People (especially my 16-year-old students) ask me all the time what kind of music I listen to. What a harmless question. My answer is usually, "I listen to NPR," because the truth is too embarrassing. While I actually do listen to a lot of NPR in the car, the embarrassing thing is that I like cheesy, sugary, pop music. My Pandora station is set to Justin Timberlake (LOVE HIM), and it yields some Maroon 5, a little John Mayer, Jay Z, Train, Rihanna (um-ber-ella, ella, ella), Timberland, NSYNC, 80s Michael Jackson, and, of course, Britney Spears. Oh, Britney, a not-so-innocent girl who defined a generation.
Deny it if you want, but anyone in my age range (raise your hand if Britney came out when you were in high school or middle school) was influenced in some way by Britney. "Hit Me Baby One More Time" came out right as I learned to drive. Picture me: 16, ponytail, flip flops, minivan, gum popping, "Ooops I Did it Again" blaring. Britney influenced more than just my musical tastes; there was a period of time when I believed it was acceptable to run around with my belly hanging out. Thank goodness that was back before I had any sense or fat on my body.
Here's my theory: Britney caused people of my age range to go in one of two basic directions, musically. Britney lead some of us to accept pop music for what it is and embrace it. However, others rebelled. My friends in college fell mostly into the second category. They searched out different types of music, more talented artists, refusing accept the shallow bubblegum Britney offered. What happened to me? Why didn't their influence lead me down a different path? For a time, my roommate Julie had me on a Led Zeppelin, Allman Brothers kick. I still love them, and I am forever grateful to her for opening that door. But, I always doubted my own musical opinions, and so I accepted Britney's offer. It was less intimidating and less work.
And so I appreciate top 40 radio for what it is. I don't ask it to define the meaning of life, just to entertain me in car. The problem is that pop music eventually makes me feel like I am losing brain cells or morals, so when that happens, I switch to NPR. Intelligence restored.
These days, I find myself hitting my NPR button more frequently. I think a new Britney has emerged, and either I am too old to appreciate her or she just really sucks. No, I'm not talking about Lady Gaga. I actually like it when she pops up on my Pandora station. I am talking about Ke$ha. I hate even typing her name with that stupid dollar symbol. And her ridiculous songs are all over the place. Have you heard that spelling dinosaur song? Or maybe the one about glitter on the floor, everybody take it off? I know she has a lot in common with Britney, especially in the yodeling/Autotuned voice department, but for some reason I can forgive Britney. I just want to tell Ke$ha to take a shower.