'Baby Mama' Spurs Debate over Teen Motherhood American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino is climbing up the R&B charts. One of her songs, "Baby Mama," is a tribute to young, single mothers. But as her popularity grows, critics worry the song is sending the wrong message.
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'Baby Mama' Spurs Debate over Teen Motherhood

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'Baby Mama' Spurs Debate over Teen Motherhood

'Baby Mama' Spurs Debate over Teen Motherhood

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

A popular musician faces criticism for what she's saying about young women having children. Fantasia won the "American Idol" television contest, and her new CD has sold more than a million copies. One of her songs is called "Baby Mama." It's a tribute to young, single mothers, a subject that she knows well since she had a daughter three years ago at the age of 17. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.


"Baby Mama" is slang for the mother of a child born out of wedlock.

(Soundbite from "Baby Mama")

Ms. FANTASIA BARRINO (Singer): (Singing) B-A-B-Y M-A-M-A. This goes out to all my baby mamas. This goes out to all my baby mamas.

BLAIR: The songs become a kind of anthem for young, single moms.

Ms. DEBORAH HARRISON (Single Mother): My name's Deborah Harrison. I'm 19 years old. I have one little daughter right here. She's two.

Ms. ALEXANDRA HARRISON (Single Mother): I'm Alexandra Harrison...

Ms. D. HARRISON: We're sisters.

Ms. A. HARRISON: ...and I'm 22 years old and I have a four-year-old daughter that's turning five in November.

BLAIR: Deborah and Alexandra Harrison, two sisters, both single mothers, are running errands on a busy street in Northwest DC with their little daughters in tow. They love Fantasia's song because they say it's about them.

Ms. D. HARRISON: I think the song helps us out, because I know now that I have her, it's not just me anymore. I'm very happy she got it out for us.

(Soundbite from "Baby Mama")

Ms. BARRINO: (Singing) And all my girls who don't get no help who gotta do everything by yourself, remember: What don't kill you can only make you stronger, my baby mama.

BLAIR: It's no wonder this catchy song is popular. But for some, it sends the wrong message. Donna Britt, a columnist for The Washington Post, has written twice about the song.

Ms. DONNA BRITT (The Washington Post): Anything that would seem to encourage girls who aren't ready to have babies to become mothers is going to be a point of huge contention.

BLAIR: Donna Britt and others are particularly bothered by this line in Fantasia's song.

(Soundbite from "Baby Mama")

Ms. BARRINO: (Singing) ...so long cuz now-a-days it's like a badge of honor to be a baby mama.

Ms. BRENDA MILLER (Executive Director, DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy): `'Cuz now-a-days it's like a badge of honor to be a baby mama.' Well, to whom?

BLIAR: Brenda Miller is executive director of the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. She says teens that become single parents are much less likely to finish high school, and their own children are more likely to repeat the pattern.

Ms. MILLER: Kids do better with two parents, they do better in stable situations, they do better in homes where there aren't the kind of pressures that there will be if you don't have a good education, you don't have adequate employment, you don't have the resources and supports you need.

BLAIR: At the same time, both Brenda Miller and Donna Britt see the need to support teen mothers because they know these girls' lives are tough. Donna Britt says she even relates to the song. She became a single mother at age 28 when she got divorced. She knows what it means to wait for a support check.

(Soundbite from "Baby Mama")

Ms. BARRINO: (Singing) I see you get that support check in the mail. Ya open it and you're like, `What the hell!' You say, `This ain't even half the daycare.' Saying to yourself, `This shit ain't fair.'

Ms. BRITT: I absolutely related to that line about waiting for the support check that I was supposed to get. You don't have to be a, quote, "baby mama." You don't have to be a teen-ager, you don't have to be someone in dire straits to relate to this song. It's about the difficulty of raising a child on your own.

BLAIR: For her part, Fantasia Barrino says in no way is the song meant to encourage teen-agers to have sex. She knows all too well the consequences. Fantasia grew up in High Point, North Carolina. She and her brother nicknamed her community "The Land of No Hope," because she says she and her friends found few outlets for their talents. She, herself, dropped out of high school in ninth grade. She got into singing through her family's gospel group and was often invited to perform at social events. That stopped when she got pregnant.

Ms. BARRINO: Everybody was so disappointed in me. You know, at the time, I felt like, you know, this child is all I have.

BLAIR: Fantasia tried out for "American Idol" in Atlanta and got a spot on the show. When she won the title and landed a record deal, she wanted a song that would give some encouragement to other single moms.

Ms. BARRINO: I wanted to shout them out and say, `Look, I salute you for going to school, getting off at work, going home, taking care of those kids, cooking and cleaning.' You know, it gets heavy, it gets crazy, especially when a man walks off and say, `Look, I can't do it. You do it. I've got to go.'

(Singing) I see ya payin' ya bills, I see ya workin' ya job, I see ya goin' to school, and, girl, I know it's hard. And even though ya fed up with makin' beds up, girl, keep your head up.

BLAIR: Fantasia says now she's able to give her daughter things most young single mothers can't. She bought a house in Charlotte, North Carolina. She's working on getting her GED and she started a college fund for her daughter. She's also using her popularity to speak to at-risk youth. She tells them to think hard before having a baby.

Ms. BARRINO: It looks cute, but it messes up a lot of lives. Only fateful few come out. Some of them never make it.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR news.

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