May 13, 2018

Songs about physical exhaustion during the vulnerable phase of the 15-year pop music energy cycle

Earlier posts have outlined the traits of the manic, invincible phase of pop music's 15-year cycle in energy levels, followed by the mellow, vulnerable phase, and ending with a restless phase (post to come, but see comments in the second post). The restlessness leads to another spike in energy, and the cycle repeats. That spike cannot happen during the vulnerable phase, which is like a refractory period in an excitable system.

For example, when you're actively lifting weights, you're in an excited state. After some time, your muscles start to fatigue, and it's no longer possible to continue lifting even if you wanted to. They go into a recovery or refractory period. After awhile, they leave the recovery period, and it's more back to normal, even getting restless like they want to feel another work-out already. That leads to the next active work-out, beginning the cycle all over again.

With that basic model in mind -- an excitable system -- I've been keeping an ear out for symptoms of the current phase being mellow and vulnerable, unable to get as maniacally excited as the mood was about five years ago.

Ariana Grande has a new song on the radio called "No Tears Left to Cry," whose figure of speech struck me as a good example of being in a kind of refractory period. You couldn't cry again even if the stimulus were there that would normally cause you to cry -- you've simply run out of that physiological process. At some point, maybe she'll exit this refractory phase, and become capable of crying again, and after that, maybe go into a spike in crying activity, to be followed by another phase where she can't anymore, and the cycle repeats.

So I went over the Billboard Year-end Hot 100 charts, to see if that kind of figure of speech popped up more in the vulnerable phase -- and it did. Dividing decades into halves, the vulnerable phases were during the late '50s, the early '70s, the late '80s, the early 2000s, and the late 2010s. Here's what I found:

1958 - "Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds

1972 - "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" by 5th Dimension

1986 - "All Cried Out" by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam
1987 - "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" by Cutting Crew
1989 - "Close My Eyes Forever" by Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne

2002 - "One Last Breath" by Creed
2003 - "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence
2004 - "Numb" by Linkin Park
2004 - "Wake Me Up When September Ends" by Green Day

2018 - "No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

The common theme is being in a physiological state where you cannot be stimulated back into excitation. Your energy level has already collapsed, or is about to collapse, into a refractory period where just shaking you is not going to wake you up. Drained, worn out, spent, exhausted.

I left out figures of speech that don't imply a collapse, like just getting "weak" or feeling "breathless" around somebody. It had to suggest a terminal state, where only something extraordinary could wake them back up, if at all. Also, getting weak or breathless doesn't imply that you were on some kind of high before, and have plummeted into weakness or breathlessness. "Death" is another common trope that I ignored unless there was something specifically about collapsing suddenly in energy levels, rather than any other ways of dying.

So these images come to people naturally during a society-wide refractory period, but do they also pop up during the manic or restless phases? Not really.

"All Cried Out" did re-appear on the charts in 1997, during a manic phase, but that was a cover version rather than the original.

In 1980, between the restless late '70s and the manic early '80s, there was a song called "Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)". But the lyrics are not about having cried so much or so long that you're no longer capable of doing so anymore -- rather, about making the conscious deliberate choice to cut off the tears by choosing to get out of a bad relationship. Not really a refractory period.

And in 1993, a restless phase, there was a similar song named "One Last Cry" -- it, too, is more about choosing not to cry anymore by putting a break-up behind you after one last crying episode, rather than being all cried out and incapable of crying anymore.

Bonus example from the emo late '80s: although songs of this type may evoke sleep or even death, there's one that took a black humor approach to the "teen tragedy" genre of exactly two 15-year cycles earlier, during the emo late '50s, and made it about someone who has fallen into a vegetative state. While not a hit here in the US, it did chart in its native Britain.



5 comments:

  1. "In 1980, between the restless late '70s and the manic early '80s, there was a song called "Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)". But the lyrics are not about having cried so much or so long that you're no l"onger capable of doing so anymore"

    I saw that pattern too - in the refractory period, breakup songs exude painful despair(for instance, Mariah Carey's "We belong together" in 2005, #1 Billboard song).

    In the restless/decadent period, however, breakup songs are more apathetic and fatalistic - for instance, the #1 song in 2007 - "Irreplaceable" by Beyonce - where the singer doesn't care one way or the other if the relationship continues). Another example would be comparing "She will be loved" by Maroon 5 in 2004, vs. the more fatalistic "Makes me wonder" in 2007 - in the latter, the singer appears to have completely reconciled himself to the fact that the relationship is ending.

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  2. What I meant to quote was this:

    " rather, about making the conscious deliberate choice to cut off the tears by choosing to get out of a bad relationship. Not really a refractory period.

    And in 1993, a restless phase, there was a similar song named "One Last Cry" -- it, too, is more about choosing not to cry anymore by putting a break-up behind you after one last crying episode, rather than being all cried out and incapable of crying anymore."

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  3. In the mariah carey song i mentioned, she mentions "i cant sleep at night without you here by my side" - that was in 2005, a peak for the refractory period

    In 1991, ozzy osbourne releaseed a song called "No more tears" - another peak for mellow vulnerability

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  4. I am a middle aged male (early 50s) and am surprised just how much I enjoy the current pop product. I like this phase of music..in general it is slow (a cool hypnotic type of slowness as opposed to sappy) and ambient. I even like the new hip hop...it is so relaxed and chill.

    When the cycle turns again and music is happy, positive, fun and uptempo I know I will lose interest...at my age it will sound too young for me, I won't be able to relate.

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  5. Sappy music is more a part of the next phase -- the restless phase. Late 2000s, early '90s, late '70s, early '60s.

    Those restless phases also had provocative dance songs trying to wake and shake people up out of their slumber from the mellow, vulnerable phase just before. Other groups are resisting that call, and trying to keep things as slow and mellow and unexciting as possible, and it comes out very sappy.

    Like, not just slow and low-energy -- but deliberately so, in defiance of everyone else starting to wake up and get higher-energy.

    Very odd juxtaposition within a single phase, but that seems to explain it.

    If you want to distill today's sound, Adult Top 40 filters out hard rock and rap, but is not weepy like Adult Contemporary.

    https://www.billboard.com/charts/adult-pop-songs

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