The New Mormon Pop: Clean Flicks or Artistry?

I am the lucky mother of a tween. She’s nine years old and, while we share a great number of similarities (like hair color), she is different than me in many ways. Example: For Career Day on Friday she’s dressing up like a pop star/fashion model. When I was in 4th grade the only pop star I could name was Debbie Gibson; I was too busy listening to my dad’s LPs of Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music and, oh yes, Saturday’s Warrior. Thanks to iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and the ubiquitous iPod/mp3 gadgets every kid but mine seems to have my daughter has heard more pop music than I have and, well, there’s been some friction.

Now I like pop music as much as the next mom, but I just have a visceral reaction when I hear my nine-year-old belting out Katy Perry or LMFAO or Niki Minaj. I finally had to draw the line at Pitbull. I’ve been doing my research and trying to find “cool” music that will placate her need for auto-tuned lyrics and techno-dance beats without introducing concepts that simply aren’t appropriate for a little girl–because, despite her protestations, she still is one.

Enter The Piano Guys. Seriously, these dudes have saved us many a music battle. Even my 5 year old and 2 year old request  Pepponi on a regular basis. I listen to their stuff for fun, inspiration, and to plow through writer’s block. (I’m actually kind of a super fan; I commented on their Facebook page and they replied and I totally called all my friends and told them. . .)

Of course, my daughter really wants something she can sing along to. Enter artists like Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole. I don’t want to start any Mormon rumors so I’ll just say this: while the Piano Guys sell through Deseret Book, I have no idea if Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole are Mormon–except that they have that Mormon look and change cuss words and questionable lyrics in all their covers to more saccharine/appropriate options. For example, in Megan Nicole’s version of “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars instead of waking up, doing some P90X and having some “really great sex”, Megan Nicole does P90X and then has some really great CHEX. Cheesy and silly? Yes. But now my daughter can listen to a song and enjoy it and sing it and she and I don’t end up having long and somewhat tricky conversations.

It recently occurred to me, though, that this is like the musical version of Clean Flicks. Now, if you weren’t living in Utah in the late 1990s and early 2000s you probably have no idea who this company is. The short version is this: they took movies that most Mormons wanted to watch but wouldn’t  because of “questionable” content and edited them to fit a “family friendly” standard. This is the company that made it so Neo in The Matrix said things like, “Oh crud” and “Jeepers Creepers.” They were pretty big business for a few years–until they got shut down by a lawsuit filed by the Director’s Guild who claimed they were violating copyright laws. From what I recall of the court case, directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese felt that the CleanFlicks folks were unlawfully trampling and changing their artistic property. They made their movies with “questionable” content because they felt it needed to be there and it was a slap in the face to their artistic integrity to have someone come along and “clean” it up.

So now I’m wondering if these artists like Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole are treading on the same ground. Obviously music copyright works differently and these covers are legal, but what about the aesthetics? Does editing the music so that it is appropriate for my nine year old kill someone’s artistic vision?

For me it’s a moot point. While I don’t mind China Ann McClain, (I love China’s version of Dynamite.) Zendaya, One Direction, and Taylor Swift anything that saves my ears from another Justin Beiber song or a Bella Thorne auto-tune-fest is a gift to me. And, really, the less Katy Perry in my life the better!

What do you think? Do cover songs like this trample the artistic integrity of the original? And, really, is this just a Mormon thing to rewrite pop culture to fit our aesthetics?

And in case you needed it, here’s a favorite of mine from the Piano Guys. Let your inner tween out and bop along!

27 thoughts on “The New Mormon Pop: Clean Flicks or Artistry?”

  1. .

    I think covers are a long established artistic tradition in themselves, and without ANY changes, it’s just designed to confuse the consumer or help a movie producer license something too expensive in the original.

  2. The work of one Weird Al Yankovic comes to mind, although these are parodies and not necessarily covers. Gansta’s Paradise is not exactly up to Mormon standards, but Amish Paradise is. Weird Al is generally respected for his work, so I would say that “Clean Flicks” covers would also be ok.

    I had roommates in college who would change the lyrics to songs while they were singing along with them. One of Avril Levine’s songs featured a “damp, cold night” for example. The rest of us in that apartment thought it was terribly clever, not cheesy. But then, could it be that we are, in our hearts, cheesy and prudish people? I’m willing to accept that.

    There are places where I draw the line at cheesiness; I find a lot of “Mormon” media fairly worthless in terms of cultural value (I won’t give examples for fear of causing offense). But I wouldn’t put “great Chex” in the same category as “Jeepers Creepers.”

  3. Its not just a “Mormon” thing, but a Christian thing to make these kinds of changes to popular media. The difference I would say is most Christians make their own works while Mormons tend to tweek other’s works. Neither of them are very successful in a market that is saturated by the non-religious money powers.

  4. Musical note: I really like the talent of Lindsey Stirling. I also haven’t run into too many problems with Paramore compared to other pop music. Don’t know enough about them, but Muse might be a possible replacement. In fact, I would say get rid of pop music and actually introduce them to more alternative bands and singers. Right now ImagineDragons is gaining popularity.

    The point is, you have the power to change what they listen to because there is choices in music where there isn’t so much in television and movies.

  5. Jettboy:

    I cleaned up the html in your post (which went into moderation because of the number of links in it). I think I got everything right, but if not, let me know what needs fixing.

  6. Th. I think you’re right that covers are their own musical tradition. I haven’t ever thought of it that way, though.

    Beth, my daughter likes a lot of Weird Al and so do I. I laugh every single time I hear “My, my this here Annakin guy may be Vader someday later. . .” How do you draw the line, though, between Jeepers Creepers in the Matrix versus really great Chex? What is the difference?

    JettBoy, I would LOVE to change my 9yo aesthetic preferences but, you know, I think this is just who she is right now. I’m holding out hope that she’ll pick up on some more nuanced forms of cultural consumption as she gets older. Her father and I keep presenting her with other options (none of which are Muse because we don’t like them), but sometimes kids just don’t want to be dictated to! Oh, and we like Lindsey Stirling a lot. I just don’t like violin music as much as I like cello 🙂 I’ve actually never listened to any Paramore, so now you’ve given me something new to research.

  7. We try to skirt the mainstream in favor of the obscure, though we’re not altogether successful. This morning, five of my six kids (our oldest is at college), ages 16 to 4, were all in the car singing at the top of their lungs along to Great Big Sea, a folk-rock band from Newfoundland. It’s rare to find a band that has appeal that broad, I think. I do skip a couple of their bawdier songs, but even those are pretty tame in comparison to a lot of popular stuff.

    Fictionist also works well for our whole household.

    I think those Piano Guys are very talented. The rest of the “Clean Flicks” crew are too vanilla for my taste–but so are the people whose stuff they are covering.

  8. .

    The very term “cover” is a bit misleading. Until recently, there wasn’t a “definitive” version of a song. Songs were passed around and evolved and everyone was assumed to do it their own way. (Example.) Frank Sinatra wasn’t respected because he was an innovative songwriter ala the Beatles but because he was a killer interpreter. Even the Beatles, when they started, were only allowed a couple originals on their albums. What The People Wanted, everyone knew, was terrific interpretations of songs they already knew.

    The Beatles of course are a huge part of the reason we now have a bias toward singer-songwriters’ own versions of their works—or just the first version of a song even if it wasn’t Moriah Carey who wrote it.

    Recording changed everything.

    Though I do think it’s entirely possible to change a piece of art into pablum via cover version, I do NOT think the CleanFlicks comparison is at all the same. IF CleanFlicks adapted their own version of Shindler’s List or sweded their own version of The Matrix, then it’s similar. The CleanFlicks of music is mere bleeping.

  9. Until recently, my daughters haven’t shown much interest in music beyond Taylor Swift. Thanks to Just Dance 4, however, my 6yo now likes P!nk–which falls into the questionable-for-a-child category, I think. We’re hoping she grows out of it–mostly because P!nk’s music would suck even if her lyrics met Stake dance standards.

    Incidentally, the Just Dance games Cleanflicks all the questionable lyrics out of their song–at least they kind of do.

  10. Luisa,

    I had to mull over your comment while I did the dishes (which my two year old has now taken over. . . so I guess I’ll be cleaning the floor as well pretty soon!) and I think you’re right: I prefer the obscure over the popular. But when you’re nine and you just want to fit in, obscure stuff doesn’t cut it. She wants to be able to sing along to the same song as all her friends. I want her to stay young while she’s young (no referencing Ke$ha lyrics allowed here!). That’s why I think the Piano Guys are my favorite. They’re very conscious of what they’re dong and they’re just meta enough. They’re entertaining on a very basic, straightforward level and they’ve got enough tweaks and quirks to point to a higher level of discourse about their musical interpretations. *I* don’t like Megan Nicole or Tyler Ward all that much–although I do prefer Tyler Ward’s Titanium to the original. Ward has some real power in his vocals that David Guetta and Sia are just lacking. But my nine year old does–she can know all the lyrics to the lazy song and stay true to her standards and her parents standards and that’s nice. I like to think of it as giving her two kinds of cultural capital–that of the mainstream and that of the slightly off-kilter-but-funny 🙂

    I had never made the connection about covers and recording like you did. Clearly you are much better versed in the history of music than I am! And I really think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this:
    “Though I do think it’s entirely possible to change a piece of art into pablum via cover version, I do NOT think the CleanFlicks comparison is at all the same. IF CleanFlicks adapted their own version of Shindler’s List or sweded their own version of The Matrix, then it’s similar. The CleanFlicks of music is mere bleeping.” CleanFlicks wasn’t making new art or commenting on art or creating dialogue about art, they were just re-marketing someone else’s stuff.


  11. Scott–
    We’ve had similar issues with P!nk at our house. I like her but I just feel like she too angry for my kids to start listening to her now. They can be angry when they’re older 😉 And that’s good to know about the Just Dance games. We have the Just Dance Disney 4 which includes some of their pop stuff and a lot of their movie stuff, but I’ve been afraid to try the mainstream versions because a lot of the songs just aren’t what I want people in my house listening to over and over again.

    I’ve gotta ask, though, what about the clothes and the dance moves themselves? We have Dance Dance Revolution for the Wii and the outfits and some of the avatar’s were a little scantily clad for my taste (you know I’m pretty prudish, right?) and, I was surprised to discover, the game included quite a few music videos that were not all appropriate.

  12. My 9yo girl and I are having this fight right now, but I’m an utter hypocrite because I liked that bubble-gum crap when I was a kid. Now, after having forced her to tromp through YouTube with me for “better” music than “Gangnam Style,” I have realized that while the lyrics of yore might be as suggestive, they’re less comprehensible without some life experience. Today, the lyrics might be downright nasty but they’re utterly unintelligible. (On the other hand, my parents couldn’t understand what Motley Crue said, either.)

    What my real frustration is is that she’s unwilling to entertain other than That Specific Song she’s fixated on. When I was her age, I still had a vastly eclectic taste in music. It’s my fault, I suppose because I don’t play music when the kids are home. Radios aren’t on. TVs are on low (upstairs). I need quiet to work (unlike when I was a kid). When they go to bed and I pull out whatever novel I’m working on, I put on the headphones and crank music specific to the story I’m working on.

    (Thankfully, my son is musically adventurous and likes complex harmonies and orchestration, e.g., Pomplamoose and 70s funk/soul.)

    So our tromp through YouTube was unproductive and an exercise in frustration for both of us. I mean, if “Thriller” can’t beat “Gangnam Style,” I just don’t know what will.

    Moving along… Sinatra. I adored him when I was a kid. ADORED. It wasn’t until a year ago or so that I realized he can’t sing. Or barely. As compared to some of his contemporaries (Tony Bennett) and new kids on the block (Harry Connick Jr and Michael Buble). Sinatra’s appeal is the smooth bad boy presentation and choppy, tough-guy delivery–which is to say, I’m NOT disagreeing with the notion of interpretation.

  13. Re P!nk. I would trade half my music collection if my kid would take a shine to “Stupid Girls.” That is how dire our situation is right now…

  14. Mojo–Your daughter isn’t a Beib-liever is she?? Gah. I actually like some pop music now and I liked pop music when i was a kid and I’m find with my kid liking pop music and even wanting to be a pop star because, hey, I’m trying to an open-minded parent but I often wonder if at the root of all our musical tussling is the simple fact that she feels the need to be different from me and yet wants the assurance that, deep down, we really are cut from the same cloth. Girl drama! (Which I was never good at as a kid or teenager and I’m only moderately better at now . . .)

  15. I believe she has mentioned Justin Bieber exactly three times in passing. She is unimpressed. So there is that.

    I suspect what’s going on is that she hears these names tossed around at school, wants to know who goes with what song, and then gets very specific about what she likes and what she doesn’t. Here’s a weird example of something she did:

    Dude says to me, “XX wants the latest Flo Rida track ‘I Cry.’ I told her no.” I say, “I have some Flo Rida. I’ll check it out and see what’s up.” Okay, so the track is really rather unoffensive and actually has a good message (if you can understand the words), but it’s ALSO got an undermelody which is a club/electronica remix of an 80s song called “Piano in the Dark” by Brenda Russell, which is a song I already own.

    Well, so XX and I discuss this and after some back and forth, it appears she does NOT like the rap (Flo Rida) part. She likes the sampled remix. I say, “Oh! Okay. Here you go.” She doesn’t like the original Brenda Russell song. I go to see if I can find the remix ALONE, which I do, and she doesn’t like THAT, either.

    She likes exactly one Lady Gaga song, but that was a while back and has apparently forgotten about it. (I have it and played it for her until I got sick of it.) I have played a wide range of songs spanning 60 years and she doesn’t like ANY of it, even the 90s club mixes. (I will say this: she DOES like classical music, but it’s not singable and you can’t dance to it–well, you could, but she doesn’t know how to gavotte.)

    So… I don’t know what’s going on in her head, can’t figure out what it is about any one particular song that catches her ear. Like I say, I think she hears names and songs at school and wants to know what they are, and then turns her nose up at the reality. Except “Gangnam Style.” Talk about unintelligible lyrics…

    The “fight” is to figure out what she likes and, possibly, why.

  16. Whatever Mojo! I was totally willing to go there 🙂 But, as along as we’re chatting: good luck with your 9yo!

  17. Re: Just Dance…

    I don’t know…a lot of the clothes and dance moves are like those you see on TV dance competitions like So You Think You Can Dance. Some dances/songs/outfits are sketchier than others–but others (maybe most) are pretty goofy and hardly anything to worry about regardless of your level of prudery.

  18. .

    For the record, “Gangnam Style” is great. And it does have something to say. The dope just recorded it in a language no one knows.

  19. And yet…you can’t tell. It’s not even sing-a-long-able.

    I’ve always been ambivalent about the song itself. The artist’s comments on killing American troops slowly (maybe understandable in context), along with their women and children (unforgivable), however, made me decidedly UN-ambivalent. I really don’t care to patronize high-profile artists when they hit one of my nerves. That would include Chris Brown for beating the hell out of Rihanna and Rihanna for taking it, going back to him repeatedly, and defending his actions.

  20. *And I say “high-profile” because I don’t pay attention to celebrities and I don’t seek out news of them. So if such reports trickle all the way down to ME, then it’s pretty egregious.

  21. Oh, I’m neither defending nor recommending it. Nor his subsequent comments. I just find it ironic that it is seen as a pop song suitable for kids when it is such a very specific comment aimed at a very specific audience (and language group).

  22. Laura, I get the wanting to fit in thing. My kids 1 through 5 have all struggled with that to a certain degree at one time or another.

    How I’ve tried to combat it is by doing my best to make our family culture as attractive and fun and non-mainstream as possible. Yes, my girls swoon when One Direction comes on. I swooned over Shaun Cassidy and Andy Gibb at their age.

    I just make sure that at home, we’re rocking out to Nickel Creek or scatting with The Boswell Sisters or playing air tympani along with the Brahms Requiem. You CAN beat the pablum through dilution.

  23. Technically you need to get a publishing license to change lyrics and this must be obtained thru the publisher. To do a simple cover of a song you need to pay royalties to the songwriter/composer of the music. You can get detailed info here: My Understanding: So far, no one is making a big deal about youtube covers because youtube is paying royalties on the plays to the performance rights organizations so everyone is happy… so far.

    Ultimately, the “entertainment” industry is shot through with satanism and paganism. That is their business, but anyone that gets too close to a fire can get burned – I would hate to see that happen to these wonderful young artists who seem to be bringing the millenium with them as they go.

  24. I think Peter Hollens fits the bill for much of what you are talking about. Clean cut, collaborates with Lindsay, some say he is Mormon.

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