A few months ago I spent some time at the dentist, specifically to get a crown put on. Going to the dentist has never been an issue for me, as it is with many. I actually kind of like the social interaction (which says a lot about my life – or lack there of). While checking out, I noticed a picture the cashier had of her teenage daughter behind her. We talked about our kids as I reminisced about the time when Alexandria was that age. During the conversation we discussed music (prompted by my iPhone cord dangling off the counter). I asked Jeanette (the cashier) if her daughter listened to Billie Eilish (as seemingly every other teenage girl does) since one of Billie’s huge hits, “Bury a Friend”, prominently features an orthodontist drill as a sound effect. Jeanette said her daughter mentioned wanting to go his concert in Salt Lake City; since her father also lived there.
First Billie is a her, not a him. And second Jeanette was leery about the concert since her daughter was talking about moving there to live with him instead of staying with her in Billings. After I corrected her on the musician’s gender, we talked about the problems she was having with her offspring. She wasn’t connecting with April, and they argued all the time. I suggested to use what was right in front of her – April’s music. The connection Billie Eilish makes with her teenage fan base is extraordinary. She’s their peer, and her lyrics literally spell out what they’re going through themselves as they battle the turmoil of transition in today’s world of adolescence. I told her to reach out, sit down on her bed and listen to Billie’s music together. Let April tell her what songs resonated and what the lyrics meant to her. This window into her psyche could probably be much more insightful than anything gained by coming at her in cross-examination fashion.
I looked forward to the follow-up appointment in six weeks to see how my advice played out.
Once six weeks rolled by I hit the dentist office early and didn’t even wait to check out to talk to Jeanette. I headed straight to the cashiers’ desk in the back. “Well how are things with your daughter?” Her response startled me: “She moved to Salt Lake last weekend to live with her dad.” She said she didn’t have time to sit down with her as I suggested.
Well, I’m sure she has the time now.
Unfortunately this situation is probably not all that uncommon. For some reason, too many parents seem to forget what it was like to be a teenager; and how much music meant at that age. Billie Eilish’s music takes the enunciation of the angst to an even higher level. Her willingness to share her experiences with depression, body dysmorphia disorder, and Tourette’s Syndrome provides young people with a ray of hope; knowing they’re not alone – and that someone as successful as Billie has been through it too. And beyond that … it also gives parents a look into their own children’s lives.
Though our identities are constantly changing, Eilish represents a young woman who is able to identify how she feels, which mirrors her breathtaking music. Her ability to acknowledge her experiences through music is a skill we can all take after, so we may thank her for opening our eyes to self-awareness.
As a music education major, I’ve found Eilish’s persona to be remarkable and contagious. Music has power to be extremely subjective, and every song of Eilish’s holds a capability to be interpreted a million ways, and her fans will always find a way to relate. Ultimately it will encourage us to grow. This is a power within Eilish, and we’re lucky to get a glimpse of her magnificence. (Billie Eilish streams humble identity awareness)
Emo Rap and Emotional Intelligence
And it’s not just Billie. There’s a whole current classification of music put out a lot by mainly male GenZers (like Billie – the age, not the gender) called emo rap. Being emotional in their music isn’t something to be shunned; but rather this vulnerability is their chosen identity. This is so different than the OG rappers and hip hop musicians of the past, when you couldn’t be macho enough. This is who your kids are listening to; Trippy Redd, Lil Pump, XXXtentacion, and Juice Wrld to name a few. Unfortunately the latter two are no longer here: XXX was assassinated in 2018 and Juice died from complications of a seizure last year. The emotion they portrayed in their music was real and gave voice to their struggles – which often don’t have a happy ending. This realism and authenticity resonates with young people so much a year posthumously XXX currently has six songs on Spotify that have streaming numbers of over a half a billion each!
“Emo rap departs from the “traditional” tones found in modern mainstream hip hop in favor of more emotional and personal lyrical content. Lyrics tend to focus on topics such as depression, loneliness, anxiety, drug abuse, nihilism, suicide, heartbreak, and self-medication.” (Wikipedia)
After Juice Wrld died in December at age 21, I did a deep dive into the “world” of emo rap. This music is like a graduate class of case studies on adolescent psychology. Find out which songs your kids identify with; and you have window into their minds – often one clearer than you’d get through a litany of tests, evaluations and therapy executed by professionals – generations removed, and from a time when the societal influences were nothing like our kids are subjected to today. It’s time we use every tool we have to combat the epidemic of teenage mental health decline.
Your kids are growing, not only physically, but also emotionally. A big part of this emotional development is learning how to communicate their feelings and emotions. Many aren’t able to convey what it is they’re going through. This is where music comes in – especially when written by those the same age. Whatever you may think of their music, or even their lifestyles; you can’t take away the fact many are geniuses in peer communication. Success in life, and often survival, depends on one’s ability to process their successes and failures, as well as how to react to them. Our kids are fortunate to have creative peers paving the way to help express the turmoil they are experiencing in this insane world we have given them. The least we can do is help them help themselves. And who knows, maybe we can help ourselves too. But we have to be open to it listening to the messages and look past those carrying them.
Connecting with your kid
A little over ten years ago my daughter told me she was getting a tattoo – a big one. Not that I’m against them, but I have no tattoos. The idea of Alexandria getting one that covered her entire upper left arm made me uneasy. She was eighteen so I really had no say in the matter though. Instead of confronting her with my unfounded personal bias, I set aside my anxiety and became part of the experience; finding out what the tattoo was going to be and what significance it had. Alex’s tattoo was of a phoenix rising from the ashes; done by one of the top artists in Los Angeles. The reasoning behind the phoenix was that it represented her mental state after making it through adolescence where she spent two years during high school – living with me in a tent and a spattering of motels. She had risen above it all; and instead was using this as a reminder of the experience, a totem of strength that she could literally see whenever she needed to. I didn’t need to ask her; “How are you doing?” (assuming I’d even get an accurate answer). She made a $2000 statement loud and clear on her arm. Unfortunately not every parent, actually probably very few, get such blatant answer though. For the whole story check out My Daughter’s Getting a Tattoo.
There was an article that came across my tweet stream on young girls and social media. It stated parents have to be aware of their kids’ state of mind and limit their social media intake (it’s always social media that gets the blame). It doesn’t tell you how to do that though. It doesn’t tell you how to burrow into the depths of the deep dark caverns of your teenager’s mind. That’s up to you to figure out. Selling yourself as a confidant to your kid requires a specific skill. It’s not one that is automatically bestowed upon you at your child’s conception or outlined on the form you have sign saying you have a car seat to take your kid home from the maternity ward. It takes work and unfortunately a lot a painstaking trial and error.
That aside, what an incredible opportunity parents have these days in the form of this articulated music their kids listen to. But how many are taking advantage it? Instead, most just dismiss it and rail on their children for listening to that gangsta rap. And maybe just as important as losing this valuable conduit to connect – you’ll show your kids you are a shallow thinker; quick to dismiss and the antithesis of the critical thinker the world so deeply needs more of.
Is that really the example you want to set?
The Grammys Awards are this Sunday night. Billie Eilish is up for six awards and her collaborator/brother Finneas another five. And they’re favored in many of them. Whether you have teenagers or not, take some time out of your busy schedule, pull up a couch cushion and see what this phenomenon is all about. It might make more of a difference than you know.
Update, February 1: The Grammys came and went. Billie and Finneas won awards in seven separate categories – including every major one. There you go!