It’s very easy to sneer at teenage girls who still pretend they’re Disney princesses. Yet, it’s not that different from sneering at girls who listen to Taylor Swift. We’d like to think that we’ve moved on from a 1950’s gender culture, but it’s still there in so much of our popular media. While girls aren’t supposed to wait for their “one true love”, the global popularity of One Direction and Justin Bieber strongly suggests otherwise. If you watch MTV as a thirteen year old girl, you might be tempted to think your life should revolve around boys – which is not that different a sentiment from what was prevalent for most of the last century.
In 1964, one of the hit songs was “Wishin’ and Hopin”, which goes as follows.
You gotta show him that you care just for him
And do the things that he likes to do
Wear your hair just for him
‘Cau-au-ause, you won’t get him
Thinkin’ and a-prayin’
Wishin’ and a-hopin
Sound very different from Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”?
Standing by and waiting at your back door
All this time, how could you not know?
Baby, you belong with me, you belong with me
Admittedly, Taylor Swift doesn’t entreat her listeners to change themselves to get their man. In her world, as long as you stay true to yourself, your Romeo will ride up on a white horse and sweep you off your feet. So some progress, but not that much.
You might say – oh well, that’s just Taylor Swift, everyone knows she’s incurably sentimental. Realistically though, how many popular singers out there sing about things other than love/romance? On my playlist, I currently have Adele, Annie, the Beatles, Cher Lloyd, Coldplay, Corinne Bailey Rae, Daft Punk, Fergie, Beyonce, Pink and Christina Aguilera. Out of all of them, Daft Punk would be your best bet for a consistently romance-free listening experience.
Of course, romantic/sexual feelings are a natural part of life. And not all popular artists address them in a shallow way – Taylor Swift’s recording of her experiences is actually positive in contrast to artists who sing about romance just to boost sales. The issue is the lack of consideration given to most other parts of life. When was the last time you heard a song about being unemployed? Or fighting with your family? In popular culture, we still define ourselves by our relationships with our lovers. Beyonce constantly asserts that she is a strong woman – yet her strength derives mainly from the fact she can cope with men. To put it bluntly, she has yet to produce a hit that focused on anything except getting with men/getting over men.
Even just singing about other depictions of romance would be a positive step – liking someone is a messy, complicated business most of the time. If you listen to most pop songs, it’s the simplest thing on the planet – you fall in love and life is perfect. Or you fall apart and things are terrible – but you will get over the person!
For this reason, one of my favorite songs is “Lying to You” by Keaton Henson. It shows how sometimes our stories are not that straightforward.
As we lie in bed I feel lonely,
Though we’re young, I feel eighty years old.
And your arms around me are keeping me warm.
But baby, I’m still feeling cold.
And girl you must know you are lovely,
You’re kind and you’re beautiful too.
And I feel in some way I do love you
But babe, I’m not in love with you.
Life is messy, and emotions are complicated. While I do sometimes love pop music, human stories just never seem to be that simple. So until popular artists start singing about other topics, I will stick to more Marina and the Diamonds and less Beyonce.