So my kids are into pop music, which means that we’ve been listening to a lot of Imagine Dragons and Maroon Five lately. Some of this stuff is pretty amazing. Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars… these guys are incredibly talented. They can write, they can play, they can sing, they can dance, they are simply amazing performers.
Sometimes, however, pop music lyrics make me want to stab something in my ear to make the music stop. Sexual innuendo and double entendre are now on the tame side of pop music. The heart of the industry is peddling graphic sexual scenarios, violent, debasing, disrespectful, and humiliating imagery. It’s in human, inhumane, and dehumanizing, and our kids are loving it.
Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is a great example. It’s a phenomenal song – pretty much the whole track is one long hook – but there is not a single redemptive thing about the lyrics (or the video). It’s a classic feel-good story. Thicke’s found a good girl and is going to convince here that she’s really an animal who wants to have nasty sex with him, because “Robin Thick has a Big D…” (in giant letters, about 3:50 into his music video). So we’re going to call this art & culture now. Really.
Data artist Nickolay Lamm analyzed popular music using Billboard’s charts from the 60s to 2013. He graphs the use of certain key words like love, happy, foul, hate/kill, sex, and weed to see if the themes have changed over the years. The results are pretty stunning.
- the word “love” is drastically fading away, especially over the past decade.
- “happy” was never huge, but it is on a long slow fade as well.
- “foul,” “kill,” “sex,” and “weed,” however, are on the charts, with a bullet.
I’m not a prude. I’m okay with artists walking the edge a little bit. I want artists to feel free to push the boundaries of our culture. I also think it’s fine to just do entertainment and have fun with music. But the pop music of the day is just digging around in a porta-potty. It’s not art. It’s not culture. It’s kitsch. It’s a cartoon… and the artists actually seem to think it is legitimate because they are getting rich.
Musicians, we are responsible for what we put out into the world. Say something. Please. Tell a good story. Critique what’s wrong in our world. Point out what we are missing. Help us grow as a culture. It doesn’t have to be perfect – everybody can’t be Dylan – but we have to at least try to talk about things that really matter to the world. Stop trying to get rich, and write songs about something that’s at least a tiny bit more important than raunchy sex and violent ego worship. Art is supposed to be about beauty & truth. It’s supposed to wake us up to reality and each other, not stick a phallic pacifier in our mouths.
I know. I know. I’m ranting, so forgive me. It’s just that I believe that music is really powerful. Pop music, for better or worse, is shaping the imagination of a generation of kids who now think it’s okay to call women bitches and whores (or to be called by those names). This stuff seeps into our consciousness and makes us who we are. They tell us a story about what is possible in the world. This music is forming my children for heaven’s sake. I mean seriously, I am the last guy I would expect to be censoring what my kids are listening to. (To be fair, I don’t let them listen to CCM either, for similar reasons).
Music used to be important. It could be again, but it will have to change.
So, I think the most redemptive thing that could be done w/Robin Thicke’s song is what Dustin Ah Kuoi did with it (above) – he took it to a Wierd Al Yankovic place. I’m serious. I’m saying the song is better in the genre of parody… the song finally does something more important for the world: critiques the church in an apt and serious way.
Here endeth the rant – enjoy your Friday everyone.