In addition to my vested interests in interactive narratives, films, and writing, I also dabble in a bit of music criticism- or more accurately, lyric criticism. For a few years now, I have been listening to pop music. I blame music critic, Todd in the Shadows, for my morbid fascination in popular music and Billboard’s Hot 100, because my fascination with Pop began once I found his show on thatguywiththeglasses.com, watched all his reviews, and found them to be that special blend of hilarious and insightful. Over the past few years of listening to the local Pop station (my area used to have two but one died and became a country station, because Alabama doesn’t have enough of those already), I have been developing my own critical lens for the genre, which mostly focuses on lyrics.
My lyrical focus is out of necessity, as I know very little about music, itself. I have been looking up different terms and phrases regarding music but I have very little practical knowledge of the music form (still not sure what a cord is and how to pick it out in a song). As far as the music is concerned I can discuss its emotional appeal and some patterns and repetition in the musical structure, but that is about it. So, my approach to critiquing music comes from a lyrical basis, because I do have a solid foundation in words and their meaning and use (I call it my Bachelor’s degree in English Lit.). Therefore, my interest in a song is usually based in its writing. Said writing does not always have to be deep and complex but it does at least need to make sense and have some thought applied.
The Cool Kids
The song that I would like to discuss in this article is “Cool Kids” by Echosmith, which debuted this year and at the time of writing is #25 on Billboard, and climbing. This song is simply written in both the lyrical and musical sense (you don’t need a degree to tell that the music for this song is very simple). In fact the minimalist approach to the music puts the lyrics at the forefront of the song. They are the only thing to analyze, as far as this song is concerned and they do not relay a good message.
The entire song, which only has two verses to begin with, is about two different people, a teenage girl and teenage boy, observing on the titular cool kids and longing to number among their ranks. The chorus states this desire in blunt and obvious fashion saying, “I wish that I could be like the cool kids,/ Cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in.” A repeat of the chorus later in the song will claim that these cool kids also “seem to get it” in addition to their ability to “fit in.”
A Cool Fallacy
Here’s the problem with that wish. The “cool kids” do not exist. They are an artificial construct created by egocentric teenagers who prefer the lives of those they consider as being better off than themselves. It’s a “greener grass on the other side mentality.” That would be great in a three verse song that sets up the issue of looking up to a perception in the first two verses, then delivers the reality in the third verse, but “Cool Kids” does not do that. The song does not seem to know that the cool kids are a perceived fantasy that comes nowhere close to anything related to reality.
In fact, the song spends its verses building the cool kids into directionless super-beings that stay a step ahead everyone else in their fast cars. Verse 1, the girl’s perspective, lists the cools kids as “invincible” as “nothing in this world could ever bring them down.” Verse 2, the boy’s perspective, acknowledges that their lives are good while they drive their fast cars, ignore everyone else, and “don’t know where they’re going.” Clearly these are all positive traits to the narrator and the two teenagers because every description is followed with that wishful chorus. However, these verses do not describe fully fleshed out human beings. They describe an archetype- an essentialist ideal based on superficial observation, then these lyrics tell the listener that they should subscribe to this ideal and desire to emulate it.
This is not okay. There is no base-line for human experience, because existence is too varied and nuanced for one to exist. People do not fit into the rigid constraints, in which we try to put them, and that is good. I have heard several songs lately that stress the importance of figuring out who you are and what is important to you and embracing yourself, which is Pink’s entire career at this point, and I was hopeful. This song flies in the face of the positive “be yourself” message that has been so strong lately, and says “screw that, you should want to be this ideal of humanity, called the ‘cool kid,’ that doesn’t actually exist and can never be realized.”
I know Pop is not known for being thoughtful or complex but it can at least be positive, and with acts like Lorde, Lupe Fiasco, B.O.B., and Pink gaining ground I thought Positivityville was where we were heading, but then Jason Derulo, Echosmith, Iggy Azalea, and Meghan Trainor had to get on the train. Now were are on a straight line toward Crap Town, where cliché and bad messages rule.
All this negativity bums me out. The next time I talk about a song, it will be one I like and it will come from one of the four positive artists that I named above.