Bart Eeckhout is a journalist and former editor-in-chief at De Morgen and father of John John (12) and Missy (9).
Missy nudges you. She hisses, “Daddy, don’t be so loud. Everyone hears you.” The mother standing next to you with her daughter has to laugh. There you are, listening to a DJ playing K3’s ‘Waterval’, awaiting the arrival of the LikeMe gang. You bite your lip and mutter under your breath that our love is a waterfall, a waterfall, hey yé. Oh ye.
Your restrained enthusiasm does not improve your daughter’s mood. However, she was overjoyed when you unfolded your plan that morning: to a live concert of LikeMe with the two of you. While you were making sandwiches the old-fashioned way, she once again set up the Spotify list of her favorite band in preparation. You made it to the third row on the festival square, but here too she threatens to see little or nothing. “You can look on the giant screen”, you try. A new lightning bolt leaves from her eyes. “Then I would have been better off staying at home.”
When the first song of the show breaks loose with ‘Porcelain’, you lift her on the shoulders. She has grown big and heavy, but the suddenly newfound happiness makes her as light as a feather. Her heroes, or rather: heroines, are really there. They really sing. And Missy sings along. “Come on then break me / tear me apart / leave not a chip of me whole / come on hit me / hit me / put the knife to my throat.” “My favorite song,” Missy yells into your ear from above. Your neck cracks and you say, “Just one more and I’ll let you down again.”
There are good reasons to be skeptical about this Ketnet music spectacle. The rather uniform music comes from a box, the stage layer over the act feels made. But at the same time, there is little in this country that runs as smoothly as a LikeMe concert. A square full of children, younger than your daughter, and teenagers, older than your daughter, is completely absorbed in the old Flemish hits, with ‘Caro’ and ‘Emma’ as accessible heroines and with ‘Vince’ as touchable prince charming. They make hearts with their fingers and hold up signs with declarations of love.
You look around and learn about a world that will soon come to you as well. Certainly ‘Caro’ or Pommelien is an icon for adolescent girls because she discovers her own identity openly and with interest. She’s a little L, and a little G, a little B, a little Q, and a little H. Without dogma or slogan, but also without shame.
What you, fresh fifties, are carrying on the train home from this Sunday afternoon out of a thousand is a square full of smiling young women who sing along loudly to ‘Unnormal’, Pommelien’s hit about how she kissed a girl. And you have to think of your contemporaries, who grumble on social media because they no longer understand the youth of today. You realize that they will have a lot to argue, and that it won’t make any difference.