The first album I ever bought with my own money was Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time. I was a nine year old girl in Real America, so my preferences were predictable (if not a complete given). As legend has it, the album was released with the ellipsis in the title because Hit Me Baby One More Time was a reference to sexual promiscuity at best and sadomasochism at worst. And while most nine year olds’ comprehension of sadomasochism was limited in those backwards days, it was extremely important that we not be exposed to even a hint of it, so help us Tipper Gore.
I remember catching wind of the Britney controversy through the elementary grapevine, and learning through muffled giggles that it was some sort of reference to sex. I shrugged and moved on with my adolescent life. My friends and I played the album constantly — under the watchful eyes of our mostly conservative parents, of course.
I am not a parent, but I am now a grown up, so perhaps it’s my turn to overanalyze what #kidsthesedays are listening to.
We’ve been indulging in media like it’s our job for as long as we could get away with it; panic over our favorite melodious pastime is unsurprisingly alive and well. Elite nail-biting over the residual effects of music on our toddler brains has a long and amusing history: Before Robin Thicke became the living embodiment of rape culture, we blamed Popeye for window-smashing and the dulcet tones of The Beatles for brutal murders.