Hand Out the Role Model Card Wisely
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American rapper, singer, and songwriter Lil Nas X has been trending on social media again after he dropped his latest single “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” on March 26. While the outfits in the music video are stunning and the beat is catchy, many are criticizing him for the demonic, sexual imagery in the video.
Many parents assume that Lil Nas X should assume a “role model” title regardless of his target audience. And it is not just him. Many other artists are told to change their public image simply to suit the personal needs of parents. While parents are understandably cautious in what their children are exposed to in the music industry, online shaming from adults can damage an artist’s reputation. The main issue many conservative listeners have with Lil Nas X’s music videos is that he is “corrupting the youth.” On social media platforms, they express their belief that he is connected to the devil and encouraging the youth to embrace Satanism; the relentless backlash strengthened when he released his Satan shoes with Nike. These same accusations have appeared countless times before: he is a role model for children, so he should act better and sing and dance differently.
Similarly, Cardi B’s “WAP” received extreme scrutiny from parents who were critical of the explicit sexual references. The same cries erupted: Cardi B is corrupting the female youth and turning them against their parents. However, Cardi B could not have made it any more transparent about her target audience since the beginning of her career. Therefore, there is no reason to spit on her career choices.
The idea of forcing the role model card onto every celebrity is unfair. As long as celebrities make it clear that their intended audiences are not children, celebrities have the right to explore mature themes, feelings, and experiences. Many traditional-leaning critics argue that there must be standards for the people children look up to, insisting that artists avoid mentioning sexual innuendos regardless of targeted age. They expect artists, especially female ones, to dress modestly, talk appropriately, and act obediently on stage and on social media. However, the majority of performing artists do not cater to children, and many have made that clear.
The same shaming from parents, conservative groups, and older listeners is seen with other artists as well. When Taylor Swift dared to take a more mature approach with songs like “The Man” or “Look What You Made Me Do,” she was shamed for it. All over YouTube, middle-aged men insulted Taylor Swift for her songs and the messages of sexism in the music industry she tries to portray. YouTubers such as StevenCrowder said that she was hurting the feelings of young boys who could watch this video. Ben Shapiro claimed that she was playing the victim of society. The large problem with these criticisms is that they claim that a woman in her position of fame should not spread messages like these. However, she is not trying to teach young men and women a “lesson” about how evil men are. Rather, she is recounting only her own experiences and feelings.
There are other ways for parents to control what their children are exposed to in the music industry. If a certain celebrity is considered a positive role model for children, then parents should try to be that role model. While parents have the right to be cautious, there are possible consequences if they cross the line by shaming celebrities. The child may lose trust and respect for their parents or idolize the celebrity. An alternative for parents is to specifically show children content geared toward their age group. If the children are adolescents, parents should open up conversation with them. Shaming celebrities is only an overprotective and toxic behavior.
Parents must understand that handling their kids is not, and never will be, a celebrity’s responsibility. Performers are not obliged to hide away their creative ideas for children they do not know. If artists want to make raunchy music that reflects who they are, as long as they make it clear who their target audiences are, let them do so. The vicious attacks on social media are not warranted, nor are they acceptable.