenagers? If these songs are supposed to help teenagers express themselves or are used as an outlet to let out their emotions, why do they simply just reinforce false stereotypes and dominant ideologies?

I then went on to connect the course readings to some of the songs’ lyrics and music videos. I tried to get a relatively wide array of songs. I chose songs by different artists, from different genres, and from many different decades. This allowed me to see how views on teenagers have changed over the years. It also allowed me to see the different ideas that people have about teenagers. Croteau’s “Media and Ideology” was the first piece that I connected some songs to. Croteau states that:

In essence, the accumulation of media images suggests what is “normal” and what is “deviant”. This articulation is accomplished, in large part, by the fact that popular media, particularly television and mass advertising, have a tendency to display a remarkably narrow range of behaviors and lifestyles, marginalizing or neglecting people who are “different” from the mass-mediated norm.

I found lyrics from five different songs that exemplified Croteau’s argument. These songs include, “Teenagers” My Chemical Romance, “Teenage Frankenstein” Alice Cooper, “I’m Just a Kid” Simple Plan, “High School Never Ends” Bowling for Soup, and “Teenage Dirtbag” Wheatus. The music video for “Teenage Dirtbag” is also highly relevant to Croteau’s piece because of Jason Bigg’s character in it. He is the outcast in the video who desperately wants the unattainable popular girl. He is ostracized and looked down upon because he is different. Dominant ideology does not label him as “normal” so he is marginalized and neglected.

I then chose to analyze a song using Grinner’s SCWAMP framework. Many of the videos and songs that I found could have also been easily dissected using this method but for time purposes I only chose to analyze one, “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry. This song and its video especially fall into the categories that Grinner lays out. Although the lyrics do not blatantly say it, this song is obviously about a heterosexual couple, as exemplified by the music video. Christian comes into play with the Madonna/whore dichotomy that is played out throughout the video. When Katy is near the lockers she is portrayed as almost innocent and pure and then by the end she is seen as “bad” because she has sexual desires. Although there are some people in the video that are of other races, it is predominantly white people. There are no disabled people in the video and everyone in it also falls into the dominant beauty structure of our culture (i.e. thin and pretty/handsome). The first line of the song “You think I’m pretty without any makeup on” implies that normally to look good for a man (and therefore keep him) a woman must wear makeup. Also, while Katy is the one that suggests they “go all the way tonight no regrets just love” the male in the video is extremely dominant in the motel scene. Lastly, property holding is exemplified in the Ray-Ban sunglasses that Katy has on and the convertible that the man is driving.

From Christensen’s piece I quoted, “the secondhand information we receive has often been distorted, shaped by cultural stereotypes, and left incomplete”. I examined four different music videos and was able to find a great number of stereotypical depictions in them. The stereotypes were for teenagers as well as the various high school cliques that are so commonly portrayed in our media. The four videos that I looked at were: “I’m Just a Kid” Simple Plan (the cheerleaders/popular girls and the punks/skaters), “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” Good Charlotte (the goth/emo kids), “High School Never Ends” Bowling for Soup (the jocks/popular boys), and “Teenage Dirtbag” Wheatus (the dorks/geeks/losers).

Lastly, I connected some lyrics and videos with Raby’s “A Tangle of Discourses”. For each discourse I found quotes from the article as well as lyrics and music videos. “Teenage Whore” Hole, “Teenagers” Hayley Williams, “Teenager in Love” Dion & The Belmonts were the three that I connected with the storm discourse.

Becoming was the next discourse that was discussed in the article. I used “The Anthem” Good Charlotte, “Seventeen” Boyd Bennett, “Seventeen” Mandy Moore, and lastly “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” Britney Spears.

For at risk I chose lyrics to Dive’s “Teenage Tragedy” and “Teenagers” My Chemical Romance.

Social problems was the next one and I provided lyrics and videos from “Anthem Part II” Blink-182, “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” Against Me, and “Bad Reputation” Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Lastly came pleasurable consumption for which I linked the video for “Girls & Boys” by Good Charlotte.

Overall my final question was what do teenage songs and music videos teach us about teenagers? I realized that basically all they do is reinforce dominant ideologies, portray stereotypical teenagers and high schools, and they go hand in hand with the television and movie portrayals of what high school is like. Lastly, I believe that what these videos and songs are trying to tell us is that it’s hard to be a teenager (especially if you are one in love)!

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