Home & Leisure

Commentary: Olivia Rodrigo's concerts are not kid-friendly? Don't act surprised

Jessica Karl, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Parenting News

When Olivia Rodrigo sings, “seeing you tonight, it’s a bad idea, right?” she’s referring to an ex-boyfriend. But parents taking their 9-year-old to her concerts might want to ask themselves the same question.

For months, elementary school-aged children have been begging their moms and dads for a chance to see Rodrigo perform at her Guts World Tour. Many adults have acquiesced, despite U.S. tickets averaging around $200 — a steep price for a grownup, much less a child. But now that her tour has begun, some parents are up in arms over the fact that her concert is not as kid-friendly as they anticipated.

The situation mirrors the familiar Disney child star trap that ensnared Miley Cyrus and others who have come of age in the public eye, much to the dismay of viewers. But it also highlights a concerning trend that’s become more pronounced after COVID-19 lockdowns: The rite of passage of attending a concert is happening at a younger age. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both wanting to create memories with kids because life has proven to be too short and the “pandemic skip” — which has warped many people’s sense of time and age — that is making parents overlook the potential harms of allowing their child attend concerts so early.

And with the supernatural rise of Taylor Swift, parents have grown accustomed to bringing their children to The Eras Tour, a concert where friendship bracelets and amicable chants are a way of life. But let’s not pretend that’s the norm. The parental backlash against Rodrigo and her hip-thrusting, chest-grabbing, bra-flashing choreography serves as a reminder that most concerts are not intended for young children — even if the evolution of concert culture makes them seem more like a family-friendly event.

Rodrigo’s departure from the Disney+ universe of High School Musical should be obvious to even the most casual observers of her work. In 2021, she released her debut studio album, Sour, which had a parental advisory warning for six explicit songs, including her breakout hit drivers license. In 2023, she released Guts, with the first track being all-american b****. In 2024, she turned the legal drinking age in the U.S. and started selling shot glasses on her website. She also announced that the proceeds of her tour would go to abortion funds. In what world are the musings and priorities of a 21-year-old going to be 100% suitable for the eyes and ears of a preteen?

Although I have yet to see her concert in full (I’m going in April), it appears to be a sparkly yet carnal display of her true self. It’s clearly not a show that was designed for children. But many parents are still choosing to bring their kids, as illustrated in a viral tweet that alleges a father dumped his crying daughter with a group of strangers:

When Rodrigo rose to stardom, I was amazed by the way in which her songs brought generations together. Her music follows a nostalgic recipe (equal parts Elastica, Avril Lavigne and The Cure) that older millennials eat up. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Matthew Yglesias has readily admitted to blasting it in a car full of 8-year-olds. But enjoying it on the way to school dropoff and listening to it live while watching R-rated visuals are two very different things.

There are plenty of context clues that can help a parent decide whether a live performance is going to be age-appropriate. A good place to start is the opening act. At the Guts World Tour, that’s 26-year-old Chappell Roan. If you take a single glance at the lyrics to her unabashedly gay song Casual, you’d know that she’s a million miles more sexually overt than, say, Taylor Swift.

Now, this isn’t to say that Swift’s songs aren’t mature. There are plenty of swear words in her discography. But a lot of her music is kid-friendly to an extent because you need to read between the lines to understand the few sexual undertones that exist in her songs. Moreover, it’s her artistic choice to create special moments in her concert — such as the 22 hat giveaway — for younger audience members.


Yet one could argue that small children were never meant to see a Swift concert in person either. Not only does she (and her current opener Sabrina Carpenter) use profane versions of songs, the set list is three hours and 15 minutes long — over 27 episodes of "Bluey." To expect a child to sit through that and stay fully engaged is unrealistic. Author Eva Chen’s 8-year-old daughter, for instance, took reading breaks during Swift’s performance and eventually dozed off in her mom’s lap. They left early, to the dismay of fans who were unable to secure tickets.

Even when kids do manage to stay tuned in, they often have no concept of concert etiquette: “Went for Taylor, listened to a 12-year-old scream for 3 hours instead,” said one viral video. “I really wish there would be one night set aside for like 20 plus lol,” a user replied.

Gen Z and Gen Alpha’s experience of going to shows so young stands in stark contrast to that of millennials, many of whom had to wait until their late teens or early twenties to experience the thrill of a live performance, unless it was, maybe, The Wiggles. But why rush that timeline? In all actuality, there’s never been a better time not to go to a concert than now. There are already thousands of snippets of Rodrigo’s new show online. And in Swift’s case, there’s an entire movie. Families can watch these concerts — partially or in full — from the comfort of their own homes, at their own pace.

At the end of the day, a parent is the single best judge of whether a child is capable of handling explicit lyrics and lewd gestures. But they can only come to that determination after doing their research about the concert.

An artist shouldn’t need to tailor their performance for anyone except themselves. It’s their art. If Rodrigo were to censor her lyrics and dances to appease the parental masses, she’d be a traitor — just like the one in her hit song.


(Jessica Karl is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and author of the Bloomberg Opinion Today newsletter.)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus