The “Cool Kid” Fallacy

The “Cool Kid” Fallacy

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.

  • Pingback: What am I Talking About?: Essentialism | Pop Culture Primer()

  • natman2939

    I think the songwriters feelings about the existence of “cool kids” is a lot closer to yours than you realize. I think the song is subtlety about how lots of young people look at other peoples lives from the outside and wish they could be more like them, not realizing they’re probably doing the same thing to someone else (and also not realizing that those peoples lives are far from perfect)

    the song hints at this in a couple of subtle ways. For starters it says “they SEEM to get it” and “they SEEM to fit in”

    Throwing in that one little word, seem, changes everything. If the writer had said “they get it, they fit in” it would’ve been a completely different song and your article would’ve been more on point but the word seem thrown in there tells us it’s a matter of that one perceptions perception and that they don’t know for sure, and that they could be wrong.

    There’s also the matter of the song plainly stating that the cool kids don’t seem to know where they’re going but I think what’s even more important is the third version of the chorus.

    See each little story in the song causes the chorus to start with a different pronoun. First it’s “She said…” and then it’s “He said…” but in the 3rd version, the “outro” of the song, the pronoun “they” is used.

    Is that referring to the “he” and the “she” together? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think it is referring to the “cool kids” themselves

    See, right after finishing the 2nd round of chorus, the singer says “and they said…” and she says this right after describing the cool kids, which implies to me that the “cool kids” like the other 2 are looking at others from the outside and wishing to be different themselves. (ie the old grass is greener)

    and if that is the case, it would make the song a lot deeper than you’re giving it credit. Actually, even if “they” is just the he and she, it’s still deeper than you’re giving it credit just for the “seem” portion that I mentioned above

    I think the problem here is the songwriter is being too subtle for your taste. On this particular subject, I think you want “There are no cool kids” stated bluntly, preferably in all caps, underlined, and bolded.

    but great art is usually about subtlety and the songwriter instead throws in little hints that “cool kids” is a matter of perception (or actually misperception)

    but if you think everything I’ve said is complete BS, check this out http://radio.com/2014/01/10/new-music-to-know-echosmith-aspires-toward-role-model-status/

    Note the part where they say “Jamie says the message of the song is simple: the coolest thing you can be is yourself. But more often than not, fans tell the band that they relate to the kids they’re singing about. That they feel like the outsider looking in.”

    and also note ““Musically, it’s important for us to not be someone else or try to do something because it’s popular or because it’s in right now or because people tell us to do it,” Jamie explained, echoing the message of “Cool Kids.” “We’ve never been about that. We want to do what we want to do. For us, that’s all there is.”

    • Matt Cox

      I noticed the “seem” as well but the song needs more than that to change its meaning. The songwriter may have wanted to write a song with a positive message but I don’t see enough in the lyrics to suggest that message in this song. I also see nothing in the lyrics to indicate that “they” refers to anything other than “he” and “she”. The problem here isn’t subtlety its a lack of clarity. There is a balance to be had between the two and I don’t believe this song has it.

      I purposefully didn’t look up anything about the song because I wanted to look only at the lyrics, because, for me, the author has very little say in how their work should be interpreted. Its the intentionally fallacy, which states that the author does not have the final word in how their work is perceived, and its is part of the reason I used the word “fallacy” in the title.

      I’m not going to say your reading is wrong and mine is right, because that would be silly, but I don’t agree with your assessment. I really do like your reading but I don’t see enough support in the song’s lyrics to support the idea. I don’t need the song to be blunt but I would like a bit more textual evidence.