Popular music is a cultural feedback loop, reflecting the mood of society. It’s downstream from whatever is happening in politics, economics and demographics. And with the weirdness we’re seeing in the world today, music has begun to react in kind. It’s becoming more pessimistic, more fearful, more cynical.
Checking the top 40 streaming pop songs, you’ll find that they’re slower and more are written in a minor key. Looking at rock (especially alt-rock), the songs are getting harder, more angry, more paranoid and more aggressive.
More proof? This article in The Guardian.
Pop into any branch of high-street clothes shop Urban Outfitters and you will be presented with a paradox. Stroll through the clothes racks and towards the checkout, past the mini cacti, glittery photo frames and avocado bed linen, and you’ll find a selection of books. “READ THIS IF YOU WANT TO BE INSTAGRAM FAMOUS,” screams one in all-caps, while next to it whispers another called The Little Book of Self-Care. It’s emblematic of an identity crisis that is engulfing a whole generation – the so-called fame-hungry narcissists v hyper-aware over-thinkers – and one that’s increasingly being reflected by its pop stars. Recently, it gained its anthem in the shape of We Are Fucked by 18-year-old Noah Cyrus (featuring Mø), a surprisingly self-lacerating, Max Martin-produced nihilistic banger that simmers with frustration at Cyrus’s generation’s social media addiction and her fears for how it might hobble their future.
While the likes of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and authenticity’s Jack White grumble about youth culture’s iPhone exploits (“Fools desire distraction … Their faces to their gadgets fall south/ Ignoring the beauty of fog on a hill,” groans one recent White lyric), We Are Fucked’s anger and self-awareness – the opposite of the accusations often levelled at generation “snowflake” – add far greater potency. “I’m saying there’s a problem, but I’m also part of the problem,” Cyrus explains when we chat over the phone. “I’m not pointing any fingers here. I don’t want people to think I’m being hypocritical; I’m being 100% real with you. I’m saying ‘we’. We are fucked; we are fucking each other up. We want to make things happen but there are things in our way that are causing us to backtrack from our full potential.”