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Party in the P.R.C.

Bob Kessler | Friday, November 13, 2009

 Recently I took a page out of the playbook of some of my former Spanish teachers by using pop music in an attempt to have a fun activity while teaching my students English. Without giving two thoughts to the apathy that the 16-year-old version of myself had towards listening to Juanes hits like “A Dios le Pido” and “Es Por Ti,” I quickly began the process of making handouts of lyrics with blanks that my students would fill in with words such as “somewhere,” “run,” “prince,” “princess,” and “story” as I played the song on my laptop.

 Last week, I played Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” in each of the four English classes I teach here in China. The students started off not being able to fill in many blanks, but usually by the third or fourth time through the song the blanks were filled with words that were at least close to being correct (although every student strangely thought that “summer air” was “some air”). After going over the answers and writing the words on the board, some of the students even started to quietly sing along as if they were at a party in a girl’s dorm.
 Over the course of three days I heard the lyrics to “Love Story” more times than Grant Schmidt has heard complaints about the lack of benches at Main Circle. Wondering if this was actually a worthwhile educational activity (while knowing that the benches are a complete waste of money), I asked my oldest students if they could tell me what the song was actually about. In an attempt to explain a critical line I knelt to the ground and pretended to pull out a ring (something I hopefully won’t do until I am at least 35 years old) and I came to a sudden and unexpected realization: Taylor Swift has no idea what she is talking about.
 I’m sure she didn’t anticipate her song being used in elaborate marriage proposals by Notre Dame Students, but my problem with “Love Story” is that Ms. Swift can’t possibly know enough about wedding proposals to write a song that has one as its climactic key change. Shouldn’t we demand at least a smidgen of sincerity from the artists and songs that we listen to while getting drunk at The Backer, Finny’s or the basement of a hostel in Xi’An?
 I actually believe that John Denver thinks something about West Virginia is almost heaven and that Garth Brooks actually could have spent last night in the arms of a girl in Louisiana. I think Asher Roth really loves college and that the Black Eyed Peas feel that tonight is going to be a good night. I even think that Miley Cyrus puts her hands up when they play her song and the butterflies fly away, but I do question whether or not Journey stopped believing when Steve Perry left the band.
 Anyways, despite the widely held belief that this has been a great week for Ms. Swift with her excellent job hosting SNL (not that I actually watched) and her apparently historic wins at some sort of Kanye West-less awards show, I can’t help but think that her success has been built on a throne of lies. Of course she is a beautifully talented singer, but winning awards for songs that aren’t truthful is like winning football games with a collection of JUCO talent. These are just things that the Notre Dame community should never endorse.
 Because of this, I believe that we should think twice about purchasing Ms. Swift’s music (even though I personally possess both of her albums) and we should continue to look towards her close friend (at least in the world of “Hannah Montana: The Movie”) Miley Cyrus to create honest drinking songs that we can cherish. 
 “Party in the USA” is one such song. Not only does Ms. Cyrus sing about how nervous she was when she got to L.A., but she also made it clear that she sees Britney Spears as somebody to look up to. This might be troubling to my aunt whose young daughters have both Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana dolls, but it excites me greatly knowing how many ridiculous US Weekly stories are ahead in the life of my favorite 16-year-old singer that has her own Fathead. 
 The irony in all this, if we have learned anything from Ms. Spears, is that by the time Ms. Cyrus (and Ms. Swift as well) actually reach the age when they can legally hear the DJ drop their favorite tunes at a bar like Finny’s or The Backer they will probably have spiraled off the deep end of their careers with drug addictions, bizarre marriages, custody battles, and shaved heads.  
So I guess all I’m saying is let’s enjoy them while we can.
 Bob Kessler is a 2009 graduate currently teaching English in China. He writes Things Notre Dame Students Like, and you can read more of his work including his thoughts on Jon Gruden at http://www.the17thgrade.com
 He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.