NUIG Sin's Eoin Molloy examines the modern pop song as the cry for help of the disillusioned millennial.
‘It’s our party we can do what we want. It’s our party we can say what we want. It’s our party we can love who we want, we can kiss who we want, we can see who we want.’
These lyrics come from Miley Cryus’ renowned classic, 'We Can’t Stop'. Aside from being a catchy summer anthem, this song belied a sense of consequence-less narcissism that accurately sums up the general mood amongst the members of my disenchanted demographic – the dreaded millennials.
This column will attempt to reconcile my love of twerking with a strong desire to make the case that songs like this typify the rampant hedonism that predominates youth culture nowadays. When one delves a little deeper into the lyrics of modern pop songs, they seem to be masquerading as disguised pleas for help.
John Lennon famously said ‘music and artists reflect the state that society is in’. This could not be truer when applied to contemporary pop music. In the modern age, we have become more and more narcissistic, our vapidity increasing with each passing selfie.
In recent years, the speech patterns of psychopaths has been the subject of much research. In a study published by the online journal of Legal and Criminal Psychology, it was found that the speech patterns of psychopaths tend to revert back to their own personal needs more often than not – everything revolves around them. See: ‘We can do what we want’. Everything in Cyrus’ song is about self-enjoyment and personal pleasure at any cost.
The prevailing sentiment in the above-mentioned song is that of unbridled free choice. Sure, that sounds like a good thing on the face of it. Free choice, free love, free coffee when you get your card stamped eight times. The problem comes, if you forgive me for descending guiltlessly into outright cliché, when you have too much of a good thing.
Modern society is predicated on the possession of civil liberties. These personal freedoms form the basis of our civil rights: the right to bodily integrity, the right to vote, freedom of expression, freedom to associate – the list goes on! All of these wonderful freedoms, and the only one we want to exercise is our freedom to ‘pop molly’ and ‘do whatever we want’.
This level of freedom can be overwhelming. We have become lost in our rights. For example, how many of us truly appreciate our system of subsidised education? It’s not perfect, but it’s a definite help. I for one certainly wouldn’t be skipping the odd early morning tutorial if I had shelled out tens of thousands of euros to cross the threshold into NUI Galway like many students in the US are forced to.
This is the problem. We have so many rights that we lose sight of which ones are important, which in turn forces us into this endless cycle of hedonistic self-debasement, all in the name of ‘finding ourselves’. This is especially worrying when considered in light of rates of youth depression. Roughly 12-15% of youths in America are undergoing a depressive episode at any one time, according to US-based think-tank the National Institute of Mental Health.
In Miley’s inadvertent parable, she utters an incredibly philosophical catch-phrase that functions as a modus operandi for the modern hedonist: We Can’t Stop. We literally cannot stop engaging in destructive behaviour. For many of us, multiple nights out per week are the norm.
All of this is well and good to a point. However, if you find yourself being ‘on the sesh’ for about five years straight now (like myself) it’s time to start reconsidering your life choices. Perhaps there is a source issue at play here, some unsolved disquiet chipping away at our moral innards that forces us into a boom-and-bust cycle of self-enjoyment.
The central idea here is that having too much freedom and choice causes constant confusion and obscures our own personal beliefs and goals. It’s like VitHit. How can you possibly pick just one when there is an infinite variety of delicious flavours from which to choose?
It is true that music does indeed reflect society. Take as an example the anti-establishment sentiment of rock and roll. The inflammatory and rebellious lyrics of Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones spoke to millions of disenchanted American citizens, particularly as mobilisation against the Vietnam War grew.
The most prescient illustration of disenchanted and depressed youth music was delivered in Snakehips’ song, 'All My Friends'. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this peach, it goes as follows:
‘All my friends are wasted and I hate this club, man, I drink too much.
Another Friday night I’ve wasted, my eyes are black and red, I’m crawling back to your bed.’
Like Cyrus’ song, this club banger has a dancy tempo and is quite popular on the very nightclub scene it openly derides. Many of us have sat in the smoking area of Electric humming along to this song while also feeling that it too accurately sums up your own current predicament.
'All My Friends' openly criticises the hedonistic, club-centred way of existence we have carved out for ourselves. I am aware that this article speaks in extreme generalisations and there are millions of youths who do not engage in the same behaviour as degenerates like myself – but this is a common problem that deserves to be scrutinised.
Scrutinising the lyrics of modern pop music is in a lot of ways similar to gazing at your own hazy reflection in a stained bathroom mirror at the third successive house party of the week – a lot of uncomfortable realities come to the surface.
There is no denying that purposelessness is a common complaint amongst the youth of today. Why bother saving for a house when you will never be approved a mortgage? Why bother studying hard in school when you know deep down you will have to emigrate to find satisfying work? Why bother saying no to yet another pointless night out? You have to drown your disaffected sorrows somehow.
We have become dissatisfied and lost. Many of us openly reject the political system that governs us while simultaneously feeling powerless to change anything. This explains the ongoing need for many of us to go abroad to ‘find ourselves’ by spending a gap year volunteering in Ghana or drinking the bag of it in San Francisco for the summer.
We have countless more freedoms than our ancestors and even more compared with folks in less privileged areas of the world. It still isn’t enough for us as we have not yet found our cause. I for one hope we sort that out sooner rather than later, because I only have enough provision for 40 pints left in my bank account…
Story courtesy of NUIG's online newspaper Sin.