On television, a teen drama glamorizes the lives of bad boys and mean girls, revelling in reviews that call it "mind-blowingly inappropriate" and "every parent's nightmare." At an awards program, the honours take second place to a teenager's racy performance. And among today's top ten pop singles, a cursory glance shows three hits labelled "explicit."
At the same time, on a refreshingly different wavelength, high school sophomore Alexis Slifer (16) and college freshman Cammie Hall (18) describe themselves as "a couple of girls who love to sing and rock out for Jesus, spreading the message of God's love." Together they are The Rubyz - an antidote for tweens and teens exposed to the poisonous mainstream, a duo whose youthful wisdom is spot-on throughout its new set, Sound Off.
Following the notable success of a self-titled debut album (Radio Disney airplay, national touring, a surprise UK chart hit), The Rubyz are definitively well-positioned to sound off - to make a distinctive noise that expresses their opinion without fear or hesitation.
"We wanted to say some things more straight up this time, really encouraging younger kids as well as our peers to live for the Lord," says Cammie.
To that end, Sound Off features five highly danceable tunes, all co-written by The Rubyz and deepened by their social and spiritual-minded lyrics. Produced with retro sensibility and a modern edge by Chris Omartian (Hilary Duff) and Kevan Cyka (Everlife), the project also includes fan-friendly, instrumental sing-along tracks for each selection.
"Watch the Girl" opens with a fun electro nod to Eurythmics' 1983 hit "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and compares the girl who leads you with her eyes, whose smile is her disguise to the more confident girl who wouldn't talk smack behind your back.
"That's kind of like our 'look out for the mean girls' song," admits Alexis.
Tackling the topic of dating, "Ladies and Gentlemen" rocks the dance floor as The Rubyz urge listeners not to grow up too fast or depend too heavily on a boyfriend or girlfriend: Don't you know how to be your own? Know what you're worth and never back down.
"It's about how girls and boys should treat each other - like ladies and gentlemen," says Cammie. "Kids can lose sight of God in those relationships - and how the media portrays it is all wrong. We both have a passion for girls having a good head on their shoulders."
Against breezy handclaps and acoustic guitars, "The Memo" centres Sound Off as an anthem of self-worth based on the same verse that inspired The Rubyz' name (Proverbs 31:10). You are precious, stunning, and simply unforgettable. In His eyes, you are a ruby.
"The world tries to tell us what's cool and how to act or that we're too young to know what we're talking about," explains Cammie. "But throughout the Bible, God tells us how much we mean to him. That's the message - the memo - that people need to get."
Sound Off is completed by two songs that really put a life of faith into action. With great harmonies and a funky robotic groove, "Stuck in the Grey" challenges those who say one thing but do another to stop following the crowd instead of their beliefs. "Give You My Heart" encourages all who may be giving in, getting lost, caught in the wrong direction.
"We're really excited about that one because the lyrics read like a love song from God to everybody," says Alexis. "The Bible says that His thoughts about us outnumber the grains of sand in the sea."
Teenage girls who talk more about Scripture than the latest celebrity gossip or catty storylines from the previous night's primetime shows?
"We're not big TV watchers," says Cammie.
Instead, The Rubyz spend lots of time performing with other teenage artists at the iShine concerts around the country, inspiring kids to find their identity in Christ. Offstage, their lives remain delightfully normal, focused on education, creativity, and faith.
Alexis resides in Middletown, Ohio, and is home-schooled. Her parents are pastors, so most activities involve their church - hanging out with friends on Sunday afternoons and having Friday night lock-ins with the youth group.
Cammie studies graphic design at a university just outside Nashville, Tennessee, and crams classes into three days to accommodate concert scheduling. She chose her major after seeing all the creative work that goes into making The Rubyz merchandise.
Although they live in different states, Alexis and Cammie text constantly and catch up at weekend music events. They first met in 2007 through an agent-led talent search, standing out among 200 other girls who auditioned for the group.
"We're like sisters now," concludes Cammie. "God has done a really great thing by putting us together."
Indeed, Sound Off suggests The Rubyz are really onto something.