Editor’s Note: I am excited to welcome Srinandini Mukherjee as the next writer of Snap, Crackle And The Ideology Of Pop. Josh Jewell’s column has proven extremely successful and thought-provoking, and I’m really looking forward to reading Srinandini’s thoughts on the world of pop music.
Being the outsider
There’s an age-old debate which is still raging on today - does art influence life, or does life influence art? Josh Jewell, the original writer of this column, stated that pop music today tries to “reinforce what is normal” in society. While this may be true in some cases, I’d have to argue that pop music is evolving as well, with the world around it - it is, as the name suggests, the “popular” music. Artists create lyrics and tunes they know will resonate with the masses, it’s the ultimate way to get commercial success. And today, pop artists seem to believe that what the audience wants to hear is about isolation - how much the artist (and hence the listeners who listen to them) stand out from the generic crowd.
Of course, music has always been linked to identity, but as we have become part of an increasingly narcissistic and individualistic society with the rise of social media and selfies, pop music has complied accordingly. We’re living in a world where everyone wants to be a ‘special snowflake’. It is ironic that now, in a world where listening to pop is considered the epitome of mainstream, artists within the genre try to pretend like they’re the outsiders, who cannot fit in with the world around them.
Pop may not require a lot of musical skill (or even real instruments sometimes, nowadays), but some artists still aim to lyrically please their audience using this theme of isolation. In his latest album, Ed Sheeran sings, “Guess it’s a stereotypical day for someone like me/ without a 9-5 job or a uni degree”, and highlights his lack of an ordinary background on multiple other occasions in his music, thus emphasising upon just how “unique” he is compared to the world around him, and why people should adore him. Another great example is Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off - a track which truly glorifies being your own person while the “haters gonna hate”.
Of course, the idea of distinguishing one positively from the rest of the world is very deep-rooted in pop, but nowadays, sometimes, it goes a little further. Pop music now isn’t just about loving yourself, but also about harshly criticising those who aren’t like you. Going back to Ed Sheeran, New Man ridicules his ex’s new boyfriend with lines like, “Your new man rents a house in the burb, and wears a man bag on his shoulder but I call it a purse”. The entire song revolves around how different, and by extension, how “nice” Ed Sheeran is compared to the new man. Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass and Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda antagonise thin women, with lines like “You know I won’t be no stick figure, silicone Barbie doll” and “f**k those skinny bitches”, while using the rest of the song to glorify their own figure.
Another interesting method artists have used to create a vibe of isolation in their songs is describing a situation where all the odds are stacked against the subject they’re singing about, and said individual rising above it. The most recent example which comes to mind is Rockabye, a song which describes the struggles of a single mother. Going further back, we can also think of tracks like Hall of Fame by The Script, Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, Sia’s Alive… the examples go on and on. Our current artists seem to really enjoy being in the role of the brave victim who rises above all kinds of opposition, and this isn’t just limited to music - think, for example of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Album of the Year at the 58th Grammy Awards, when she proudly stated, “There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success…”. Trying to show the listeners that they have been through hard times humanises the biggest of music stars, and causes fans to resonate more with their music.
It’s debatable whether pop music is helping create a society where we’re encouraged more often to put up borders and set ourselves apart from the others instead of uniting with them. I would say most of what we hear on the charts isn’t powerful enough to have such an effect. However, I’d say that pop music is known for being simple and unquestioning - it’s what we love about it. So, it does often absorb the current popular culture of isolationism, and reflects it back to us without ever critiquing it, thus creating more resonance than ever with its audience.