These days, despite the advent of an “always connected, always disconnected” America, we still make the time for the car rides and communions of rallying around enormous pop records. “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” have barely declined in explosive play, and their relevance doesn’t end at their #1 & #2 positions on the Billboard. These songs were cultural news– extending beyond the musicality of the songs, the actual listening, was what we talked about. “Used To Know” was buzzworthy because it was so devastating: that scream! That video! Who’s Kimbra? We couldn’t help but love it and afterward, as is the cycle of love, love it tongue-in-cheek. “Call Me Maybe” was, of course, funny because its premise came from What’s Happening To My Body? For Girls. I have a friend at Northeastern who studies day in and out for her nursing degree; she’d listen to the song every morning upon getting up, for a dose of c0nf1d3nc3– and she’s probably not the worst offender. Perhaps even more telling of cultural piety than a musical spot on SNL, is when a song becomes a meme.
But what songs can we die for? An era’s attitude is defined by its taste in pop, and a look back to June of 1992 reveals the people’s attitude toward sex and love, was sick-of-his-shit. Or her shit. Or horse shit. Ashanti’s eternal “Foolish,” Diddy’s born-again “I Need A Girl,” and Fat Joe’s perplexingly sweet and super horny “What’s Luv” all rung with a desire to move on from the do-wrongs and recapture independence. Twenty years later, what does our pop chart say about us? Folks, we are insecure. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with Gotye’s lament, nor Kimbra’s verse–people hurt people–but as an American people, their bruises are our bruises. We have them. What does it say that our self-esteem is pumped up no longer by XTina’s “Beautiful,” but One Direction’s? The boys from 1D mean no harm, and I’d get down, but a security in one’s self and one’s beauty apparently needs to arise, as implied by “What Makes You Beautiful,” from a love interest. Christina wanted us to feel good on our own.
Perhaps the attitudes of singers (of Max Martin) hasn’t changed much. Bieber gives us “Boyfriend,” aka so swaggy but still humble, just like NSYNC* and Nelly’d given us “Girlfriend.” Much less popular in this century are jazz-fueled, soulful odes of love– long gone are “You Send Me” and the triumphant “Let’s Get It On.” A voice and its lyrics fall anywhere on the spectrum of active to passive, of confident to vulnerable; and that expression is exactly how we see ourselves in a song. 1D and Biebs are produced in order to satisfy girls who aren’t in a relationship, or if they are, need to be convinced of the devotion, of their self-worth. Aside from Boyfriend and the blood-flowing U Smile, I’m not likely to resonate with a Bieber track. But, of course, I have insecurities about myself and relationships. Homosexuals, homo sapiens, you name it. I’m just more likely to get my pop-crack / emotional catharsis from Rihanna’s “You Da One” than her “Unfaithful.” Perhaps, as Gotye sews the wound, and as the Carly Rae Jepsens (the musical equivalent of a Bieber fan) mature, so will our self-esteem. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Call Me Definitely.
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