I was standing in line at my neighborhood H&M when Jordin Sparks’ song “No Air” started to play. This wasn’t my first time hearing the song; it was just the first time I took seriously what she was saying. You see, “No Air,” a duet with teen heartthrob Chris Brown, is all about two star-crossed lovers who are afraid of losing each other, for if they do, they will not be able to breathe — hence the “No Air” refrain.
We’ve been here before, though. R. Kelly took us there in the ’90s with his attempt at singing about desperately scary love in “I Can’t Sleep Baby.” Back in the ’90s I thought that was really sweet; now it seems a bit creepy (in R. Kelly’s case) and off-putting.
So in considering Sparks’ ode to being desperately in love, I started to think about the fact that so many young people look up to her and to this music. Many young people take their cues from the music and use it to guide them where it will. Young people are desperately in love with being in love. They rush into it quickly, then rush out and are left with a feeling of hopelessness. Sparks’ song feeds on that type of behavior, and though we’d like to think it’s not that serious, I dare say that it is.
The stickiest part about this is that Sparks is a Christian, whom one would hope would be cautious about the kinds of messages she sends to her listeners. Remember her comments during the MTV Video Music Awards a few months back? After the show’s host, British comedian Russell Brand, lambasted the Jonas Brothers for their virginal image and for wearing purity rings, Sparks came to their defense. “I just have one thing to say about promise rings,” said the 18-year-old singer before presenting an award. “It’s not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody — guy or girl — wants to be a slut.” Cheers rose up through the auditorium, and many of the show’s Christian viewers probably got goose pimples. How often do you get to witness a Christian artist taking a stand for righteousness on one of pop culture’s biggest stages?
So listening to “No Air” again, and hearing Sparks proclaim to her mostly teenage audience that without romantic love they are going to suffocate, suddenly felt a bit disconcerting.
I don’t know how much control Sparks has over the lyrical content of her music (she co-wrote just one song on her debut CD, and it wasn’t “No Air”), but I’d be interested to know what goes through any Christian artist’s mind when she is confronted with the task of singing songs that skirt the line between genuine love and emotional dependency.
I know. Jordin Sparks didn’t sign a deal with Integrity Records. This isn’t church music. No one ever suggested that the American Idol winner’s debut album was supposed to be a “praise and worship” project. So she isn’t obligated to be up in the heavenlies all the time.
And maybe I’m just blowing all of this out of proportion. After all, Sparks is only 18.
Still, I’d personally like to see a moratorium put on songs about suffocating, dying, losing air, losing sleep, starving and other extreme behaviors that R&B singers use to denote losing romantic love. It’s not that deep, people.