Photo Credit: Chuff Media, Rony Alwin
Blame it on the alcohol
A few weeks ago, my friend and I, as two enthusiastic Ed Sheeran fans, decided to make up a drinking game which involved listening to his songs and taking a sip of your drink every time he mentioned the words “bar”, “club”, “alcohol”, or any alcoholic drink in particular. Of course, like most self-created drinking games, the rules were consciously made up of something that would enable us to drink frequently. We didn’t necessarily have to pick Sheeran though, if you pinpoint any artists at random on the charts within the last few years, chances are alcohol played a role in their songs.
Initially, I feel like the mention of alcohol was used more to enhance the sadness in a pop song, and it usually featured a heartbroken protagonist drinking his sorrows away - Justin Timberlake’s Drink You Away, and The Script’s Nothing come to mind. The implied message for the listener was an association between alcohol and pain, these were songs to empathise with and drunk-cry to after a breakup. However, now, it’s no secret that EDM tracks have been on the rise for a few years across charts worldwide. It’s only logical that these upbeat dance tracks are meant for raves, clubs and bars. In other words, places where alcohol exists to increase the fun. Of course, current artists would want lyrics that complement the venue, which leads us to songs like Ke$ha’s Tik Tok and LMFAO’s Shots playing repeatedly, making us want to buy more alcohol just so we can do justice to the song. Numerous studies have suggested the rise in recent years in underage drinking was partially caused by this implied pressure in pop songs - alcohol is shown as a significant means of having fun.
This is not to say that artists ignore the undesirable side of alcohol, but even when they sing about it, it’s presented in a sugary-sweet pop package, which almost implies that this is how it’s supposed to be. Take Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night, for example: all the verses talk about the consequences of her getting drunk on “too many shots”, and include examples like “there’s a stranger in my bed, there’s a pounding in my head”. Yet, the upbeat nature of the song, combined with her happily saying that she’ll “do it all again” the next week doesn’t exactly have “dangerous” written all over it.
Songs now are definitely intended to glorify drinking, to the extent that an attempt to do otherwise ends up sounding unbelievably dissonant. I Took A Pill in Ibiza is a useful example - Mike Posner may have topped the charts for it, but the lyrics which talk about him being unhappy sound increasingly insincere when coupled with the synth pop sound. Dakota and Jonas Blue’s remix of Fast Car from last year faces a similar problem - autotuned vocals about the protagonist’s father having drinking problems just does NOT sound right, especially when compared to Tracy Chapman’s wonderfully bittersweet original acoustic version. At the end, it all comes down to the audience. Truth be told, while people are dancing in a club, they’re unlikely to want to hear about a sad situation anyway, it’s just jarring with the general mood of these locations.
I suppose songs about drinking still aren’t too bad, fickle as they often are. The only issue is that they’re almost the only thing we see around us now. Pop shouldn’t be reduced to club songs - people often mock the genre, but I feel there can be much more substance to it than what meets the ears. But in the meantime, for your next pre-drinks session, here’s a good drinking game for you…