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July 16, 2012

S**t Singers Sing

It's time for the songs of summer — Nicki Minaj, anyone? But beneath irresistible beats, we examine the latest lyrics that have some of us wondering, WTF?

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We've all been there — at a backyard party chatting with friends and bopping our heads to the music; on a road trip and singing along with the radio — when suddenly you realize what you're actually singing. "I wanna f**k you right now," Rihanna chirps on "Birthday Cake." "F**k who you want and f**k who you like," Nicki Minaj trills on "Starships" to a bouncy beat. Rhapsodizing about more than just sexuality, Minaj also exhorts her girls to get "higher than a motherf***er," booze it up, and blow their cash without giving "two s**ts." Other new music by Rihanna and Minaj's male counterparts — like David Guetta's "Turn Me On," Cobra Starship's "1 Nite," and Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" — also calls on listeners to live, uh, in the moment. While summer holds the promise of strappy sundresses and flirty glances over glasses of sangria, the latest lyrics seem more extreme than fun.

Hip-hop, pop, and indie genres alike have all joined this party and upped the ante. Consider the subtext: While the recession in the early '90s spawned a cynical generation of artists ready to rage against the machine (so much so that one band actually named itself just that), the current financial free fall finds Millennials embracing a live-in-the-now mentality. Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are back in style with a vengeance, possibly as a coping mechanism.

Raunchiness on airwaves, of course, is nothing new. In the '80s, a sexed-up Madonna battled Cyndi Lauper's more innocent positioning; Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" celebrated headboard-banging sex; and Janet Jackson pelvic-thrusted her way to a revamped image. The '90s continued to put female sexual prowess front and center, reaching new heights when Alanis Morissette snarl-sang about blow jobs ("Would she go down on you in a theater?") in "You Oughta Know."

We're not trying to go all Tipper Gore on you, but should listeners support these lyrics by allowing this music to be the soundtracks to their lives? It appears the sonic sexual revolution is here to stay. While we may cringe hearing what comes out of our female artists' mouths, this music may be a process by which women are shedding — and shredding — old cultural boxes. Still, it's hard not to feel conflicted rocking out to Rihanna when we think of her past with Chris Brown.

Pop culture is nothing if not mercurial, and change is already on the forefront: Carly Rae Jepsen's sunny summer track "Call Me Maybe" explores a relationship that could continue after last call. That message may be right on time. But who's to say? While cynical producers scramble to create the next expletive-laced hit, it's worth noting that the steadiest album on the charts has been Adele's soulful, honest 21. After all, party-girl tunes are great for parties, but then there's the rest of your life.

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