I know the state of pop music is, well, just plain depressing to think about. I mean, there was a time when stuff like SImon & Garfunkel, who were calling for political and spiritual change, was considered pop music. What do we have today? Well, we have auto-tuned pop stars that refuse to die along with more one-hit wonders. It seems strange that those are the two extremes of the music business, but it seems to be the case these days.
Now, every so often you have a deviation, such as Lady Gaga. I’m not a fan of Lady Gaga’s music, but she has managed to recapitulate the political necessity of stardom as a musician, a fashion icon, a celebrity in her own right, and as a politico. However, I would still argue that her means and methods of achieving change are strategized just as much, if not more, than any other stars. Lady Gaga’s calculated and pre-packaged oddities are one of her biggest selling points. It makes the disenfranchised and the “outsiders” feel as if they have a voice. In essence, she is selling “other-ness.”
After all, that’s what all celebrities do, isn’t it? Maybe not the specific ideas that fuel Gaga’s music, but they are selling something. Sometimes it’s a tangible object, in the case of corporate sponsorship, while other times it’s an ideology. One of the ideologies that has managed to work its way into pop music, it seems now more than ever, is this idea of happiness, in and of itself, as an anti-capitalistic anomaly. These songs aren’t explicitly critical of capitalism, but at the same time, they prey off the system and claim indifference to it.
The song that comes to mind is Price Tags by Jessie J featuring. B.o.B. For those who are unfamiliar with the song, take a look below.
Now, I’m not here to cry foul or criticize the song. In fact, I think it’s pretty damn catchy. I even like the idea behind the song. What’s my problem then? The song sells a false ideology. Even before the video loads, you are forced to sit through an advertisement. There’s that money at work that the song claims to be irrelevant.
Because here’s the thing, folks. I don’t like it anymore than you do, but money matters. We live in a capitalist society and considering the position of the United States as a dominant force in the global community, whether other nations adhere to it or not, these values are placed upon them as well. But this isn’t really about the world at large. This is about the system at place here in America, noticeably in music, but equally visible in film and TV as well.
The disturbing thing about the system is that the people selling this idea that money doesn’t matter? They’re the ones with money. I’m not saying this is some vast conspiracy, but it is something that should be questioned. Not only in terms of the producers of these materials, but what about their reception? There’s an inherent danger in telling young folks that money doesn’t matter. It does. It offers shelter, food, and clothing; the basics of any human life. Now I’d like to clarify and say I don’t think the key to happiness can be found in monetary value. I agree with that much. Still, it is an undeniable element. When looking at songs like this or movies that espouse the same message, I can’t help but think of the age-old saying, “money doesn’t buy happiness.” Well, sadly it does. It just doesn’t guarantee it.