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Open Letter to Usher

Dear Usher,

I recently heard you on Los Angeles’ 92.3 iHeart radio talking about your latest song, “I Don’t Mind,” and I felt compelled to write you. In the interview, you said your hit song is not about encouraging women to become exotic dancers.

Okay, but here’s the funny thing. That track is singlehandedly responsible for the half-dozen or so talks about “poles” and “dancing” that I’ve had with my 7- and 9-year-old daughters every time your song comes on the radio. Which is a lot.

The melodic beat, combined with your soulful voice, caught us all off guard the first time we heard “I Don’t Mind.” It goes down easy, and it’s catchy. And then the lyrics:

Shawty, I don’t mind If you dance on a pole

That don’t make you a ho

Shawty, I don’t mind when you work until 3

If you’re leaving with me

Go make that money, money, money

Your money, money, money

Cause I know how it is, go and handle your biz

And get that money, money, money

Your money, money, money

You can take off your clothes

Long as you coming home, girl, I don’t mind

I quickly changed the station, hoping my girls wouldn’t notice.

Wrong.

They heard every word. And then the questions began to fire.

“Mom, why did you change so fast? I want to hear that song,” my 9-year-old said.

“That song is not for your age, honey.” I replied a little embarrassed.

“I don’t understand. What’s a pole? And why doesn’t the guy mind if she dances on it? Can you turn back?”

“No.”

I paused and took a deep breath.

“A pole is like the one you slide down at the park, but some women dance on them for adult entertainment in clubs.”

“I still don’t understand, Mom” she repeated.

“Can you just give me a break on this one? Because, you know what? I really don’t want you to understand!” I said forcefully.

She was bewildered.

My youngest, picking up on the tension, decided to chime in.

“Am I going to learn how to dance on a pole in my ballet class, Mom?”

In the rearview mirror I could see her crooked smile.

“No,” I said loudly.

During the months following, I drove my daughters to and from school with one finger on the radio, ready to catch the song and change the station as soon as I heard the opening melody. But since “I Don’t Mind” rose up the Billboard charts and stayed in heavy rotation, if I switched from one station, it was undoubtedly playing on another.

What ensued were conversations with my daughters that I wasn’t prepared to have for at least another decade! Conversations about sexism, the objectification of women, career choices, and my dreams for the type of mates my girls would have in their lives.

Finally, I had to turn off the radio altogether.

Which takes me to your BET Honors Award last month, when you spoke about our community’s lack of role models and your awareness that an artist can use his or her voice to make a change.

I totally agree, but am left scratching my head. You do see the irony here, right?

Then you ended your speech with a big smile and the following words: “You haven’t seen anything yet. Stay tuned.”

So, uhm, yeah about that.

With two little girls in tow—girls I hope to keep off the pole, as Chris Rock said—I realize the smartest thing for me to do is tune out.

 

 

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24 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Calida,
    Melina’s our mutual friend and I read this and although I don’t have kids old enough to listen to the lyrics of the music yet I completely agree with your post and I think there just has to be a moment when we can says its just plain stupid. There has got to be more worthwhile things to sing about that still offer escapism and entertainment. Love the blog

    March 24, 2015
    • @Dafina thanks so much. Yes, I am with you!

      March 24, 2015
    • E.P. Savoy #

      I totally agree. Itbseems like artist have sold out to whatever pop opinion has said will sell. They disregard true taste and responsibility in their “music” The lyrics are LAZY AND UNIMAGINATIVE garbage and LAZY people listen tonthem like hand fed sheepnwaitingnfor slaughter.

      March 27, 2015
  2. Jawahn #

    Great way to use your voice… Im going to send my children to you; the way you handle the questions like an expert!!!

    March 24, 2015
  3. Brooke #

    Although my daughter’s are 21 and 15 years old, we still had the same talk as you did with your girls! I totally agree w/ you and I too turn off the song whenever it comes on! I wonder how he would feel if he had daughter’s instead of son’s. Would his lyrics be different or maybe perhaps he wouldn’t have made the song in the first place! IJS

    March 24, 2015
  4. Dr Verda #

    Don’t just love the questions kids ask? Great story. Great time talking with the kids with the radio off. Sometimes, its just you and them. LOL

    March 24, 2015
  5. Totally agree! Sadly, it probably won’t encourage him to be the positive role model that he says we need in our communities.

    March 24, 2015
  6. c_fx #

    Great post Calida!! I was recently channel surfing when I heard that song for the first time a few days ago. Even though my almost 6 year old daughter wasn’t in the car at the time I found myself engaged in a similar (albeit hypothetical) discussion as the one you had with your girls. And all that did was remind me of why I stopped listening to contemporary/urban radio at least 10 years ago.

    March 24, 2015
  7. Dawn #

    Great Letter! I haven’t heard the song but I clearly understand the issues raised.
    Thanks for taking the time to make us aware. Dawn

    March 25, 2015
  8. Jennifer #

    There are not very many positive portrayals of female entertainers in the media. I think it’s OK for an entertainer to say that female entertsiners are worthy of respect, love and healthy relationships. I also have a daughter who is 10. I think this would be a better angle to take in the discussion.

    March 25, 2015
  9. Thank u 4 this!!!! I could not agree more. The madness has to stop! Please check out my remix to “I Don’t Mind” here…it is CLEAN and POSITIVE and must be heard and spread to this generation: https://soundcloud.com/girljahb/i-dont-mind-the-remix-cover

    March 25, 2015
  10. DavidC #

    Take a listen to Take Me to Church and explain why not to 11 yr old granddaughter!

    March 25, 2015
  11. I happen to stumble upon that song, I didn’t know it was him. I really do not know any man who would respect his wife, g/f or significant other if they danced on a pole, in the way he describes..IJS. But I have two daughters under the age of 6. For this reason, I usually have CDs playing in the car. Usually ebooks, seminars, Gospel/Christian Music or radio theater (Whits end)..Music today has gone down hill. I can appreciate creativity…but this takes the cake..its not real (rant over).. I love the way you handled it, thank you for sharing, knowing that there are moms out there doing the right thing is a blessing and encouraging 🙂

    March 26, 2015
  12. Hey Calida,
    I am so not ok with this song! Unfortunately it is so upbeat and easily contagious, I’ve heard some preschoolers singing it. Not OK! Really Usher! We can no longer depend on music to deliver meaningful messages as in the past. The majority of music is purely for entertainment and depending on listening audience, removal from playlist and discussion. Welcome to the new era of sound. 😦 Loved your post Calida, as always relevant, meaningful and purposeful!

    March 26, 2015
  13. Reblogged this on dmariesings.

    March 26, 2015
  14. brownmediamama #

    Thats fun Usher thought that meanwhile I am only thinking about pole dancing when I hear it and all you see are post of people in Pole class going viral with his song in the background.

    March 26, 2015
  15. Angie #

    Ha! Thank you for writing to him. I didn’t think
    to do that. I had the same scenario, but the
    In depth discussion was with Joel. All of the
    Same topics were discussed, career choices
    adult entertainment, objectification of women, and why he SHOULD mind in the future as a man looking for a mate. I hate the message of the song but admit it catches you off guard with how smooth it goes down. I too was guarding the stations. Now I just plug in my iPhone with a pre approved playlist. We always have to stay on our toes! Can a Mom get a break, smh…..

    March 26, 2015
  16. so perfect! i agree with every word you wrote…i hope this makes it to usher. it’s so sad to see how entertainers, with SO much influence and reach, choose not to use their voice to empower and send out positive messages.

    March 26, 2015
  17. Sonya K #

    Because of songs like this I don’t even listen to the radio with my kids. We usually listen to one of their kid friendly cds. Right now they are still young at 7 and 3. So I know they will want to listen to more adult music in the future. I’m not looking forward to explaining music on the radio.

    March 26, 2015
  18. Billie #

    By and large a lot of today’s music isn’t little kid friendly. As a mother of a 4 and 6 year old, I find myself not even listening to mainstream “urban” radio when it dawned on me some of the lyrics and how they were picking them up. And my kids love(d) Tuesday until inexplicably I heard them auto mute curse words (not sure if they couldn’t make them out and just didn’t recognize them) As a trap music lover myself, I’ve had to learn to turn the dial down and go to music via Pandora when I’m with kids. And then when they’re gone “I be trapping” again (lol). I’m not sheltering them immensely just delaying the exposure until proper maturation.

    March 27, 2015
  19. Dot #

    every time I hear it I think “Liar!” What self respecting man doesn’t have a problem with his woman showing all her goodies for money??? I love Usher, but this song is defiantly a contradiction to human nauture…. and I personally wouldn’t want a man if he was ok with me being a stripper…. ijs

    March 27, 2015
  20. Thank you! Someone had to say it and you said it very well. I, too, have an impressionable 9-year old daughter who love music and lyrics. We must protect our girls and help them reach for the stars (not the poles)!

    June 25, 2015

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