One of the unpleasant truths that one gains from listening to a lot of music as well as a lot of music criticism is that people do not do a good job at understanding the gulf between emoting and lyrics. Growing up as a child, I grew up listening to a lot of adult contemporary music, something I have commented on from time to time . Often I am reminded of why this may not have been a good thing. A great part of what makes it less than desirable is that in adult contemporary music there is often a great gulf between the subject matter of the song and the restrained and understated way the song comes off. That gulf exists because most people are not deeply concerned with lyrics and they listen to music for mood, but for those of us who think of songs as crafted statements whose words are deeply important, this phenomenon is one that causes a great deal of problems when one starts wrestling with the lyrics of music as a child.
A few examples should suffice. The first song that I can remember as my favorite song was released when I was a small child, to the soundtrack of An American Tale, a movie released by Don Bluth about a Jewish mouse and his family seeking a better life in the United States. For a variety of reasons, movies tend to like ballads on their soundtracks, but sometimes they immensely inappropriate. So it was in this case. The movie itself is a touching one, but song itself is about much more mature material, namely the feeling of isolation and the hope that someone loves you across the physical and emotional distance that separates you from the rest of humanity. This is not a feeling that should resonate with a small child–and yet in my case it does. More poignantly, it is one that continues to resonate with me. There are a whole host of songs that have this disconnect between the innocence of what is being portrayed on the screen and the maturity and emotional resonance of the song itself. Take, for example, Celine Dion’s “I’m Alive” from the Stuart Little 2 soundtrack. Here we have a cute movie about a brave mouse, and yet the music is about the way that being filled with love–presumably romantic love–makes one feel alive. Is it appropriate to be encouraging children to think and feel in romantic love? I think it can cause some serious problems and unhappiness when we push children to be adult too quickly.
Nor is this the only sort of darker content that is often neglected because of the inoffensiveness of the music. Growing up as a child listening to adult contemporary music, I heard all kinds of matters being discussed in music that I was able to relate to all too well. When Peter Cetera sang about the heartbreaking effects of the breakdown of his marriage, that was something I could see in the lives of my parents and others I happened to know. Christine McVie’s “Ask Anybody” and Santana featuring Michelle Branch and the Wrecker’s “I’m Feeling You” wrestled with the question of partners in abusive relationships. When as a teenager I listened to songs like “Follow Me,” I wondered why it was that people hummed or sang along to songs that dealt casually and trivially with the question of adultery, something I still take seriously. But perhaps most relevant of all, even when I was young, were the songs that dealt with what may be considered to be mental illness. The music of the Carpenters was full of this sort of deeper emotional undertow, but they were far from alone in it. Songs like “Rainy Days And Mondays Always Get Me Down” was a reminder of my own struggles with depression, something I have wrestled with since my childhood, and “Superstar” was filled with a dark foreboding of obsessive love, something which I have been no stranger to. And even Madonna, in “Love To Tell” and Sting in “Why Should I Cry For You?” wrestled with the question of the damage caused by abusive parent-child relationships.
In general, Adult Contemporary music combines mature themes with a gentle and restrained style. For those who listen to the music alone and think it to be boring, there is a great deal more than meets the ear with this sort of music.
 See, for example: