Columns

Friedman ’19: Sick of same old love songs

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, February 9, 2016

About a week before I returned to Brown, I found myself driving while listening to FM radio for the first time since arriving home. I was really enjoying the song the station was playing until the chorus hit: “I’m so sick of that same old love, that shit, it tears me up / I’m so sick of that same old love, my body’s had enough.” The chorus struck me as a piece of really shallow songwriting, reminiscent of Ke$ha in her prime or perhaps Ariana Grande.

What kind of artist groups the phrase “same old” and the word “love” together? “Same old love” came across to me as a glaring oxymoron, as I had grown up associating “love” with the phrase “one true,” courtesy of Disney movies. I promptly realized that I was indeed listening to pop music on KISS FM, that the artist I was listening to was (the one and only) Selena Gomez and that the song “Same Old Love,” was sitting at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 100. Though I am a big fan of her performance on “Wizards of Waverly Place,” I was really disappointed in Selena. Why couldn’t she have made a genuine song that at least attempted to be true to life?

Unfortunately, it is because, like many before her, she has made a successful career out of releasing lyrically shallow hits that frequently treat the important, ambiguous concept of love as a commodity, with lyrics frequently containing images that are erotic and, at times, almost pornographic in nature. I think that this carelessness, especially in overusing the word “love,” has really done us a disservice. I have personally been a victim of it.

During my freshman year of high school, I developed a huge crush on a girl in my friend group. After a month of flirting, I began to sense that my feelings were being reciprocated, so naturally I started saying “I love you” to her about four times per day. It seemed like the normal thing to say, and I had heard it in songs for so long that I began to associate it with infatuation, an unfamiliar word that I did not hear on a daily basis. Apparently, people don’t like it when you start telling them “I love you” after being together for only a month, and I soon started receiving angry text messages from her friends telling me to “back off.” Long story short, that relationship didn’t work out. Thanks, Selena.

Right now, songs like “Same Old Love” are what many Americans still listen to. Despite the rise of streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and Sirius XM Radio, 91 percent of Americans aged 12 and older still listen to AM/FM radio on a weekly basis, according to Nielsen. That means that 91 percent of adolescent and adult Americans consume and are socialized with radio station music, a large percentage of which is Top-100 hits. (Granted, there are different genres of music radio — hip-hop, alternative rock, classical — and the act of choosing one’s station is important. But among pop stations, the music is largely the same; I can’t count the number of times I have dialed from one pop station to another, only to hear the same song being played.) Many Americans are consuming these types of meaningless lyrics that have come to characterize contemporary pop and hip-hop music. This is a problem.

As college students, we compose a large share of the pop music consumer base and accordingly should be aware of the type of music we consume. The commercial success of these songs is solely determined by our consumption of them. The Billboard Top 100 song rankings are almost exclusively determined by radio airplay and digital and physical sales. Despite its seemingly monolithic nature, we have the ability to change the pop music industry. And we are: According to the Pew Research Center, online radio listeners have doubled since 2010. In 2015, almost 40 percent of cellphone owners listened to online radio through their phones in the car. Slowly, we are beginning to utilize technology that gives us more autonomy over the type of music we consume, which is great. Music taste can be incredibly representative of someone’s personality, and the act of choosing one’s music is a beautiful form of self-expression.

As we start to regain control of our songs, the increased variety of music to which we are exposed will allow us to determine the distinction between linguistic and emotional subtleties that are frequently belied by pop music, such as the difference between love and infatuation. We will start to realize — as the music industry functions as both art and business — that there is a difference between music made for its own sake and music made with commercial intent.

In my view, music made for its own sake is music at its best: a raw, unfiltered depiction of an artist’s life experiences. The degree to which music is genuine corresponds to its public utility, as music serves a civic function much in the same way visual art or architecture does. Music, like other art, preserves and captures the spirit of an artist and, by transitivity, a generation. Whereas newspapers of record like the New York Times document past events objectively, musicians (and other artists) “of record” document past events subjectively by depicting narratives and stories that collectively form the spirit of an era — the zeitgeist. Contemporary musicians are, in some sense, creative representatives of our generation. Accordingly, they must be incredibly diverse, depicting their own unique, intriguing ways of experiencing the world, while at the same time staying true to their charge of authenticity.

But music that is distributed to the masses frequently sacrifices its authenticity for commercial viability. Pop music, in my opinion, represents a hyperbolic perversion of authentic music; emotions are inflated and day-to-day experiences are made to sound once-in-a-lifetime. For example, the song “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen takes an everyday experience, a serendipitous crush, and romanticizes it out of proportion: “Hey I just met you / And this is crazy / But here’s my number / So call me maybe.” Jepsen associates her wish in the well with the attractive guy she’s crushing on, instead of acknowledging that the guy probably didn’t have anything to do with her wish and that he probably won’t call the stranger who gave him her number. On the other hand, pop music occasionally perfectly matches meaningful messages and a commercial platform. For example, Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” a song that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100, expertly comments on the ascendancy of cellphones in our dating lives, acknowledging that we maintain equally important online and real-life personas.

Perhaps when it comes to pop music, we should take a page from the 1960s. Though music listeners back then didn’t have the same freedom of choice in music as we do now, they probably enjoyed more thoughtful lyrics, on average. The top pop artists then, who included the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Simon and Garfunkel, wrote lyrics that were more spiritual than sensual in nature, and their efforts are still appreciated today. The Beatles’ song “Yesterday,” for example, struck home for me by utilizing the idea of yesterday as a metaphor for nostalgia in general: “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away / Now it looks as though they’re here to stay / Oh, I believe in yesterday.” I don’t see any metaphors in Selena Gomez’s songs, except for the “it” in “Come and Get It.” Though there are a few moments of saving grace in contemporary pop music, I am doubtful that posterity will remember our pop music as fondly as that of the 50s and 60s. The Selena Gomezes of our world should learn a thing or two from the past because I’m sick of hearing that same old love song.

Andrew Friedman ’19 can be reached at andrew_friedman@brown.edu.

Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

6 Comments

  1. This is clearly a thinly veiled attack on female pop artists (Selena Gomez, Ke$ha, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen) rather than commentary on the state of modern pop music. Gomez’s recent song “Same Old Love” and other singles from her most recent album do not contain less meaning than songs by her male counterparts, such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, mentioned in this article. “Same Old Love” is about the monotony of toxic relationships and how difficult it is to break free from them. This is an important and very real struggle that many people deal with. It’s one thing to criticize a genre. It’s another to exclusively and baselessly insult female pop musicians and invalidate their experiences while simultaneously hailing male musicians as “thoughtful” and “expert commentators” on modern culture.

  2. ShadrachSmith says:

    Complaining about pop lyrics is pointless. The largest market niche in pop is for lyrics designed to offend/annoy your parents. Those lyrics make little sense when considered outside that marketing strategy.

    The problem of recorded music is that Torme, Sinatra, and Prima did pretty much everything that can be done. So the new music has no room to do better. Same, Same for instruments: Mozart did everything that can be done on a piano, and Lester and Chester did everything that can be done on an electric guitar. Then David Bowie nailed every shade of weird.

    Pop culture seems artistically shallow because it is 🙂

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