(Right away I want to clarify: I will be using ‘old songs‘ to refer to the hits of the 1960-1990, and ‘new songs‘ to refer to mostly 2000-2018.)
I was listening, one day, to Rob Orbison‘s You Got It on repeat, until I decided to switch it up and changed to Dua Lipa’s Electricity.
The switch got me thinking about something I’d never considered before. Both songs were (or are, as in the case of Electricity) popular in their own time and appealed to a wide audience, all while being so very similar, yet so very different. And it wasn’t because of the obvious differences in gender, sub-genre, musical era … The only way I can define that thing, is through their relatable-ness: most people can relate to the song –> it sells well –> it becomes a hit and a part of the cultural history. Logically, then, if most people find the song relatable, it must also be able to tell us not only about what was popular or what was happening in the world at the time of its release, but the changes that happened within an individual as a result of the changing environment. Right?
The fact that both of them are happy love songs helps in making this comparison fairer than if I used songs of different emotions. Plus, writers usually write happy songs when they’re in a good place in their lives and so it should also tell us how people felt ‘on a good day’, i.e. when everything felt normal.
I later played more of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ songs to figure out how they made me feel in order to better understand how all people, as a group, must have felt inside at the time. Here’s what came to my mind as I listened to them:
Light, simple and uncomplicated. Yet clever and emotional, effectively delivering the message. I could play them on repeat for hours before I even start to feel tired. And that still would come slowly and gradually.
So fast. So heavy. The rhythm changes several times throughout a three-minute song. Unexpected plot twists. A very defined, powerful beat that seems to resemble the heart, beating like crazy in a stressful life-or-death situation. Even the song’s emotion changes throughout. After just a few hours of this roller-coaster, exhaustion and confusion plummets down on me, pressing me to the ground.
What does it say about our lives today, then?
Why exactly the same thing: the average Joe’s and average Jane’s average lives today are fast-paced, quick-changing, challenging, uncertain, exhausting and overwhelming.
And I don’t think contemporary song writers intentionally create songs that reflect how complicated human existence has become–not most of them, at least. Why it has become so, whether it’s because we constantly demand excellence from ourselves and others, or because it’s natural selection, adjusting its minimum requirements as we go, is another topic.
I guess the bottom line of my rambling here is, I have realized that every song, good or bad, is just another human’s attempt to make sense of the world around and the feelings inside. And that made me listen with less judgment to today’s pop songs that are so successful but seem so meaningless. Because maybe we write such songs to give ourselves a break from the chaos that is our life, and we write the meaningful ones to reflect the chaos itself.