Every so often, I like to switch the radio in my minivan to a pop or rock station and sing along with whatever is playing, just to impress my teenagers. This isn't difficult, considering how many songs from the 1970s and '80s still populate radio playlists. (Please, someone, recognize that Boston's "More Than a Feeling" was a bad song back in 1976 when it first came out.)
Of course, today's pop songs have only one or two lyrical phrases that you can pick up within seconds, so in the span of a stoplight, you belt the chorus as though you really know it.
You could say it's a little parenting mind game — a parlor trick to dispel the myth that moms are hopelessly uncool.
But I don't do this to flaunt that I'm a middle-aged hipster. Instead, I like to remind my children that I'm paying attention to what's out there.
I won't lie — staying on top of pop culture, especially music and lyrics, gets more difficult as I get older. For one thing, much of it just sounds like noise. Compared with the music from my era, today's songs are the soundtrack to a headache. (Wow. My fingers moved across the keyboard and out came my parents.)
A simple Google search of popular music from my 18th summer recalls "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones, "Three Times a Lady" by the Commodores, and "Boogie Oogie Oogie" by A Taste of Honey. Not exactly classics, but mildly melodic nonetheless.
Fast forward to this summer's notable pop music releases. There's the mind-numbing "Alejandro" by Lady Gaga, depicted in an eight-minute music video that is so laden with graphic sex and blasphemous Christian and Catholic imagery that even MTV.com asked, "Does Lady Gaga's 'Alejandro' video go too far?"
Hmmm … she wears a shiny red nun's habit, swallows a rosary, simulates sex with a dozen or so nearly naked men and ends the video with militaristic marching and what looks like a rape scene. I vote yes, MTV.
I wish Lady Gaga's latest "artistic" effort was the most offensive one we'll see and hear this summer, but that distinction will have to go to the self-styled terrorist sympathizer M.I.A., a native Sri Lankan Tamil known on her British passport as Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam.
Maya has captured the imaginations of a fawning media and the pop music elite, which has allowed her to catapult to superstardom as a singer/songwriter despite the fact that, by her own admission, she's not a musician and doesn't know how to sing.
Never mind those pesky details. Maya is an "artist." Music is just one of many media through which she expresses her cultural and political points of view.
And just what are those? Well, for starters, she is an outspoken apologist for terrorists who employ suicide bombings to kill innocent civilians and advance their ideological pursuits.
You'll be amazed to discover, though, just how jaunty a tune you can produce while singing about such gruesome themes. This summer, with the release of her latest album, "Maya," fans can get out the disco ball and bust a move to "Lovealot" while singing along with these lyrics:
Like a Taliban trucker eatin' boiled-up yucca,
Get my eyes done like I'm in a black burqa,
Been through s--t, yeah it's a f---a',
But now I make tunes, say shuck-a-lucka-lucka.
I fight the ones that fight me.
I really love a lot, I really love a lot.
I really love a lot, I really love a lot.
Clever artist that she is, Maya drops the letter "t" at the end of the words "a lot," as Britons often do, so that the chorus sounds just like "I really love Allah."
Such a great follow-up to her ironic (and nauseatingly violent) "Born Free," whose music video features a paramilitary unit wearing American flag badges chasing a busload of redheaded boys and young men across a desert and ultimately killing them.
You can watch that video on YouTube.com, and you should, because your teenager probably already has.
Rocketing to success in only six years, Maya's fame and fortune have produced predictable results. She's engaged to an American millionaire, Seagram's heir Ben Bronfman, and along with their 1-year-old son, the couple live in the wealthy enclave of Brentwood, Calif., far from the threat of those suicide bombers she so admires.
In our free country, Maya may pollute the culture with deranged drivel such as this.
But savvy parents ought to apply skills of media literacy and talk to their kids about the messages this "artist" freely conveys to the young people who are simply singing along.
• Visit Marybeth Hicks at www.marybethhicks.com.
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