[Bella’s Intro: At the Community of Single People, the always-insightful Kristin Noreen described her reaction to a popular song she just heard. She loved the music, but the lyrics – well, that was something else entirely.
Within moments, the conversation took off. One person after another posted their favorite worst offenders. The whole thing was both illuminating and a whole lot of fun. I wanted to share that with you, so I asked Kristin if she would write a guest post about it.
I’m so grateful to her for accepting. Kristin has written for us before and I, for one, learn from her every time.]
Guest Post by Kristin Noreen
A week ago, I was sitting in the café at Whole Foods with friends, enjoying some craft hard cider and talking, when the slightly-too-loud music cut through my train of thought with Heart’s “What About Love.”
I am an ardent fan of Heart, but when Ann and Nancy shrill “don’t you want someone to care about yoooooo…” as if a romantic partnership is the only way that can happen, I get a sharp pain between my shoulder blades. It occurred to me to query the Community of Single People about what songs make them crazy, and I had no idea what a fun question would turn out to be.
Now, normally we all like these artists, but here are some of the top offenders:
- Somebody’s Baby, by Jackson Browne
“she’s gonna be somebody’s only light, gonna shine tonight, yeah, she’s gonna be somebody’s baby tonight…”, for treating a woman only in terms of her value to a man—he sees a woman looking resplendent and assumes she’s going on a date and not, say, to her own book release party.
- All the Single Ladies, by Beyoncé, because it’s not an empowerment anthem at all. “If you like it then you should have put a ring on it,” really? You’re okay with reducing women to property to be claimed with a ring?
- Miss You Till I Meet You, by Dar Williams, a song about a woman who is waiting to start her life until she meets her “soul mate,” something she has been conditioned to expect by music, movies and books.
- Without You, by Harry Nilsson, and Crying, by Roy Orbison, for their whiny codependency. “Can’t live, if living is without you…” “I’ll be cry-y-y-ying over you…” Please.
- A Woman’s Worth, by Alicia Keys, for its traditional gender roles (“a real woman knows a real man always comes first…”) Who would want their daughters listening to that?
We recognized that all the over-the-top creepy songs by the Police (Every Breath You Take, I Can’t Stand Losing) are ironic and funny. But oh, how we ripped on Adele!
Now, Adele is enormously popular for her love ballads that give people “the feels.” I didn’t make that up, I’ve seen those words used in many of her reviews. Who are these people who are so moved by her music? Most of her songs, when you escape from the emotionally manipulative instrumental and listen to the lyrics, are downright creepy. (Again, “emotionally manipulative” is a fact, not my judgment; Adele deliberately uses psychological techniques to make her songs appeal to our emotions.) Think of her smash hit “Hello:”
Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home
Oh, he’s home all right, Adele. He has Caller ID and he’s screening you! After all, you invited him to “meet and go over everything.” Do you know a single guy who wouldn’t run like hell at the very mention of a relationship debrief?
The point of all this fun, though, was to highlight how popular music depends on the tired old romance theme. Does romance drive popular culture or reflect it? I think it drives it.
Songwriters need themes to write about, and how better to enhance the emotions evoked by the music than with a story in the lyrics? They reach for romance because it’s the easy option and it relieves the writers from the need for substance. Like a fortuneteller’s prophecy, we can tie it to our own experience easily. (Sad Songs Say So Much…) Our books, movies and music have leaned heavily toward romantic themes for such a long time. We are steeped in it from an early age, and it barrages us from every radio all our lives.
I’m bothered by the way popular music immerses young people in amatonormativity—the cultural expectation that everyone is supposed to be part of a coupled relationship, and that our soul mate is out there waiting to be found.
So many of us do not fit that mold. My friend Judy who lives with her sister and they are best friends; my friend Susan who needs her own space but just moved to a cottage in an intentional community.
Music can make many of us feel on the outside looking in rather than bring us together. And it’s all because we lack the imagination to write about anything else. Many of us lack the imagination to live our lives for any higher purpose than romantic love too, and our entertainment tells us there is no higher purpose. Forget curing cancer, you have to win The Elusive Potential Partner! Once you finally come together, the world is set right.
For many people, the quest for a romantic partner relieves them of the risk inherent in developing their own talents. Have a couple kids and you’re validated without having to spend six years at MIT, only to risk failure in the world.
Oh sure, we have lots of songs about music and dancing—those are even more annoying to me than sappy love ballads. There are some refreshing standouts that have nothing to do with romance, like Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning,” about Australian Aboriginal land rights, Dar Williams’ “Teens for God,” about peer-pressuring church youth groups, and one I personally can’t stand but is about the individual journey through challenges, “It’s The Climb” by Miley Cyrus.
I’m not a total curmudgeon. I admit that I turn my radio up and sing loudly to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” But I recognize that it’s a guilty pleasure—something I do in secret, knowing full well it’s a musical bag of Oreo Double Stuf and won’t give me any real nourishment. On the Facebook group Community of Single People, we often exchange what we’ve read, seen or heard lately that was uplifting and representative of people like us. We reward these artists with our business and our positive reviews. The more we highlight these works, the more likely we are to see more of them.
Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, Washington with two cats and her vintage touring bicycle, Silver. Her triple passions are animal rescue, long-distance bike touring, and writing. Her book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, is about reinventing her life following a catastrophic injury. She will not allow silly pop songs to limit her possibilities.