March 18, 2015

No more clingy girlfriend songs in our cocooning age?

Still poking around the Billboard Year-End charts to see how things have changed since the '90s. Society had already entered the cocooning phase, but it was only several years into it, rather than 20-odd years into it.

Also, change doesn't always affect every individual -- it's not as though every pop star of the '90s was a watered-down version of their counterpart from the '80s. Some individuals still showed signs of the '80s climate, they were just fewer and fewer in number each year.

Looking over the charts from '93-'95, you can still see a remnant of the outgoing and socially connected world of the '80s -- the clingy girlfriend song. Torch songs wouldn't be popular if young people didn't really care that much about connecting, whether due to mousiness and celibacy or glibness and promiscuity.

Some examples, whether traditionally sentimental or with a then-contempo indie / alternative dressing. I wasn't very into rap or R&B, so won't remember any examples from that growing domain of pop music.

"I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston

"I'll Never Get Over You (Getting Over Me)" by Expose

"Again" by Janet Jackson

"Stay (I Missed You)" by Lisa Loeb

"Linger" by the Cranberries

"Take a Bow" by Madonna

"You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette

Musically these aren't as catchy as the clingy girlfriend songs from the New Wave heyday like "Goodbye To You," "Only the Lonely," and "Johnny Are You Queer". I'm just talking about the tone of the lyrics revealing that there was still a residual sign of people wanting to connect with each other, and feeling loss if that bond were broken.

Twenty years further into the cocooning phase, female singers don't even talk about the aftermath of a relationship, since everyone in the audience is too socially awkward and frightened to "reach out" in the first place.

The most popular songs all convey a profound fear and dread about the very beginning when you're only asking someone out on a date, getting to know them, and so on. Merely dating somebody has become this looming apocalyptic scenario, where if the other person rejects you outright or it fizzles before anything happens, you'd be so mortified that the world might as well explode.

It sounds like the singer is a 6th-grader blasting "Carmina Burana" in her room to pump herself up to ask her girl friend if she'll ask her crush if he likes her back. "Dark Horse," "Boom Clap," "Blank Space," etc etc etc. It's all middle school apocalypse music.

Where the torch song showed a level of maturity that allowed a relationship to fully run its course, and a desire to trust others and keep them close even afterward, the emo anthems of today show how stunted the audience is in the stage of development when you're still too awkward to open up to the opposite sex, as well as a distrust of others (MUST NOT EVER BE REJECTED), including your peers, who you feel like keeping a safe distance from, except to scratch the occasional lust itch (or maybe not even then).

Keep your ears open for signs that the cocooning phase is winding down. By the latter half of the '50s, when folks were leaving their Midcentury drive-in cocoons, they were in the mood for a sincere torch song like "Making Believe" by Kitty Wells (#2 on the Country charts). I prefer the version from further into the outgoing phase, performed more tenderly by Emmylou Harris:


  1. What do you think about "Walk in the Park" by Beach House, 2010?

  2. Another trend I've noticed with very late 80's/90's music is featuring really old, often creepy looking people in videos and album covers. When this first started around 1989 these geezers looked more mundane but by 1994 they often looked just grotesque.

    This is in keeping with the shift from an exciting, vibrant pop culture scene to a much more cold and languid one.

    This topic occured to me after I saw a Youtube link for Alice In Chains' No Excuses video which showed a decrepit dude in the thumbnail. Didn't watch the video.

    Other examples from the genre I know best (metal):
    1992 - Megadeth: Countdown to Extinction album cover
    1990 - Sanctuary: Into the Mirror Black album cover
    1989 - Fates Warning: Perfect Symmetry album cover and the video for Through Different Eyes from the same album

    A lot of the 90's videos I remember from memory and recent Youtube cruising also show at the very least, unattractive middle aged people, if not necessarily geriatrics. Like Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun.

    Meanwhile, in the amiable early to mid 80's, it was more common to either exclude the visibly aged altogether or show more ordinary looking older people. Like in Bon Jovi's Only Lonely ('85) or Runaway ('84). The parents looked square in these videos but they weren't nasty looking or turning to dust before your eyes.

  3. Taylor Swift? Doesn't she write one song after another about how she's been dumped again and how bummed out she is? Alison Kraus also sings relationship-ending songs. Or am I missing your point somehow?

  4. Not missing the point, you're experiencing the art of cherry-picking data that this here blog has elevated to an almost exquisite level. It's kind of addictive.

  5. Taylor Swift doesn't sing about still wanting to be with the guy who dumped her. She sings anti-clingy anthems like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". Being bummed about getting dumped doesn't mean you still carry a torch for them, only that you're miffed that someone had the nerve to wound your self-esteem.

    Her never-ending-ly played hit "Blank Space" is clear about not developing feelings for any of the numerous faceless guys she gets into a brief stormy relationship with, before moving on to the next one.

    (BTW in real life she only dates fags and comes off as a virgin, so that is pure persona-crafting by the industry. Fortunately her audience are clueless Millennials who couldn't tell how lacking in feeling or libido she is.)

    Alison Krauss is not on the Year-End charts, so it doesn't matter what she sings about (no time right now to check and see if they're legit counter-examples).

  6. You claim cherry-picking data, meaning I've left out counter-examples you know about, or strongly suspect are there.

    Go through the Billboard Year-End charts for any recent year, and provide clear examples of a clingy girlfriend song. It couldn't get any simpler to understand what the basic criteria are.

    Or go through those charts for the '80s and provide clear counter-examples of a female singer with a hit whose lyrics are like "Blank Space" (boys are faceless, interchangeable, no attachment to them, move soullessly from one to the next).

  7. "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" = the clingiest thing a girlfriend could ever say.

  8. Swift is also good friends with Lena Dunham, who she credits with turning her into a feminist.

  9. The last outgoing phase lasted about 30-35 years. Do they last longer than cocooning phases? If they don't, than the cocooning phase has at least another decade to go.

  10. You're largely right, but there are a few such songs in current times. A few examples are "Bel Air" by Lana del Rey, "Forever" by Haim, and especially "Wildest Moments" by Jessie Ware.

  11. "The last outgoing phase lasted about 30-35 years. Do they last longer than cocooning phases? If they don't, than the cocooning phase has at least another decade to go. "

    I really wonder if America's sweeping demographic changes, that have intensified a lot since about 1990, have upset this cycle. Agnostic recently pointed out that the South's historically much higher level of racial diversity has hampered regional unity and thus, regional strength.

    Has the South been less prone to extremes of outgoingness because of diversity? Have these cycles been more pronounced in the parts of the West with the greatest homogeneity? Like the British Isles, Scandinavia, Pre 1990's Northern U.S. and so on.

    It's interesting too that in the climate of low outgoingness/high inequality that's reigned since the 90's, we've seen the elites of the most homogenous NW Euro white countries go to incredible lengths to flood these countries with the most alien elements possible. Slavs, Arabs, Asians, African "refugees" and so on.

    These foreign cultures typically are less imaginative and open than Western Euros. In addition to greater diversity per se contributing to cultural torpor and sclerosis, there's also the toxic multiplier effect caused by the presence of groups either:

    - venal/clannish (Slavs, Semites, Asians)
    - obstreperous (Blacks, Semties)
    - or both! (Semites)

    It's easy to understand why people in late 50's/early 60's America would want to get out more often. But that America, racially speaking, no longer exists.

  12. I really wonder if America's sweeping demographic changes, that have intensified a lot since about 1990, have upset this cycle.

    Ya think?

    By they way, Slavs (who had been here since Jamestown) really belong with Semites and Africans.

  13. Slavs mostly came over during the floodgate phase of immigration during the Gilded Age and early 20th C. They're "recent" enough to have their own pejorative ethnic names -- Polacks, Hunkies, etc., joining other recent-enough groups like the micks, krauts, wops, dagoes, kikes, towelheads, niggers, spics, and chinks.

    Only the founding stock are free from those terms -- English, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch, and yes even the French ("frog" is British).

  14. Striving and economic inequality links up to the marriage vs divorce cycle right? And people climbing the ladder from one partner to another, so I'd look at that as an alternate. In a striving era people are more "YOLO. Let's move on to my next Achievement." so I'd expect them to mull over heartbreak and lost relationships less.

    I get the impression the '30s and '40s had songs which stressed attachment to their girlfriend / boyfriend a lot... but at the same time those songs were a lot less emo intense than in the Rock Era, generally both because of being less passionate and excitable and more sleepy via the cocooning type pathway and more stoic, via the accommodating vs striving pathway - "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" type stuff (limp doo wop, specifically contrasting striving and love).

  15. Plus, in the Midcentury, without as much striving and relationship breakdown as people move on to something better, songs where one partner just can't let go wouldn't be popular.


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