Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Top 25 to Life: A Prison of our own Hits

Driving to work this morning flipping through the radio stations, I finally settled on the one that let me do what we all secretly do in our own cars: finger dance and hand drum the steering wheel to whatever the catchy song of the month is. Whether it's some Chainsmokers or T-Swizzle (Taylor Swift's pop culture name), listening to it a few times gives me the knowledge to sing the chorus and go back to finger dancing for the rest of the song. Sure, I've had the thought before, but maybe I needed to be at an All Time Low in order to actually answer the question of "Is this even a good song, and do I actually like it?"
Image result for bo burnham on netflix
Fast-forward to tonight procrastinating homework (Netflix's pop culture name), I pitifully ended up in the Watch Again section to laugh at some comedian's jokes that apparently Netflix had said I've done more than half a dozen times. It was then that my cujumbled thoughts on music were adequately, if not ingeniously, presented. Bo Burnham gets a lot of his popularity for his parody music; In other words, he makes fun of stuff like music through singing about it. Now, this is the first full disclosure to anyone reading this that Bo Burnham consistently, if not ingeniously, uses choice swear words. Anywho, through about two and a half of his songs, I was getting Closer to answering my own question from the morning, but instead, more just popped up: Do we like songs because of the words...the beat...the repetition? There is definitely something to be said (or sung) about the corporate perfection of 'hits' these days.

In Burnham's parody of pop country music, "Pandering", he sings that country singers realize that they just have to pander to the country audience in order to sell their music: 🎶 "you know the words, the phrases; phrases like dirt road, cold beer, blue jeans, a red pickup" 🎶. In his parody of regular pop music, "Repeat Stuff", the chorus literally is 🎶 "Though meaning might be missin' We need to know the words after just one listen so, Repeat stuff [X 8] 🎶 His songs and lyrics can go on and on, but the fact remains that this is the reality of our pop culture music. In an age where we have iTunes and Spotify and can play thousands of songs at the click of a mouse, our Top 25's that shape our popular culture is filled with this mind-numbing, over-vague, repetitive (yet catchy) songs pumped out by these Heathens of corporate cronies.

The inquiry made by Bo is quite a good one, yet a hard one to swallow because I find myself still drawn to that catchy music. And even more, I tell myself I like it because it is catchy. The Frankfurt School way of thinking hints toward the Bad Things that can (or already) stem from this. The masses are succumbed to the repetition of daily life. The content doesn't matter as long as the presentation is amusing. And the words are the worst of them. Is it an ignorance of the pandering, a self-centered perception to think that all of these songs are relatable to us specifically, or just an acceptance of an other-prescribed definition of what we should be?

Yes, if you are familiar to Bo Burnham, his skepticism and sarcastic contemptuous approach echo the tone of this article and perhaps myself as well. It's not evil to like catchy music--I finger dance to it all the time, but are we reaching our fullest potential as a human being, as a culture looking from Side to Side, agreeing that this is enough--that we agree to the creative limitations of a select few others? Or will our generation be defined by the prison of those Top 25 Hits?

Bo Burnham Song Links (Again, strong language is used)

Repeat Stuff

Discussion Questions:

For you personally, is it the experience that makes songs memorable or songs that make experiences memorable?

What is your favorite song, and thinking outside of your own personal background, what lyrics would be pandering to the masses (overly vague descriptions like Burnham's lyrics "I love your hands cause your fingerprints are like no other. I love your eyes and their blueish brownish greenish color")?

How susceptible are you to join in on the popularity of currents 'hits'?


  1. I love your "finger dance" and "hand drum the steering wheel" comments, because it is so true. Who doesn't do that? Your first question is interesting to me because my first reaction is to say that the experience makes the song memorable. However after thinking about it, it is the song that ends up making the experience memorable. I can be driving in the car listening to the radio and hear a song from ten years ago. Here I can then remember where I was, who I was with, and what we were doing. Many times this leaves me feeling sentimental toward the song and smiling because I remember moments in my life because of the song. There is a quote that says "All it takes is one song to bring back a thousand memories." I always find it interesting that it works this way, but it makes me love that specific song that much more because there is a memory tied to it.

  2. The interesting thing about Frankfurt's ideology was that it was both terrifying (a bit 'big brother') and had some truth to it. I'm still not sure if it's the repetition of the song that supports the social authority or if it's because of the comfort of repetition.
    I find that the pandering lyrics have become more and more nonsensical- look at Bruno Mars' Funk You Up. Surely there's meaning behind it, but it's ridiculous. Interesting perspective.

  3. This entry really spoke to me as I was having a heated discussion with my boyfriend about it the other day. He insists on being in control of the radio and so if we ride together it's constantly on SeriusXM radio channel 44: the dreaded Hip Hop Nation. With every song sounding exactly the same, lyrics either being repetitive or inaudible, and the sound just being so much noise, I'm shocked that he, as a musician, can enjoy listening to that crap!

    I do have some songs that bring back memories for me, as well as some memories that make songs stick out to me. I don't think that you can only have one or the other. For example, when I hear Twenty-One Pilot's "Tear in my Heart", I'm taken back to road tripping across country with my partner. That memory was important and the song that was playing when we were driving brings me back to that memory. On the other hand, my mind is like a jukebox and I constantly find things happening in my life and relating songs to them. In this way the memory insights the song.

    I couldn't possibly pinpoint a favorite artist, much less a favorite song. My eclectic taste in music has taken me in many directions. Some music I like for the instrumentals, some for the lyrical genius, I've even been known to go to concerts just because the artists are good performers in general. However, when it comes to a blanket lyric I love that I think everyone can relate to, I am drawn to Hotel California by The Eagles and their lyrics, "Relax said the nightmare, we are programmed to receive. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." This lyric of feeling trapped by some sort of thought or idea no matter how far away you try and get from it, is something I think everyone has experienced at least once in their lives.

    When it comes to susceptibility to liking modern hits, I, unlike my boyfriend, am critical of all music I hear. Most of the more popular new songs are not inciting to me as I feel music has become so industrialized and has lost so much of it's originality. Every once in a while a new song will come along that shows true potential in my eyes, but it's a rarity for me to like a lot of the new stuff coming out these days.

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  5. What I wanted to do for my post this week was write about pop music and what makes a song considered popular culture. I read the title of your post and I thought that was where your post was going to go with this and it kind of did in a way. You talked about the "catchy song of the month" which should be the name of channel 36 on Sirius Radio. I sit in my car just like you described and listen to this music that I do not have in my own personal music collection, yet I never turn the channel. In the back of my mind, I think that this is the popular music and so it can't get any better than this. I play right into black hole that is "pop music."

    I enjoy this definition for pop music from free dictionary, which basically says music that appeals to teenagers. Other definitions on the web get more specific and you start to realize that this music technically is not popular music in terms of being popular for all audiences. This music is popular for a specific targeted audience. My favorite genre is Alternative rock and I am not talking about the little boy bands that are all over pop music charts right now. Alternative Rock is my favorite genre, yet I am susceptible to being lured into this trap that is pop music. Half the songs sound the same to me, but I keep listening because I feel like there won't be too many better options out there. It is a trap I know I fall into believing that pop music is actually the most popular music for the masses right now and so I myself must listen.

    It is pretty funny listening to these comedians who make fun of the music artist now days for all sounding the same and using vague words to appeal to the masses. Most of us laugh and we say oh that is so true and yet we most likely continue to listen to that type of music. We recognize it so we laugh at the silliness of it all, but we continue to support the music anyways.