Originally featured in Volume 23 of tmrw.
We are now well and truly in the middle of an era where a generation of woke, without want or need for a better word, young people are in the driving seat. We’re activists and feminists, supportive and inclusive, and we’re not afraid to call people out when they’re wrong. We are a force to be reckoned with and we will be heard. And this is reflected in our popular music.
Pop music has always acted as a reflection of the era in which it is created – and if we’re an era of activists, then so are our pop stars. Well, most of them are anyway.
This isn’t to say that singers and songwriters of the past haven’t been woke to what was going on in the world around them; politically, socially, and economically, before now. But conversation in today’s society seems to be what music listeners are looking for. The recipe for a chart topping song in 2018 not only has a catchy hook, or a killer chorus, but it has meaning.
Pop stars are beginning to realise the significance of the platform they are standing on, the volume of their voice, and just how much it echoes in the heads of their listeners, and beyond.
Has pop music found its voice again? Has there been a realisation this generation needs more than a simple love song? That young people have heightened stresses and intensified interest in the politics that is directly affecting them? This is what they care about, and in turn, they need more from the pop stars that are so often put on the highest pedestal.
There’s acts like 19-year-old Declan McKenna, who sings in ‘Listen To Your Friends’, “The problem is poor kids who can’t afford the train fare / So we up the train fare and charge them for not paying the train fare / The problem is welfare / And the problem is free healthcare / ‘Cause it’s unfair.”
And at 22-years-old, Rat Boy wants a ‘REVOLUTION’, “When the world got divided by what we vote / We’re not so far from World War Three / I think most the people here might be crazy / So fresh, the Prince of Polluted Air / Do you ever feel like your life just isn’t fair? / Well, I’m so poor, I can’t even pay attention.”
See – woke.
One of the biggest discussions of late is surrounding females, the female body, and issues regarding them within society, and therefore in pop music. Discussions that have been pushed out of conversation for too long, I would say. And now, finally, it feels there are open conversations happening about consent, equality, sexuality, and more. They’re topics which are being pushed to the forefront of our attention like an urgent email that appears at the top of your inbox with the little red flag. Read me, I’m important.
In the few months since 2018 began, stars have stood together to say #TimesUp – by wearing black to the Golden Globes, and white roses to the Grammys, and numerous occasions where people have allowed themselves to be vulnerable for the greater good. Lorde wore a quote attached to the back of her red dress to the Grammys and wrote on Instagram picture she uploaded, “My version of a white rose”. The quote was an excerpt by Jenny Holzer, which said, “Rejoice! Our times are intolerable. Take courage, for the worst is a harbinger of the best. Only dire circumstance can precipitate the overthrow of oppressors. The old and corrupt must be laid to waste before the just can triumph. Contradiction will be heightened. The reckoning will be hastened by the staging of seed disturbances. The apocalypse will blossom.”
As each movement comes in ebbs and flows that grow in strength alongside stories of embracing or experimenting with sexuality, and fights for equality, it feels like the tide has definitely changed, and continues to change, in this new millennium. What arguably started with the Spice Girls, and their unfaltering notion of girl power, has now become Dua Lipa redefining the rules to help girlkind avoid getting back with an ex, “You know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the morning / And if you’re under him, you ain’t gettin’ over him.” And continues with Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj singing, “Boy, got me walkin’ side to side”. Which is more risqué and rad when you read between the lines. These two examples come from an abundance of pop stars who are not afraid now of what critics, some males, or anyone, will say or think. If they want to talk about getting some all night, the discouraging politics of whatever country they reside, or even redefining ‘the rules’ yet again, then they will. Because it’s what they want to say, and it’s what a generation of woke young girls and guys want to hear.
The thing with this is, there’s more room for conversation because there’s more platforms. It’s not just heard in the lyrics of these powerful artists, but on their social media, in interviews, in how they act on a day to day basis. Pop stars have personalities more so than 50 years ago, and they’re using it to say something. And if they aren’t saying something – then will them become irrelevant? Take Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’, was there discussion surrounding the singers sixth album ‘flopping’ critically because Taylor didn’t use her platform to say anything of substance? But instead sang about her own reputation at a time where society would benefit from someone in her position speaking about more.
If pop stars aren’t using their voice, or their platform, for good – why should we listen to them? So remember to stay woke pop stars, for “the apocalypse will blossom”, and we’ll need people to guide us.