← News Mar 31st 2015

Taylor Swift Raises an Important Issue: Are Pop Stars Illiterate?

Depending on the music they like, we can distinguish two categories of people: those who are fascinated by pop stars, and “serious” music lovers who make real efforts to dislike everything that’s popular. According to the second group of music appreciators, pop music is worthless noise that creates wrong values for the youth. These people are great when it comes to generalizing: pop stars are just party animals with loads of money and no personal values.

The recent “incident” involving Taylor Swift and the Princeton Review sparked an intriguing discussion: are pop stars dumb or are adults too lame to understand the popular trends? The Princeton Review (a service that helps U.S. students prepare for the standardized tests), used the lyrics of Taylor’s song Fifteen to prove to students that pop music is an immense source of bad grammar.

Illiterate stars

Taylor Swift – a Grammar Queen?

The disputable line was “Somebody tells you they love you, you got to believe ‘em.” Taylor Swift responded on her Tumblr profile with a correction: the right lyrics of her song are “Somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them.” The Princeton Review acknowledged the mistake, but they were still standing behind the claim that the sentence was not grammatically correct, since somebody doesn’t match with them.

The issue with them as a gender-neutral form has been debated for ages. In essence, this is not a grammatically wrong form. The Princeton Review apologized to Swift through a tweet, which may have solved the situation, but brings us to a question: have pop stars been falsely accused of being illiterate?

Why Is Our Youth “Illiterate”?

If we take a tour around social media profiles of U.S. teenagers, we will notice a devastating trend: no punctuation, loads of spelling mistakes, and impossible sentence structures. We see loose instead of lose; confusion between there, their and they’re; its instead of it’s and vice versa; weather instead of whether, and many other errors that could have been avoided if these people paid attention to foundational grammar lessons.

Anyone with proper understanding of English language would be offended by these mistakes. Can this lack of literacy be related to pop music?

Taylor Swift’s line is not an appropriate example, but the lyrics of today’s celebrity musicians are not that innocent. The music is not the only factor that deprives young people from proper literacy; the high-speed text language is another reason for misspellings that have become so common that we are getting used to them. The text language has been transferred to Twitter and Facebook, so the social media websites are flooded with bad grammar that pokes our eyes whether we like it or not.

Should we extend the causes beyond music, texting and social media? It seems that the educational system is failing somewhere; and the Princeton Review is a nice example for that. Why was Taylor Swift’s line changed in order to showcase a grammatical error? Why do people assume that pop stars can’t be smart? If this is the way students are being educated today, we cannot expect them to grow into grammar nazis. It seems that The Oatmeal can educate young people better than their teachers.

Today’s students do not receive proper reading instructions and support. The teaching methods have evolved in all other niches, but English curriculums haven’t been properly adapted for the new generation. Unfortunately, the gaps in early reading and writing development translate into lifelong illiteracy.

The conclusion is obvious: we need changes! We cannot blame pop stars for bad grammar. Lyrics are based on speech; not writing. Teachers need to attack at the root of the problem and find the right approach towards today’s students.



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