You Gots To Grill – Vol. 8
“To Pimp A Butterfly Shrimp”
No shows booked at the moment.
Recently I DJ’d a party for young people for the last time in my career. Going into the event I didn’t intend for it to be the last time I DJ’d a young person’s event, although I’ve been inching closer to the exit for a while now. I’ll walk you through the event that put the nail in the coffin and more importantly, talk a bit about the current state of DJing young people’s events. If you find the information below interesting and/or concerning, feel free to share it, especially with someone who has kids.
Update: I had a hard time finishing the first draft of this article because I couldn’t come up with advice or a proper closing. Then I realized, I don’t have any advice. I don’t have kids and I don’t plan on having kids. There’s no clean ending, this is just a “head’s up” piece.
I’ve been a DJ for almost 15 years and I’ve DJ’d events for kids and young adults for maybe the last 10. This includes opening college football games, DJing high school dances, teaching kids how to DJ and even playing a weird gig for 10 extremely wealthy 5 year olds. For the past 4 years or so, I’ve DJ’d the homecoming dance at a very large, prestigious, expensive not-to-be-named school. How prestigious? At my first gig I was told I wasn’t allowed to take photos because there are kids attending whose parents are diplomats and senators so kidnapping was a concern. How expensive? One year we held the dance in a different gym because the usual gym was being completely redone thanks to generosity from one of the parents. He bought a gymnasium.
Preparing for young people’s events used to be very similar to preparing for club events. Kids wanted to hear what was on the radio from the previous 5 years or so. Slowly over the past several years, my prep included more and more music that was hard to find (songs that are most popular on YouTube, artists that don’t get radio play or chart on iTunes, etc.). To be direct, I was searching for increasingly ratchet rap music from artists that I had never heard of. (I can’t find one concise definition of “ratchet” online to post, hopefully your search is as enjoyable as mine was.) This year I came strapped with all the new requests as usual and an optimism that I would make 800+ kids have a good time.
This is what most of the girls at the dance were wearing as a homecoming dress. The shoes are part of the outfit and the length and tightness of the dress is accurate.
Right before I started, the principal came over to have a chat with me. It went like this…
“You’ve done this before, right?”
“Yep, a few years now.”
“Great. You gotta help me out with something.”
“We’ve been having a problem with the kids grinding on each other. If it gets too crazy, can you switch up the music for me?”
“I appreciate that. I told them at the pep rally that if they can’t keep off each other, I’ll put on the Best of Toby Keith… and there’s nothing wrong with Toby Keith.”
This was the first time I had met the principal in 4 years so I was a bit concerned. 30 minutes in I get into some popular club music and sure enough, everyone is dry-humping everyone else. The principal gives me the “switch it up” signal, I nod and within 20 minutes I increase the tempo from roughly 100 bpm to around 130 bpm. I’m playing pretty fast dance music and within a span of 10 minutes I get yelled at twice by a guy who looks like he coaches football and the principal that I need to “switch it up”. (Dry-humping aka “dancing” has decreased by 0%)
“I thought you were gonna switch it up?”
“I did. I’m trying to play as fast as I can.”
“It’s not working! Do something else. Play a slow song. Play some fun country. Play some ballads! Play 3 slow ballads in a row!”
“Well I don’t play country and playing slow songs is probably going to be the worst thing I could do.”
We continue to have a small shouting match where I try to explain DJing and he tries to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. Finally I gave up caring and played 3 slow, non-dance, non-rap songs in a row so he would leave me alone. If you love “dancing”, you’ll love “slow dancing”. Just find a girl, bend her completely over until her hands touch the ground and grind away. I hope that’s what he envisioned. At one point I was DJing at 160 bpm and guess what the kids were doing? (It rhymes with “schminding” and “dry-schmumping”.)
(I made the following video to better illustrate my point.)
For the next 45 mins or so I did something DJs hate to do, I DJ’d defensively. You basically DJ not for the crowd in front of you to dance and have a good time, you try to get people to not do something through DJing. There’s basically no way to do this without looking like a shitty DJ. A classic example of this is when the racist club owner says something like “It’s getting kinda dark in here, can you switch it up?” aka “I think there’s too many black people having fun, can you play white people shit?”. Or when you’ve got the dance floor so packed that nobody is drinking so the person in charge wants you to suck for a bit so people go to the bar to get a drink. This is a real thing.
“I’d like a hot dog please.”
“Here’s your pizza!”
We’re halfway through the event and the woman who is my normal point of contact at this dance comes over to see if I need anything. I ask if she talked to the principal because he seemed pissed. (I haven’t seen him since the slow songs, the sound guy and I are joking that he’s in his truck drinking a 5th of Jack.)
“Don’t worry about him, he doesn’t get it. This is just how kids dance now no matter what you play. Do your thing.”
I feel relieved. She tells me this all started because a woman complained for an hour at a recent PTA meeting that kids at prom were basically having sex on the dance floor. We discuss the two options for the dance:
1. Make kids dance and have a good time so they come to the dance again
2. Make kids have a bad time and they’ll stay home and try to drink / have sex
I spend the rest of the night going back and forth basically playing 3 songs I know the kids love for every 1 song I know they probably don’t. I avoid all the super aggressive, offensive requests and even tell the kids that the administration is watching me and wouldn’t be upset if I played country music. The kids aren’t happy.
The dance ends and we pack up. The security officer tells me I did a great job and acknowledges that the dancing and music are getting worse every year. He tells us how he had to break up 2 kids “dancing”. The girl was bent over, hands on the floor and when he separated them he realized she wasn’t wearing any underwear. He has a look of mortified disbelief on his face. He’s in his late 50s. I drive home in silence and think about DJing.
How did we get here?
In case you don’t listen to the radio much, let me give you some lyrics from recent popular songs…
How about the fact that one of the top selling female solo artists of all time is named Nicki Minaj. Or that The Weeknd was nominated for a Nickelodeon Teen Choice Award for a song about cocaine (“I Can’t Feel My Face”). Did you ever wonder what it meant to “Superman That Hoe“? I could go on forever.
To prep for a Sweet Sixteen recently, the guest of honor sent me her requests via a Spotify playlist. Upon receiving it, I asked the parent’s what their vision for the party was musically. They told me to play whatever their daughter asked for. I asked if they had seen her Spotify playlist, listened to any of it, etc. Of course they hadn’t. I sent it to them and told them to give it a listen one night when they had some time. I received an email a few days later…
“Oh hell no. This is not going to be the music for the party. We trust you, just do whatever you think is appropriate. And why does my daughter like ratchet hip-hop?”
I wanted to write back “I don’t know, ask her mom.”
I could write a whole other article about parents and music. I could talk about how parent’s don’t play music in the home so they have no influence on their children’s tastes. I could explain about how the iPod let everyone listen to whatever they wanted without sharing any of it with the world and that killed music being at the center of community while simultaneously hiding what kids listen to from parents. Instead I’ll think about the woman who complained for an hour at a PTA meeting about how kids dance and wonder when she takes responsibility as a parent. I picture her in my head as the moms I meet who shop at Forever 21 with their daughters and go to the same concerts, singing but not thinking about or understanding the explicit lyrics.
Instead I’ll just remove myself from the equation and stick to playing music for adults.
P.S. If you’re not mortified yet, here’s an article you might enjoy about kids and cell phones. It was written by a fairly young pro-lifer so it’s kinda preachy but there’s definitely no shortage of studies and articles to scare the shit out of you.