April 22, 2015

"I Really Like You" by Carly Rae Jepsen

Contrary to what everyone is saying, this song doesn't sound like the '80s, but it has a refreshing emotional tone nonetheless. It isn't bratty, emo, or self-absorbed. It's basically sincere, uncomplicated, and other-pleasing.

For 20 years, female pop singers have been broadcasting how little they depend emotionally on men. Either they're scum and don't deserve attention ("No Scrubs," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"), or they're fleeting conquests of empowerrrd womynnn ("Shoop," "Blank Space"). Two sides of the same slutball coin (both types ironically sung by a virgin who only "dates" fags, Taylor Swift).

The songs that are supposedly about being in a loving stable relationship don't ring true and sound forced ("I Wanna Love You Forever," "Umbrella"). Perhaps that's because there aren't any songs about the initial infatuation that establishes the couple's chemistry as a prelude to love. (Again, not talking about the shallow "I'm hot, you're hot, let's do it" songs about lust at first sight.) If we're not convinced of the organic nature of their first encounters, then hearing about pop singers' steady relationships will sound staged and going-through-the-motions.

Wholesome, bouncy songs about the initial stages of courtship used to be a dime a dozen back in the '80s and early '90s -- "I Think We're Alone Now," "Shake Your Love," "I Love Your Smile" -- but there are notable differences from today's "I Really Like You".

The singers from the good old days were teenagers, who sound more believable than the nearly 30 year-old Jepsen when it comes to feeling butterflies in the stomach. They also sounded more mature back then, as though they'd been infatuated and in a relationship several times already, whereas Jepsen sounds more like a sixth-grader getting her first crush. Another case of Millennial stunting caused by helicopter parents socially sheltering them.

And of course they don't sound anything alike. The older songs are melodic, the verses are sung rather than mumbled-and-shouted, the drumbeat is more elaborate than a metronomic thud, and the instrumentation is rich rather than sparse.

It goes to show how superficial music critics are, that they lump songs together that use the same family of instruments, rather than, y'know, how it actually sounds. "Synths + drum machine = SO '80S!!!" It's more like a contempo pop song wearing an '80s costume. The video is also a dressing up as an '80s video, with Tom Hanks replacing Chevy Chase as the comedic actor who lip-syncs the lyrics while acting goofy.

Even the tone, while unlike the typical self-absorbed or self-conscious tone of today's music, isn't at an '80s level of letting your guard down. It's more like the atmosphere of the mid-to-late '50s, although I can't think of a good comparison song off the top of my head. Something in between the forced sound of the Chordettes, but not as sincere as the girl groups of the early '60s.

In general, the people looking to make the Next Big Thing should stop trying to copy the '80s and look more to the late '50s and early '60s. That was the beginning of the outgoing and rising-crime climate that would reach its culmination in the '80s. It's hard to imitate an apex, but less daunting to recreate the simple inchoate beginnings.

Once we finally do shift from a cocooning to outgoing social mood, it'll only be at the level of the last shift circa 1960. We're not going to skip straight to the end. Our mindsets, both the musicians' and the audience's, will be more aligned with those of 1960 than 1980 or 1990.

10 comments:

  1. The 80s, notwithstanding inequality, would represent the final form, the way people are actually supposed to live. The earlier periods were more like halting steps towards that. I'm not convinced that cocooning is cyclical or natural, so the 80s were "normal", the early 60s more like awkardness trying to get to being normal.

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  2. One thing about these fatuous 80's throwbacks is that's another reminder of the self-conscious "retro" mania that's been haunting us since about 1995.

    People love to point out how the 80's had early-mid 60's nostalgia which certainly did exist but it's not as though most artists were like, "forget about making original stuff let's try to totally capture the vibe '65". When people are more engaged with each other and their imagination we lose the fear of the embarrassment that we now associate with sincerity and trying something different.

    When cocooning really kicked in around 1994 it quickly became fashionable to posture about your knowledge of the past (see Tarantino and Kevin Williamson). It wasn't just being influenced by the past; it was screaming at the top of your lungs about how awesome Boomer/early Gen X culture was.

    When Lucas created Star Wars he readily admitted his fondness for certain influences; but he wasn't doing wholesale lifting of tons of specific details. No, he was doing what his very active and energetic imagination was guiding him to do. And he did with a refreshing sincerity and drive rather than a angsty glare or goofy/self-conscious grin.

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  3. I was in high school from 82-86. I can assure you, the 60s nostalgia was quite prevalent, but not of the early 60s. The hippie era. Girls wore hippie style dresses, guys wore Birkenstocks and paisley shirts. Not everyone, of course, just the usual trendy group, the same group that in the 90s romanticized the 70s, and so on. As for music, again, not on the pop charts, but the Paisley Underground was a thing, spearheaded by bands like Jellyfish (two member of which I went to high school with, incidentally). Going back further, lots of people in the 70s romanticized the 50s. There's the movie Grease, of course, but also much of what became the punk scene started with people reconstituting 50s tropes. Greaser style and whatnot.

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  4. Yeah the 80's had nostalgia for a a bygone era, but 80's filmmakers and music artists were for the most part "in the flow" of the highly creative, sincere, and unselfconscious times. They were determined to draw from the exciting mood of the time and make something that would stand proudly apart from anything else that had come before.

    It wasn't until the mid 90's that people were becoming so dull, so smug, and so crass that they started throwing all kinds of goofy "retro" stuff into music and movies. Also, beginning around '89 we saw more and more sequels, remakes, and period pieces. Which is a sign that people are getting weary of keeping up a vibrant contemporary culture. Still, I think it was around the time of Pulp Fiction that it became hip for artists to practically hold up neon billboards saying "Check out all this cool 50's/60's/70's stuff that I can muster. Hell, I'll even dredge up a bunch of aging disco era stars since it's so groovy to conjure up the past instead of forging ahead with my own take on things." Actors in fact, have been getting more and more middle aged since the 90's to the point that a high number of now elderly early Boomers continue to get sizable roles even when it makes no sense. Like in "action" movies.

    Youth is more exciting than middle age (and duh, really old age). With dull young people we're getting crappy music and filmmakers reluctant to make movies with younger casts. Regardless of Boomer propaganda about "agism" the fact of the matter is that greying movie casts are not helping the boring state of post 1992 art.

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  5. What are your thoughts on Shepard's Geronimo, which from what I can tell is about putting yourself out there.

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  6. "In general, the people looking to make the Next Big Thing should stop trying to copy the '80s and look more to the late '50s and early '60s."
    Do you think that helps account for the success of Mad Men?

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  7. "Do you think that helps account for the success of Mad Men?"

    At least during the early seasons of the show, when it was set in the late '50s and early '60s. I haven't watched since I canceled Netflix... after season 3 or 4. I didn't feel like watching the seasons set in the later '60s and '70s because I knew cocooning-era actors wouldn't be able to get into the right mood, and would have to resort to camp or caricature.

    Then there was the #8 song of 2014, "All About That Bass". It's not a carbon-copy of the late '50s / early '60s (especially the lyrics), but it sounds a lot closer to the original than an '80s imitation does.

    The only '70s / '80s throwback songs today that sound convincing are "Treasure" by Bruno Mars and "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson.

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  8. "What are your thoughts on Shepard's Geronimo, which from what I can tell is about putting yourself out there."

    Like the Carly Rae Jepsen song, it has a frenetic chorus about putting yourself out there, but the verses are a bit too subdued in emotional tone, vocal range, and instrumentation -- although it does have a decently strong drumbeat.

    It's like a musical interpretation of being awkward and silent, then making the big bold move of dropping a note on your crush's desk that asks to check "yes or no" whether they like you back, and then running the hell away back to your awkward silent resting state.

    It's a distinctly Millennial state of mind. But it is better than being silent altogether, or resorting to bratty antagonism as a defense against insecurity and feeling worthless.

    Epic Millennialisms in the top-rated comment to the music video, btw:

    I am literally beyond the point of being obsessed with this song, so basically [I] stalk it now

    The video reminds me of "Human Touch" by Rick Springfield, but way more kiddie, being by and for Millennials. The battle at the end looks like one of those "pillow fight days" that Millennials have in urban areas, "because omg like so random".

    I don't want to poo-poo it too much, it sounds better than most other songs. Just like to point out how Millennials stand with their feet pointing inward even when they're supposed to be storming the castle.

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  9. The song is also too self-aware and overly dramatizes something which shouldn't be dramatic.

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  10. " "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson."

    Its a decent song, but it still seems a little too self-aware of how it is a throwback.

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