Culture Parenting

“Despacito”: The Downfall of the Western Dad?

The first time I heard the recent mega hit “Despacito”, I thought I was going to get pregnant.  Even though I am a “dude”, and a rather burly one at that, there was something about the yearning and insistence in Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Beiber’s voices that convinced me that whatever happened in the next 4 or so minutes would be completely against my will (and even biologically possible).

The lyrics, which feature gems like “I want you to show my mouth your favorite places” and “I want to undress you with my kisses, slowly; I sign the walls of your labyrinth; and make your whole body a manuscript”, range from the overtly sexual to the all-out date rapey and, if you are a father to a daughter, may present a conundrum that is all too present in today’s music: How do you reconcile perhaps decent (or catchy) music with godawful lyrics? More importantly, how do you cope with them as a parent?

If we want to find any guidance on the issue, there’s lots of precedent in the annals of pop history. Early rock of the 1950’s was considered the “devil’s music” by many parents and authorities alike for its suggestiveness.  Even the Beatles, whose lyrics seem quaint by today’s standards, could push the envelope (yet with a little more subtlety than in Despacito:  “Baby you can drive my car; And, maybe I’ll love you” (wait, what? How would you getting into my car have anything to do with love? oh, I get it!)).

Turn forward the dial just a bit and I rest my case.  We all knew by the 1980’s that Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” wasn’t exactly about a car, but by the 1970’s, in many instances, you didn’t even have to go past the song title to understand what a song itself was really about: case and point, Kiss’s “Love Gun” and ZZ Top’s “Pearl Necklace” (Hint: keep in mind anyone at the time with a functional radio knew that ZZ top would never make a song just about a necklace).

Some might point to this music and the somewhat inarguable liberalization of social values and norms that’s taken place since the 1960’s and claim that it’s just another sign that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, and, given some of the crazy stuff we’ve seen over the last few years (see e.g., state of politics, opioid epidemic, inner city violence, ISIS… etc..), they would appear to be right.

But I think there’s another way to look at it:  Isn’t our popular music, even at its worst, just an inconvenient byproduct of the principles of freedom and liberty that we hold so dear in this country? A reminder that if a society starts choosing which speech to censor, you’re on a slippery slope where the people deciding what’s permissible to hear one day might not agree with you the next?

And at its best, haven’t we seen the power of music—even if profane or vulgar—to communicate messages that need to be heard by the rest of society?  (How many white suburban kids knew where Compton was on a map before N.W.A., much less how dangerous and in some ways hopeless life was there for young men and women before “Straight Outta Compton” hit the airwaves?)

Even if Despacito doesn’t fulfill these lofty standards, at the very least the fact that it is currently the most streamed song of all time indicates that there is something about it that people want—perhaps the beat, the music, or even the lyrics and maybe just the “right” to have a good time while listening to it–and the importance of song in bringing people together is a plus that can’t be understated.

So, what does this mean for dads?  If we want to live in the society we live in with all its rights and privileges, Despacito is something we have to live with.  It may not make the job of parenting any easier, but when was parenting exactly easy?  Instead, it requires you to step up as a parent and become active in your children’s lives; to take the time to establish a moral foundation and give them the confidence to defend it (via encouraging your kid to take age-appropriate, calculated risks) so that over time they can make some of the hard decisions life will throw at them rather than to just go with the flow.

It means that you may have to make some effort to figuratively curate your daughter’s playlist by monitoring what she is exposed to and then, when she gets to the age where it is no longer reasonable or possible to do so, have some tough conversations with her about subject matter so that when some strange person creeps up on her at that high school/college rager, she knows what to do (i.e., I call this cultivating a “Daddy Yankee defense”).

In sum, I submit that Despacito, no more than The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” (and basically every song by Kiss), is just another catchy attempt to throw off the dad’s game.  It is not the downfall of the Modern Dad. The downfall, rather is uninvolved parenting.  Now if you catch your kid planning to act out the lyrics? That’s a different story!


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