Is Pop Music Entering a Blue Period?

Ah, so THIS is why this shirt got popular all of a sudden…
Source: Redbubble

Much to my chagrin (and those who frequent my place of work), they recently switched the radio station at work from a classic rock mix to a top 40 loop. It goes without saying that I don’t care if I never hear the likes of Adele ever again.

However, being forced to listen to the mainstream sound caused me to notice a distinct pattern in music today; namely, the lyrics are getting much more depressing. While I can’t speak for pop radio in other states (I’m sure what’s popular differs from region to region), the most frequently played songs here in my hometown seem to be focusing on darker subject matter.

Just to list a few examples, the aforementioned Adele’s Hello is a tale of regret after realizing how poorly she treated her ex now that they’re gone and too hurt even bother listening to her.

Meanwhile. Alessia Cara’s Here seeks to identify with the less social, high-minded crowd by recreating a feeling that many of us college folks can relate to – being dragged to a party by your friends and having no fun what-so-ever because everyone’s too drunk/high/vapid to carry on an intelligent conversation.

Even the more upbeat stuff like X Ambassadors’ Renegades and A Great Big World’s Hold Each Other have a hidden edge to them when you realize that we wouldn’t even need an anthem celebrating bold thinkers and the many forms of love respectively if they weren’t horribly undervalued already.

Probably the most soul crushing though has to be Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots; a song about the endless stream of so-called ‘adult responsibility’ robs us of the chance to follow the dreams of our youth.

So, the question now is, “why is this happening now?”

Well, speaking personally, I believe that the transparency of the world has reached an all-time high. For what is surely the first time for many of us, we are seeing everything wrong with everything. Wars rage across the globe, environmental degradation threatens our lives, ignorance still drives the hatred of whole metaphorical oceans of people, and the corruption in our government is at its most blatant in years.

Art is reflective, not just of its creator, but of the world that created the creator. So many of us are so fed up with how sloppy and mismanaged our world has become, that we need to react to it. Art like music is our way of spreading the things that we see to others that can’t see it. And when enough people start seeing something together, that’s how revolutions and movements start.

Incidentally, this all ties into the recent wave of 80’s nostalgia that we’re experiencing in pop culture as a whole. Speaking as someone who grew up through the 80’s and early 90’s, very few of us expected to live past our early thirties. Now, the landscape of war, pollution, and political corruption seems to mirror that same age. But instead retreating back into sex and drugs to escape the problem like we did back then (the thinking being that we were going to die anyway, so we might as well enjoy ourselves), we’ve taken a less nihilistic approach and willingly face the problem head on.

So, you know what, I welcome this Blue Age of pop music. Who knows? Maybe some people will actually become famous for delivering a meaningful message instead of shaking their ass at the camera.

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A Positive Message In An Unlikely Place (or “The Kinks’ Lola Was Surprisingly Progressive”)

Let’s be honest; I don’t often have nice things to say about my day job. It’s to be expected as custodial life is naturally unrewarding in most cases. But there are some perks. The overnight shift is peacefully quiet for the most part, the few people I meet seem to respect how crappy (no pun intended) the job is, and I could be making far worse money elsewhere doing the same work.

My favorite part of the job though has to be the Classic Rock station that the radio is tuned into all day. I don’t know what station it is – likely a satellite station, but they often play stuff from my favorite artists of yesteryear that I’ve either never heard before or had completely forgotten about along with their more well-known works.

While I was working one night, I noticed how the station seems to favor certain artists. I noted that The Kinks played oddly often specifically. This got me to thinking about one of my then guilty pleasures in music – their hit single Lola.

You can probably guess why it was a guilty pleasure for me. As someone who is staunchly Pro-LGBT, it makes me look like a hypocrite to be listening to and enjoying a song that plays the romance of a transgender woman for laughs. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to realize that I shouldn’t be feeling bad for liking this song.

Let’s break down the events of the story in the song. Our protagonist, a virginal man that just left home a week prior to the events of the song, is eager to start playing the field and find the woman of his dreams – common behavior for a hormonal youth sans parental supervision.

While in a nightclub in Soho, a district of London, England known for it’s active sex industry, he comes across the titular Lola and becomes attracted to her; his youthful ignorance causing him to miss signs that she is transgender such as her deeper voice (“I asked her name and in a dark brown voice she said, ‘Lola’.”), typically masculine strength (“Well, I’m not the world’s most physical guy, / But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine.”), and odd mannerisms (“Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand / Why she walk like a woman and talk like a man.”).

At this point, it seems like this is going to be a groaner of a bad and insensitive joke from people that clearly don’t get transgender culture or politics. However, it’s near the end of the song that things change drastically.

After a night of drinking and dancing, the two agree to cap off the night at Lola’s place. It’s there that our storyteller learns the truth, panics, and trips as he makes a run for the door. But, as he looks up from the floor and has a moment to process everything, he realizes that he still has feelings for her and can’t bring himself to ditch her (“Well that’s the way that I want it to stay. / And I always want it to be that way for my Lola.”).

He then understands the irony of his situation – in a chaotic world where so many of us are trying to discover or rediscover ourselves, a woman whose identity would bewilder most others is the only one who’s sure of what they are and want to be (“Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls. / It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, / Except for Lola.”)

That’s right; by the end of the night, our hero stays with Lola, finds new respect for the girl he just met, and discovers himself in the process (“Well I’m not the world’s most masculine man, / But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man, / And so is Lola.”)

I put it to you, Field Operatives, that The Kinks’ Lola should not be viewed as a guilty pleasure, but as a shockingly forward-thinking and progressive story about love, enlightenment, and treating your fellow men, women, and those of unspecified genders with respect.

Now then, what’s YOUR excuse, Aerosmith?