Drugs, sex and rock n’ roll. This mantra of the ’60s served as an identity for a generation. As of late, this clichéd saying could be tossed in with almost any musical genre and be considered relevant. Country songs proclaim of binge drinking, pop glorifies one-night stands and hip hop furthers the objectification of women. Last year, we as a Talon staff gave our opinion on this topic, encouraging readers reevaluate the songs they listen to and search for more appropriate alternatives, but what about the songs that already challenge “the norm” of the popular music industry?
We’ve all heard Macklemore playing on just about every radio station, along with multiple television commercials. While he is best known for a mindless song about being fiscally responsible, the true gems are the ones that didn’t make it on the air. “Otherside” is one of those songs. The melancholy melody, supplied by Seattle natives, Fences, sets the tone of the song. “Oh, girl this boat is sinking, there’s no sea left for me.”
The first verse chronicles the story of an addict, from the first time using and the spiral into inevitable addiction and overdose. The center focus of the story is a teenaged boy who tries codeine syrup after being told it’s the same stuff Lil Wayne is on. As the addiction increases, the song escalates, becoming more frantic. Even on the edge of death, he can’t admit he has a problem. “He never got up, he never got up, We live on the cusp of death thinkin’ that it won’t be us.”
The second verse dives into a deeper issue: how the heavy presence of drugs in music, predominantly rap, takes a toll on listeners. Seeing those they admire using justifies their own experimentation. “Now he just wanted to act like them, He just wanted to rap like him, Us as rappers underestimate the power and the effects that we have on these kids.” He goes on to say that he himself struggled with the same demons. “Despite how Lil Wayne lives, it’s not conducive to being creative, and I know ‘cause he’s my favorite, and I know ‘cause I was off that same mix, rationalize the sh*t that I’d try after I listen to dedication.”
Pull any track off of Marina and the Diamonds’ sophomore record, Electra Heart, and you’ll find a host of cultural issues and accompanying social commentary, ranging from the ideal of the perfect woman, eating disorders, depression, and excessive romanticizing of young love. On the surface, the seemingly vapid, synthesized sound comes off as just another pop album, but beyond that lies a stroke of genius. “Sex Yeah”, one of the most popular songs on the album, characterizes the over sexualization of Western society. The beginning of the song starts off simply repeating “sex” over and over again. Twenty times, to be precise, and 63 times throughout the entire course of the song. The constant repetition of the word is reminiscent of our media.The constant exposure causes desensitization, which is addressed in the first line. “Nothing is provocative, anymore, even for kids, no room for imagining, ‘cause everyone’s seen everything.”
The chorus addresses how the message of sexuality tells young girls what they should be: innocent and seductive, pure and provocative. An impossible order to fill. As the song progresses into the second verse, it begins to address the opposite end of the spectrum. She makes the bold statement that if religion accepted women’s sexuality, they wouldn’t have to parade themselves for thrills. While this certainly could be argued, the other extreme is possible as well. Religious suppression of sexuality leads to misinformation and prudism. She also claims that celebrities “act naughtier than they really are” to keep themselves relevant, and then are inevitably criticized for feeding into the idea that sex sells, no matter how true it may be.The irony of the song isn’t lost. By addressing the trend of selling sex, Marina capitalizes on it herself.
As Macklemore puts it, “follow the formula violence, drugs and sex sells” and you’ll end up with a successful music career, no matter how tasteless. While this equation seems to have worked for countless musicians, a lot can be said for challenging this notion. Just as songs laced with obscene lyrics and sexual innuendos alter the way we perceive things and causes desensitization, songs that question society encourage free thought and non-conformism. Each song that we listen to implants an idea into our minds, regardless if we are conscious of it or not. By filtering what we listen to, we can ensure that our ideas are relevant and worth thinking, instead of being overexposed and repetitive.