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When Prejudice Enters Preschool–What’s the big deal about Severina?

by Laura on May 27th, 2013

Who the hot-place is Severina, and why should we care?

This post is gonna knot up some pantyhose (if ya know what I mean).

Severina is a Balkan singer of Croatian ethnicity. Her music has cabaret, rock and pop influences, and has even ventured into the techno-folk area.

I had the gaul to play her most recent pop-ish CD (high quality, non-profane songs with Western-style production values) … at dance class.

Some of you may know that I used to be a dancer. Never on the pole.

Damn, I even have a Master of Fluffy Fine Arts degree in performance and choreography!

First taste of censorship

I started teaching dance when I was 16. It was <> a long time ago. A still-believing Catholic back then, I loved Madonna like any proper teenager. (Still do, although she could lay off the botox, IMO.)

“Like a Prayer” was controversial, but I never saw it as blasphemous. Rather, I thought her depiction of a black Jesus was possibly more historically accurate. Plus I loved when the Jesus statue cried at the end.

So it’s no surprise that I chose to choreograph to “Express Yourself” for my preteen jazz class. In spite of the fact that the song has no cuss words and a great beat, parents complained to the studio owner that the song was inappropriate because of how Madonna views the Catholic Church. Miss Mary Lou told the parents

Madonna doesn’t offend me, and I’m a Catholic. There’s nothing wrong with this song.

She had my back, and I never forgot it. What I learned was that if you give in on every stupid little complaint, you’ll spend all your time worrying what people will think and never get to be creative. Or actually dance.

I’ve been teaching dance at my kids’ preschool here in Serbia for some time. In point of fact, I’m the first parent ever to volunteer to spend more time there.

I do my best to teach them things that they’re interested in–it makes class that much more enjoyable for everyone. So last summer when “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” was all the kids wanted to sing, I choreographed their dance to it. [The sexual subtext of these Portuguese lyrics is a little thick for my taste, but no one understands them.]

Then my better half brought home Severina’s new album, Dobrodošao u klub (Welcome to the Club), and it was clear that my kids already knew the lyrics. I realized I’d found new material for class. I even thought, Wouldn’t it be great to play some Balkan music, sung in the kids’ native language after all the American Top 40 I’d been playing so far? Laura, this is why you shouldn’t think so much.

When we would practice “Uzbuna,” every. single. kid. sang together–it was so fun! They danced the energetic choreography over and over, asking to practice again and again, even as their little bodies were dragging and out-of-breath.

Ohhhh, how little did I know.

Apparently, several parents don’t like Severina, and they don’t want it played at preschool.

I was so confused … I asked my husband, are there cuss words I don’t know in these songs?

Misha: There’s nothing wrong with the album.

Discrimination on the dance floor

“Not liking” Severina is a matter of taste. If you don’t like it, don’t play it at your home. But discriminating against a singer, and censoring her music from preschool? What’s up with that?

“Maybe it’s because she’s Croatian,” one friend guessed.

True, she is Croatian. But it’s not okay to ban a singer in Serbia because she’s not Serbian.


Severina is perceived to be part of the turbo-folk genre of the 1990s, when mafia types got rich while everyone suffered under the sanctions. Okay, here we go. I can see that: resenting those who live high on the hog … but where’s the proof? Also, that was 20 years ago! And besides, what are we teaching our children?


“Severina’s music is perceived as redneck, white trashy.”

First of all, it’s not.

That’s like saying I shouldn’t play (non-profane) Eminem because he used to live in a trailer park.


“She was in a porno.”

Now we’re getting somewhere, but I’ve got news for you, son. I’ve got 99 problems, but Severina ain’t one.

She isn’t a porn star.

In 2004, a sex tape featuring Severina and a married man surfaced. She sued the website that released the tape for damages, saying it was stolen from her. [We don't know who really released it, true, true.]

What’s the problem here?

That she said she was a Catholic and against premarital sex?

That she let some stupid guy film it?

That it got released?

Let’s take it to its logical (and absurd) end. … Barbara Streisand was in actual pornographic movies. So was Sylvester Stallone. Am I not allowed to play Streisand music? What about “Eye of the Tiger”?

Madonna made the movie, Truth or Dare. On purpose. For public consumption. So then, no Madonna, right?

Maybe you’re wondering … what’s the big deal, just don’t play Severina, smile and shut up. Why punish the kids for the adults’ prejudice? This is a new side of “Miss Laura” that we haven’t seen before.

First: It’s about respect.

If I can be entrusted to teach dance and gymnastics–safely with proper technique, then my music choices must be respected and trusted as well. So, if I can’t be trusted, then I won’t teach. It’s very simple.

Second: Where does it end?

I already self-censor–I love Rihanna, but I don’t play the song, “S&M” … because who wants to explain to their five-year old what that stands for?

One last (slightly disturbing) note: Should I not play Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music because Julie Andrews went topless in more than one movie?

*  *  *  *  *

“Human Censored” by Idea go from


From → Expat Mommy

  1. Katie permalink

    One word…ZING!!!

  2. Marija Taraba permalink

    Ok. I will try to explain. WHen my daughter came home ( she is 5) came home from day care one day singing UZBUNA I was in shock!! I realized she is picking up the words from the music that I would never play in our own home. But I did not say anything to her, because I relay do not have logical explanation for 5 y old why Severina music is trash! I can assure you it has nothing to do with her being Croatian or that every single person has seen her do BJ!!! But here in Balkans, Severina does represent sort of something I would not even want to try to listen….

    BUt, she is very popular and I would not mind my girl dancing to this music….

    • Katie permalink


      You said you don't have a logical explanation for a 5 year old why Severina music is trash but it seems like you don't actually have a logical reason for the readers or the author of this post either, all of whom are adults…You are certain it's not her ethnicity (Croatian) or her sexual activities, but rather something that she represents here in the Balkans, something, which you did not explain or define.

      In the end, you said Severina is very popular here, presumably despite her ethnicity, sex tape and that "something" she represents, so simply because of her popularity here you don't mind your daughter dancing to this music…..Sorry, but it's still very unclear what the problem is with this song being played and why some parents feel they have the right to dictate what music Laura can play not because of profane or sexually explicit lyrics, but simply because they don't like they artist.

  3. When Prejudice Enters Preschool–What’s the big deal about Severina? | Laura Dennis Blog Ada

  4. Danica permalink

    It's hard to explain this particular piece of prejudice…

    It's not the puritan prudish US-type of reaction – it's not religious or anti-sex. It's not that Severina is "white trash" – it's not quite social. It's not because she's Croatian – it's not ethnic.

    I suppose that, to most people, she fits in the category of "not quite artistic enough / cheap entertainment" and they would like to see their children "culturally uplifted" at preschool. I guess it's just quasi-snobbish.

    And this snobbishness is founded on serious prejudice. A foreign singer (someone like Madonna, Rihanna, Beyonce) performing the same thing in English would probably be OK. A male Croatian singer (like Gibonni) performing a similar song would probably be OK. Even an older female Croatian singer (Josipa Lisac) would have been preferable. Young domestic females have a tough time being taken seriously as artists of any sort.

    • Jelena permalink

      No, not quasi-snobbish…. And I DO have a problem with Beyonce. Two things: First, there is such a thing as quality even in pop music and I do think that it is my responsibility to educate my child about it. Note the diference between education and censorship. Secondly, as a mother of a 6-year old, I am terrified when I see teens today, all look – alikes, boobs out, bums out, 14 year old struggling on thair high heel platform shoes, out there to get a sugar daddy. I do not want my kid to even contemplate a boob job, or lip enhancing. While on subject – lets not forget anorexia… So, yes, I do worry about who gets to be my daughters role model and I'd rather have her listen to Coldplay tha Rihanna. In Serbia it is even more polarised, what with the "turbofolk" that someone already mentioned. The music is thrash, lyrics shoul not be called lyrics, really, and the way one has fun with it is you go to an "establishment" where there's live performance (half naked woman screaming and howling and her sweaty orkestra), lots of drunken guys braking things or even shooting guns (above everybody's heads, if not too drunk) hanging on to women who try their hardest to be the said performers look alike. So you can see how a Serbian mother wouldn't want that for her child…. Severinas music has more than a trace of turbo folk in it, plus, she does role half naked and pout lipped on beds in her videos… not yet, not for a 6 year old, that kind of stuff glues on to little girls. She needs to build up her character before being exposed to that kind of stuff.

      • Jelena permalink

        That being said (hope I clarified Severina a bit for you), my daughter knows two of her songs by hart and likes Beyonce more than Britney (she never heard either at home) – so what can a parent do? I guess shielding them from everything is out of question, but educating them by example (and smear campaigns I wage on certain young domestic and foreign female and male artists) is all I can do and hope she'll stand her ground when released into the world….

  5. Marija Taraba permalink

    Thank you DAnice!! You explained everything that I failed to do! Severina to me is "not artistic" or well written music… or lyrics…

  6. Well, if it is of any help, my parents were a bit like the parents you describe. For instance, they didn't want me to listen to French pop music (at the time it was Jean-Jacques Goldman) and would have complained if I had listened to his songs at school. It was all about listening to 'proper' music, with 'good' (for them) lyrics and preferably classical music. To them, Jean-Jacques Goldman was trash. As if I was going to become sillier just listening to pop music. I think that it was all about protecting me. I think that they meant well. I really do. That said, with hindsight, it was a very silly attitude!

  7. This is a very complex issue to say the least, given that censorship relies on values. And values in itself could be extremely subjective, especially since societies have become diverse. I cannot imagine living a life where we are perpetually trying to accommodate every single individual around us for fear of offending someone, somewhere, because there will always be someone. Should we allow this to paralyse us? Certainly not. In these cases, I think people should lighten up a bit and try to as themselves what is MOST important to them. As a parent, personally, as long as there is no profanity in the song and my child does not end up doing dance moves that are inappropriate or suggestive, I say go ahead! There is no point doing background checks on every artist there is out there. If we did this, there would probably be no one left in the industry, hehehehe…….

    • Joy — exactly. There would be NO music left! Let's just have dance class in silence!

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  16. Thank you DAnice!! You explained everything that I failed to do! Severina to me is "not artistic" or well written music… or lyrics…

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