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‘The song for my daughter’s school dance show has sexually explicit lyrics – do I tell her teacher?’

Dear Richard,

I’m a British-born mother living in a smallish town in Saxony. My daughter is at grundschule, the German equivalent of primary school; she has lived here since babyhood and, while I do speak to her in English, her main language is German. Her class is planning a big show for the beginning of next term, and I went in to see a rehearsal last week, only to discover that one of the big song and dance numbers the children are doing is an overtly sexual American R&B hit of a couple of years ago.

It is clear to me that the song’s more explicit lyrics are not fully understood by the kids, parents or teachers – or I certainly hope they aren’t. English is very little understood here. My question is – does it matter, if I am the only person who notices? I don’t want to be a prüde or gschaftlhuber (busybody) – and perhaps I am just out of touch and the song is affirmative and feminist, rather than what my mother would have called tarty. I’d welcome your view!

— Jane, via email

Dear Jane,

I wish you’d told me what this song is! It would have been much easier to advise you if I could have had a look at the lyrics myself. And on that question of full disclosure – can I ask all my correspondents here not to be backward about coming forward with details? (Obviously you’ll have anonymity if you request it, and if there’s something deeply inappropriate, we can always leave it out. You can trust my and my team’s discretion.)

Right, Jane, back to your predicament. For a start, I don’t think there’s much you can do to change anything now. If this song is one of the school concert’s big-production numbers, they’re not going to drop it at this late stage just because you have some vague doubts about it (although of course, you can always withdraw your daughter from the performance if you feel that strongly).

You yourself say that the song may be ‘affirmative and feminist’ rather than ‘tarty’ (to quote your dear departed mum) so there’s obviously some room for doubt. Perhaps the lyrics are somewhat crude, but that’s likely to be more of a subjective than an objective judgment. And if it was a hit and received mainstream airplay, it can’t be all that bad.

You say that English isn’t particularly well understood in your part of Germany, but the language of pop culture is pretty much universal. I’d be amazed if at least some of the staff/parents weren’t aware of the meaning of the lyrics, even if they maybe aren’t in a position to gauge how explicit they are.

My view? Overall? It’s just a pop song. Lots of hits contain surprisingly explicit lyrics, which go over most people’s heads. And it’s instructive to look back on what’s been banned in the past – Lola by The Kinks, Wake Up Little Susie by The Everly Brothers, A Day in the Life by The Beatles… the list goes on.

So let it be, Jane. Don’t intervene. Or as Frankie Goes to Hollywood might urge you – relax, don’t do it. 

You can find more of Richard Madeley’s advice here or submit your own dilemma below.

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