Popular Music These Days

I’ll admit that I enjoy listening to Top 40 music, and that no matter how often I hear Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything,” it still has a good beat and I haven’t grown tired of it yet.

Even so, there’s something vaguely unsettling about current popular music. Perhaps it’s the terrible grammar the artists use in their lyrics, the subject matter, or even the fact that each song is played ad nauseam on a seemingly continuous loop.

Nicole Scherzinger’s hit “Right There” (featuring rapper 50 Cent) includes the grammatically incorrect lyrics “Me like the way that you touch my body” and “Never gonna let no girl steal him from me.” Of course, the lyrical content isn’t meant to be taken seriously (or even really listened to), and the song is more about the beat and the popularity of the two singers, but the first time I heard the song, it bothered me.

The subject matter of popular songs is also disturbing. The top five songs as of October 11, 2011 and their subject matter are as follows:

1. Maroon 5 – “Moves Like Jagger” (dancing, club lifestyle, sex)
2. Bad Meets Evil – “Lighters” (working one’s way to the top)
3. Britney Spears – “I Wanna Go” (dancing, club lifestyle, sex)
4. Katy Perry – “Last Friday Night” (partying, drinking, no regrets)
5. Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass” (crushes, sex)

The Bad Meets Evil song has a fairly important and positive message (work hard to make your way to the top), but Eminem’s rapped verses contain a great deal of profanity that can take away from that message and undermine the hopefulness of Bruno Mars’s chorus.

The only song on the list of current top 10 hits that’s remotely different in style and subject matter is Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” and even the band members themselves do not really know how the song rose to the heights of popularity that it did. But that is not to say that the content of even that song is redeeming; it’s about a kid with homicidal thoughts, although the lyrics were meant to raise awareness of gun violence.

It’s a little disconcerting to think that kids in middle school are listening to this music and quite possibly taking it seriously. I argue that this music is meant to be pure fun, have a good beat, and to be “ear candy” with no real substance, but young kids might try to emulate the lifestyles portrayed in the lyrics.

All in all, listening to Top 40 music is a bit like eating Pringles potato chips: airy, fun, and difficult to stop, but it won’t fill you up or satisfy you.

Note: This article was originally going to be published on the New Student Union blog, but it didn’t make the cut, so it’s getting posted here.

21 thoughts on “Popular Music These Days

  1. Foster the People is an odd little group. I actually do not like that song by any means. As for top songs, it depends on the genre. There are some amazing artists out there (I will share in the next post) that always inspire my writing. Songs like you listed get me pumped up on a work out.

    The children who take this seriously need better parenting. Not the ‘Don’t listen to this crap or you are grounded’ stuff but the ‘I listened to this song and it is catchy. Why do you like it? Do you know the difference betweer real and fake?’ kind of convo. If parents paid more attention maybe there would not need to be so much concern over what messages kids get.

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    1. I really like that song because it reminds me of 90s rock, which is my favorite genre. And like you, all the Top 40 songs are good for motivation/getting energized, but that’s the extent of it.

      I agree with you on the parenting subject; parents need to listen to what their kids listen to so they can make accurate judgments about it.

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  2. LOOOL! Music these days (and for the past couple of years) is a funny one. I get what you mean about the language used – it shouldn’t really bother us but does. The sad fact is that children are learning from the language used and taking it as an appropriate standard of English.

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  3. I agree with everything you say here. I once read an article in the newspaper once which was written by a man who thought that crime was influenced by grime/rap music. I wasn’t sure what to think but it could be true.

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  4. First, I listen to the melody and the beat.

    If I like how a song makes me feel, I tune in to the lyrics. Lyrics either enhance the song due to the innate intelligence and wisdom being shared, or they detract from my enjoyment as a result of being insipid, shallow, or downright stupid. 😉

    Fortunately, we are building on a solid base of hits from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s ~ so if today’s tunes turn us off . . . we can turn the dial and get a blast from the past.

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  5. Actually, a lot of what we think of as bad grammar, or improper language only appears so based upon the yardstick by which we measure it.

    Much of what you hear is based upon either a pidgin (a language made up of components of two or more other languages, or a “creole”, a alanguage which began as a pidgen and has evolved into it’s own tongue.

    It has taken me years, and much study, to get beyond my prejudice of such lanage. it was always too easy to put it down as laziness, or sloppy speaking–and perhaps some amount of it is–but the linguists have much to say about these forms of language.

    For me, the biggest fear is becomming my own parent. “You call that music? In my day we had…”

    Music moves us, and touches us in so many ways. It inspires, it teaches, it cajoles, but in the end, we must make our own decisions about our actions.

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    1. That is very true. Maybe it’s the grammar Nazi in me that makes me so critical of music today. But I don’t think music should be listened to solely for the lyrics anyway.

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  6. Nice one. Ah yes, the good old days. Let’s rewind to 1965. Lyrics like The Who’s ‘My Generation’ .’..why don’t you all f-f-fade away? Don’t try to dig what we all say…Things they say seem awful c-c-c-cold….I hope I die before I get old…’ (NB: the author is now pushing 70 and still going strong). I think pop music has always been a way to put some clear blue water between feckless irresponsible youth and the older generation and their hard-won values. That isn’t about to change (a pensioner speaks).

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      1. True, and one of the purposes of young people’s music is to annoy their elders.:-)

        That being said, I really enjoyed this post beause it directed me to the Move Like Jagger video, which is hilarious.

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  7. Totally agreeing with Richard W Scott on the point about the “incorrect” grammar, although I totally agree with you on the point of subject matter in the lyrics.

    African American Vernacular, or ebonics, or whatever it’s called today, has its own grammatical rules. It is not standard English; it is not the English we teach in schools. It isn’t often accepted in academic circles. However, it is an acceptable way of speaking to a group of people, and I believe it’s acceptable in music. I argue strongly that speakers of nonstandard English dialects should learn the standard form so that they can succeed in academia and the workplace. However, when it comes to fun, leisure activities like music, people should use whatever form of English they are comfortable with.

    This isn’t an attack on you, Maggie, but it is something I believe strongly in, and I don’t think enough people are aware of or understand the issue.

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    1. I agree with you. It just bugs me that young kids might be influenced by the language and subject matter to the point where they use it in academia, the workplace, etc. In my head, it’s related to how there are kids who write papers using “lol” and “u” in place of “you” – things like that.

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    2. Beth, I agree. I have a friend with a PhD in English, and he has made the argument that “Black English” is far more logical in some areas than standard school-taught English, because it has evolved naturally. I wish I still had his examples, but it was a long time ago.

      At work, of course, I’m a demon for proper English, but, as you point out that’s different.

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      1. Anthony, one cool example of Black English (is that the term used now?) is the “habitual be,” as in “I be writin’ novels.” It signifies that the person does the action on a regular basis. There’s no habitual be in standard English.

        Maggie, I don’t think there’s much danger of kids adopting nonstandard dialects who don’t already speak them. They may experiment with the language, but I don’t see it creeping into their academic use. For those who already speak nonstandard dialects, again the goal would be education to show them in which spheres the nonstandard dialect is acceptable, and when the standard form should be utilized.

        The text-speak is definitely annoying and perplexing. I think that has more to do with something called “register” in language use – varying levels of formality in language usage (for example, I use a different register when addressing a boss than I’d use addressing a close friend). The text-speak could also do with laziness. Perhaps both. I think in all cases, education should be encouraged. Children, and adults, need to know the differences in language appropriateness.

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        1. I hope that different modes of speech become more accepted in the future – and used only when appropriate. It’s just hard to change your mind about certain things when English teachers have drilled it into your head that “I be writin’ novels” is incorrect and should never be used at all.

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  8. As a full-fledged grammar nerd, some days I have to stop myself from correcting people’s mistakes when they are speaking. When I hear incorrect grammar in a song it makes me twitch a little too.

    As I write song lyrics, grammar is always on my mind. Yet I had to write a song or two incorrectly because it just sounded better. I think there’s a time and a place for correct grammar but when you can’t make sense of the song due to a lack of appropriate language, it is disheartening.

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    1. Sometimes you do have to sacrifice grammar for the sake of rhyme, but some of these songs today just feel like they do it gratuitously or for no real reason.

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