- The Child's Place in Pop Music
While scholars have studied the fraught figure of the child musical star (O'Connor; Warwick), the perceived child-likeness of adult pop and rock stars (Alberti; Whiteley), actual children's performance of and interaction with music throughout history and geography (Boynton and Kok; Lury), and music written for a child audience (Askerøi; Bickford; Maloy, "Children's"; Maloy "Why"), few have examined the figure of the child in pop music and its ideological implications. In "The Obvious Child: The Symbolic Use of Childhood in Contemporary Popular Music," Roger Neustadter argues that pop music of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Michael Jackson's "Heal the World," Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All," and Paul Simon's "The Obvious Child," sentimentally and nostalgically celebrates the child as representative of innocence and goodness in spite of the contemporary criticism during the 80s and 90s citing the corruption and disappearance of childhood. Björn Sundmark, too, gestures toward the child in popular music by discussing children's roles and representation in popular music videos and how they are "exploited and 'voiced over' by other generations with stronger 'voices'" (328). Framed by this omission in the fields of childhood studies, popular music studies, and cultural studies more generally, Paul Rekret's book Down with Childhood: Pop Music and the Crisis of Innocence is a welcome and thought-provoking intervention.
Published by Repeater, a para-academic1 press in the UK, Down with Childhood is not peer-reviewed and is meant to reach a wide audience; accordingly, it is shorter and written in a more colloquial style than typical academic monographs. Repeater specializes in topics that engage intellectually, and sometimes polemically, with current events and cultures; the press [End Page 173] produces books that test new ideas with more agility and immediacy than university publication timelines typically allow. Rekret's volume reflects these aspects of para-academic publications, presenting an interesting interdisciplinary argument through a Marxist lens without a thorough literature review or extensive examples. As a whole, his book serves as a starting point for others who might engage in extensive scholarly examinations of the figure of the child in popular music.2
Though Rekret does discuss a few child performers, such as Michael Jackson and Britney Spears, he ultimately focuses on the function of children's voices or themes in music written and performed by adults. In this sense, there are parallels between children's literature criticism and popular music representing children and children's culture. Before entering the analysis of Rekret's book, it is worth reviewing how children's voices have been used within popular music created and performed by adults.
Children's Voices in Popular Music
Children's voices have often appeared in subversive and/or unsettling choruses that mimic playground taunts and chants in popular music since the 1970s: Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and its zombie-like chorus of "we don't need no education/we don't need no thought control"; Suede's "We Are the Pigs" and its chanted coda of "we will watch them burn"; and Hefner's "The Day That Thatcher Dies," with its repurposing of The Wizard of Oz's "ding dong the witch is dead" to accompany Margaret Thatcher's hoped-for demise.3 In these examples, there is an unease around hearing children sing as a collective, uncontrollable mass about rebellion and violence; it is like the aural equivalent of violent scenes in Lord of the Flies and Village of the Damned.4 In the example from Suede, the invocation of riots in British urban streets recalls the unrest and youthful dimension of the Brixton riots in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as those in Toxteth, Handsworth, and Moss Side, with their racial and socio-economic tensions exacerbated by economic recession and police brutality. In Pet Shop Boys's "Suburbia," also based on such riots, the frustration and impotence of being "too old for toys" but too young to have any sense of agency...