As Britney Spears went bald and crazy and Christina Aguilera aggressively transformed from teen princess to smut queen, the Betty Boop-voiced pop singer Gwen Stefani has become the next pop phenomenon, especially among young girls. But for this summer's concert series, she's sharing the stage with a rapper named Akon -- a man who is earning the reputation for being decidedly unfriendly with young girls.
Video of Akon's simulated rough sex with a girl plucked from the audience during an April concert in Trinidad has become a shocking scandal after repeated viewings of the assault on YouTube. The girl, Danah Alleyne, is 15 years old. A pastor's daughter who sneaked into the adults-only club, Danah was led on stage to participate in a dance contest, but soon became like a "rag doll" in the rapper's clutches as he banged her up and down and around the stage.
Prominent bloggers like Michelle Malkin unleashed a storm of criticism. In a wave of corporate irresponsibility, Akon's label, the Universal Music Group (now part of the NBC entertainment empire), chose to take no action against its artist, but made a "copyright claim," forcing YouTube to take the shocking video off the Internet. Talk radio hosts like Laura Ingraham tried to call the executives of Verizon, the sponsor of the Gwen and Akon concert tour, to ask if this behavior was acceptable. This company chose a very different course of action.
Verizon dropped its tour sponsorship, then also removed Akon music, ringtones and video content from Verizon services. A Verizon TV ad campaign featuring Akon was also nixed. Predictably, this laudable step outraged the sleaze-defending journalists at supposedly respectable newspapers like The New York Times. Jeff Leeds pulled out the usual "chilling effect" language: "The move by Verizon has sent a chill through the ranks of touring pop artists and agents, who are left scratching their heads over their vulnerability to such penalties."
When the Gwen and Akon tour arrived in New York in late May, Times music writer Kelefa Sanneh took the "chilling effect" outrage to a new level. He lamented that concertgoers were victims of a "bait and switch." They had probably seen the Internet video, "the one that depicted" -- depicted! -- "Akon in Trinidad, bumping and grinding and dragging a female fan -- a minor, it turned out -- all over the stage. The one that inspired a loud chorus of 'Harrumph!' from the harrumphers. The one that spooked Verizon so much that it withdrew its sponsorship of this tour."
So the music world has been ruined by "harrumphers," the ones who would cruelly "depict" the reality of Akon's act. That would put The New York Times on record as the newspaper in favor of on-stage simulated rape, without any troublesome "chilling effect" on the mock rapist. Sanneh almost seemed disappointed there wasn't a 15-year-old girl in New York who didn't get the "rag doll" treatment.
Sanneh followed with the predictable note that concertgoers must have found the "new" Akon too tame: "maybe some of these voyeuristic youngsters felt slightly let down by Akon's brief, genial set. No pastor's daughters were harmed during the performance. And he prefaced his one and only curse word with a warning, 'Kids, close your ears.'"
He sounded just like Stefani's agent, Jim Guerinot, who claimed: "Akon has been a perfect gentleman on this tour. His show has at best been a PG show. Children of all ages have been attending. We have had no complaints -- nothing but satisfied people."
Other newspapers were disappointed, too. When the tour hit Boston, Jed Gottlieb complained in the Boston Herald that Akon "pleased the soccer moms" by avoiding the simulated sexual assaults, but now he's not nasty enough: "Nobody is advocating he go the illegal and immoral route, but surely he can figure out some way to make his music seem dangerous, or at least more fun."
But parents ought to pay attention to rappers like Akon and how they sneak into the musical mainstream. For example, Akon's 2005 hit "Lonely," which riffs on the old Bobby Vinton hit "Mr. Lonely," with Vinton's vocal speeded up like a Chipmunk, is still in regular rotation at Radio Disney on broadcast and satellite radio. It's a clean song, but it might easily mislead a parent into thinking Akon's a clean act in general.
But Akon's new album, "Konvicted," also has a hit with the gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg titled "I Wanna Love You." Predictably, that was the edited version. The critic-pleasing "dangerous" version is titled "I Wanna F--- You." But both versions have almost identically explicit sexual lyrics, even if one is more radio-friendly. There is one term that anyone with his eyes on the Internet or ears on his albums would use: Akon's very far from a "perfect gentleman."