Jump the line to the front,
Do what we like, get what we want,
We're just so pretty!
- "Pretty Girls" by Britney Spears & Iggy Azalea
Britney and Iggy's highly anticipated single, a wannabe summer anthem if there ever was one, finally leaked after weeks of speculation and build-up throughout the music blogosphere. The behind-the-scenes photos of the music video promised a fun romp with both pop starlets, surrounded by hot guys, flaunting some 80s-inspired fashions. The collaboration seemed like a match made in pop heaven -- a chart-topping rapstress who enjoyed a successful 2014 and pop's (arguably) reigning princess, who could enjoy some success on the charts while she hits the home stretch of her Las Vegas residency.
I'll just say it now: "Pretty Girls" is...okay. On the surface, it seems to mimic the sparkly-rebellious nature of a Charli XCX or Icona Pop jam. Brit sounds "pretty" good, and Iggy does her requisite wordsmithing in between, but if you listen carefully to its let's-party-and-have-a-good-time sensibility, you might hear something else. Read between the lyrics, and you get an indication of the current state of pop music...and its listeners. These two female artists are representing a generation that has been raised to believe they can have it all (especially if they bare their midriffs and pout their lips).
|Fifth Harmony wants you to know they're "Worth It."|
Call me an aging fogey who's too critical of Top 40 these days, but this new jam made me realize something: Could the superficial messages behind some of today's biggest hits be reinforcing a generation's beliefs and values to be equally superficial? You hear about older generations complaining about "today's generation" being too spoiled or -- the new word du jour -- "entitled." But is a luxe lifestyle, more than ever, being overtly glorified in pop culture, particularly in pop music?
Give me to me, I'm worth it.
Baby, I'm worth it.
Uh huh, I'm worth it.
Gimme gimme, I'm worth it.
- "Worth It" by Fifth Harmony feat. Kid Ink
Of course, this could be a matter of "Which came first: the chicken or the egg": Did the youth of America always feel entitled, and their music just started reflecting their tastes? Or is it the other way around? I can't help feeling it's the latter.
Entitlement is more prevalent in American pop culture for a number of reasons. Thanks to technology, and to put it simply, we're used to receiving things faster. YouTube musicians are thrust into the spotlight (usually on Ellen) after just one video goes viral. Someone makes an Internet splash, and they're immediately catapulted into everyone's news feed. Order a book on Amazon, and you can get it the same day! Therefore, we expect more things to happen more quickly. We expect more stuff to come to us more quickly. We expect everything now, and this includes everything from a well-paying job after college to the overall glory of success, wealth and happiness. I'm sure a psychology major could write a thesis and further discuss the origins of entitlement. And granted, a child's upbringing is also a definite factor -- the values and morals instilled at an early age -- but we're talking about outside forces that can shape a person's outlook on life here.
Songs about flaunting one's riches, enjoying life, and demanding only the best have been around for some time. Sheila E's "Glamorous Life" from 1984 was arguably the first anthem of its kind, a product of the Reaganomics-fueled 80s, a time when everyone believed in sparing no expense.
Then, the following year, a little song called "Material Girl" by Madonna hit the airwaves, perfectly encapsulating the unapologetic philosophy of demanding wealth and excess. ("The boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right.") And let's not forget the countless music videos that paraded around pimped-out cars, various bling, and a never-ending supply of scantily clad women (and very little men) throughout the late 90s and early aughts. The messages were blatant: "Look at our fabulous lives. You could have this too. Don't you want to be like us?" One glaring omission: The question that asks, "How does one achieve all of that wealth?"
Those were just music videos. The amount of singles with lyrics celebrating superficiality over the past decade has been, frankly, a little sickening. Going back to 2006, Fergie's "Glamorous" unabashedly embraced a luxe lifestyle. Naturally, the music video for this ode to "floss" had no problem rubbing bottle service and private jets in our faces. MGMT sang about marrying models and bingeing on cocaine and heroin in 2008's "Time to Pretend" (albeit ironically; it was one my top tracks of the year.) And according to Mashable, "much of the criticism surrounding Jay-Z's new record Magna Carta Holy Grail pointed to Jay-Z's insistence on continuing to rap about his wealth. This was exacerbated by the controversial Samsung deal that earned him $5 million and RIAA's platinum certification" before the record even hit shelves. (I mean, the dude even dedicated one track to fashion mogul Tom Ford.)
Unlike Madonna's "Material Girl," today's hits aren't entirely indicative of a society experiencing a booming economy in which everyone can splurge on luxury items. Sure, we might be slowly bouncing back from the financial nightmare that was the 2008 Recession, but the gap between the rich and the poor is wider than ever. Economic inequality has never been bigger. So why are more and more popular songs celebrating such high-end lifestyles? Is this supposed to be some kind of aspirational ploy? Are these songs designed to help encourage Americans to spend more and help the economy? To enjoy all the riches possible -- without really earning it? I guess that would explain the shameless product-placement-filled lyrics that attempt to rhyme words with expensive labels like Grey Goose, Louis Vuitton, Cristal, and Prada.
Look at Pitbull, the current King of The Party Track. His latest single with Ne-Yo, "Time of Our Lives," is basically all about treating yourself because you deserve it. Sample lyric:
I knew my rent was gon be late about a week ago.
I worked my ass off but I still can't pay it though.
But I got just enough to get off in this club.
Have me a good time before my time is up.
Don't get me wrong: I'm fine with a feel-good track to help you get pumped for the weekend, and I'm all for a song that inspires you to seek out the best things in life. (God knows I've pushed a few here on this blog.) Pop music, for the most part, is inherently full of fluff designed to brighten your day. But it's the increasingly aggressive push of these messages that is starting to become worrisome. The "feel-good" messaging behind most of these songs is arguably a disguise for what it really is: a rallying cry, a call-to-action for young people everywhere to demand whatever they want. Because they "deserve it." Because they're "worth it."
But are they really?