Pop Songs are Sad Songs

My key pop music memories primarily imprinted themselves on my trembling consciousness at after-show theater parties when I was an undergrad in the early 1980's. The hot items were Michael Jackson (back when he was good), J. Geils Band, Van Halen, Wham!, Pat Benatar, and tons of other bands whose names I don't know but whose songs were pounded into my head by Pop-40, MTV, other music video shows, and all the rest of it.

I remember them as being upbeat, lively, fun to dance to, and to shout over. I lost touch with pop music in the late ‘80’s and began more of an eclectic self-education in music I liked because I liked it, not because it was playing all the time everywhere.

But if it seems to you that the songs of today don’t have that same kick anymore, then science has confirmed your intuition. The BPS Research Digest summarizes an article from the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts proposing that pop songs have indeed become more sad and more emotionally ambiguous. Here’s the paragraph that caught my eye:

Unambiguously happy songs like Abba’s Waterloo sound, to today’s ears, “naive and slightly juvenile”, the researchers noted. And whilst modern songs in a similar style, such as Aqua’s Barbie Girl, can still enjoy huge commercial success, they’re usually seen as a guilty pleasure and savaged by critics.

I will at some point have to decide whether I can accept my pleasures as pleasures and to hell with guilt and shame.

Well, in that spirit, why not go out with one of my faves from that happy, happy time? I remember buying the 45 for this song because it had a great beat and just sounded like a fun record. I would sometimes listen to it after a hard day at my first job as a reporter for a smalltown newspaper. I put this 45 on, flopped on my sofa, and tried to draw in its energy and pulse, like it was caffeine. (This was before I started drinking coffee.) The video is meh but I recall it made a big splash when it appeared. Another sign of the changing times.


Michael E Brown @brownstudy