Pop IS a Weasel

Whatever our proclivities in music, whether we like it or not, pop music is infectious.  It’s catchy, has a funky beat to it, and makes us want to move our bodies – most of the time.  Pop is, after all, an abbreviated form of popular.

I, however, shunned this mainstream music sometime around tenth grade, when Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder burst on the scene with their unapologetically noisy and angsty music.  Bubble gum and lip gloss and boyfriends?  Ugh.  Gritty guitar and grunge and pissed-off people?  Yes!

I scoffed at the perfectly polished, canned rhythms and the lifestyle it seemed to eschew.  I slapped a bumper sticker for the local ‘modern rock’ radio station on my car and changed the channel for, oh, about 25 years.

And then my children discovered how the controls on the radio worked.  They discovered the bouncy, syncopated beats.  They called out from their belted backseat bastions for the bastions of popular culture.


from www.nursery-rhymes.org

Who me?

It was only a matter of time, really.  I remember belting out every single word to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” as a kindergartener.  They only want what feels good and sounds good, with none of the prejudicies of high art vs. low, sophistication vs. simplicity.

However, it is in being forced to listening to these songs and music that I’ve made an important cultural discovery. There’s a whole lot of people walking around completely clueless of their personal worth.

Listen to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” (I’d post the link but that totally crosses the line of my personal philosophy. Sorry – you’ll have to find it on your own).  “You’re insecure” is the first line of the song.  You don’t know you’re beautiful? Looking at the ground when someone looks at her?  The entire song is these young men pointing out to the female subject that everything about her is what makes her beautiful.

Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”: a song worth it just for his Jackson 5/Early Michael Jackson-esque singing, but that also has a theme of not knowing one’s worth.  Despite being wonderful and flawless, the subject “walk[s] around here like you wanna be someone else”.  He tells her, “you should be smiling.  A girl like you should never look so blue.”

So what is it about our society that we need pop artists to tell us we should be content with who we are; that we should be happy?  What is so lacking that even the airwaves rush in to fill the void?

To me, it’s a disturbing trend.  Someone, something has failed in our current system of being if there is a trend like this among music.  I’m not saying it’s bad to build people up; I’m wondering why there are so many walking around already beaten down.

Were we not loved as children?  Were we not told of our innate worth through hugs and hand-holding and ‘I love you’s?  Have we suffered a spiritual crisis that has let us forget that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’?  As a special deacon used to tell me, “God made me and He don’t make no junk.”  We all have our worth.  We are all someone’s treasure – even if no one else’s on earth, at least our own, and certainly to God.  Our very existence is enough to make us beautiful.

Looking closely at these songs has also tipped me off to one other disturbing nuance: the fact that, in both songs, males are telling females their worth.  As a woman and mother of three girls, it scares me that the lyrics could be construed as a lesson to value oneself through the lens of male approval.  There is something very special about finding a partner who will value you and point out beneficial qualities you may have missed in yourself.  But to look solely to an outside – especially sexual – source for self-worth is dangerous.  The fact that pop music is so infectious and seemingly feel-good could slide such messages right under the radar without young people even realizing their transmission.

And here I was scared that my kids liked pop over some other style of music.  It runs much deeper than that.  Now I really have a reason to go listen to angsty music.  But, if I haven’t ruined the carefree nature of pop music, I could go listen to that for a pick-me-up.  Whatever it is, we all have to move our feet in time to the rhythm and pick each other up if we fall.

* Disclaimer: I must acknowledge that my grunge/alternative music is not so uplifting and self-affirming either.  It was born, in fact, of a self-loathing and misery.  And among its measures are certainly misogynistic ideas and mistreatment.  But pop certainly presents its off-color ideas in a much more appealing package.  Plus, ‘modern rock’ is not in heavy rotation like Top 40.

** Weasel image from nursery-rhymes.org

Still Flying the Flannel

Our local modern rock station, born of a university radio station since gone commercial, is currently airing “90s week” programming for “those of [us] still flying the flannel”; an extended Christmas gift, if you will.

It really is all I could ask of WBRU.

I cut my alternative teeth on their play lists.  I made tape – yes, audiocassette – recordings of their “twelve cuts above the rest” and “retro lunch” programs.  I mailed one such cassette to my now husband when he was in some far-flung locale in the Coast Guard.  I did have a few flannels and one ripped-in-all-the-right-places pair of men’s jeans I still miss from time to time.

Over the years, some of the music made my ears hurt and I found myself asking the question oft-repeated by our forebears, ‘they call this music?’  And I questioned some of their song selections for the “retro” lunch: ‘they call this retro!?’  I scoffed at the apparent naiveté of the new jockeys, these rookies who didn’t know the really classic stuff.  It never occurred to me that for them to be considered whippersnappers, I had to be moving into a new age bracket myself.

Slowly, tastes changed, a new sound came about, and I reveled in it.  There was this niggling thought in the back of my head, though.  Was this a new crop of really fabulous music – or was I old enough to have witnessed my first cycle of the old becoming new?  After all, Rainbow Brite, a color-wheel explosion of my childhood, is now available on DVD.  The Strawberry Shortcake picture that once hung above my twin bed now adorns my daughters’ space – and they know who she is!

When I was in second or third grade, I remember rocking out to Billy Idol’s version of “Mony, Mony”.  I was flabbergasted when my mother chimed in.  ‘This is an old song, you know,’ she told me with a certain triumph in her voice.  I can’t say I share in her bravado.

The very phrase, “for those of you still flying the flannel”, suggests that we’re somehow stuck in an outdated place.  Are the glorious days of my hey-day now ancient?  And am I becoming so?

It’s a bittersweet feeling.  While one never wants to be considered passé, the gut-wrenching chords of “Seether” still awaken the adolescent beast in me.  “Particle Man” still reignites images of my favorite people bouncing around to it.  And the supposed one-hit-wonders, The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, still make me turn up the volume to an unhealthy level and groove.

The synapses are still firing and helping me remember some of the best and brightest moments of my life.  And luckily the music that inspired them has inspired a new group of whippersnappers to create like-minded and nearly as good music for a new soundtrack.

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