Bad Blood

Why Is Pop Music So Angry?

Cheerfulness and popular culture seem to have had a falling out, and from the looks of it, they’re “never, ever, ever getting back together.”

 

John Stonestreet

Good guys are out of style. If you’ve been to the movies any time in the last decade, you know that Hollywood has replaced the superheroes of yore with antiheroes—depressed, broody, supposedly “relatable” characters with a past. Whether it’s the angst-filled teenage protagonists of “Twilight” or a black-suited Spiderman doing Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever strut, it’s become almost cliché to bring our heroes down to our level rather than aspiring to theirs.

With a handful of exceptions like Marvel’s Captain America, the entertainment industry just doesn’t create uncomplicated, morally straight characters anymore. Even Superman recently got a makeover. Director Zack Snyder’s reboot offered us a troubled Clark Kent in a bleak, visually desaturated film where the Man of Steel doesn’t hesitate to kill. And the same holds true in pop music, where artists who once sang about falling in love now storm on stage and sing about wrecking their ex’s life.

A quick glance over YouTube’s top music videos reveals a wall of singers grimacing, glowering, and growling at us. Heavy eye-shadow, aggressive postures, black clothing, red smoke, sneering expressions make it look like these performers—many of them young women—want to mug us instead of entertain us. Writing at the Daily Mail, Jo Tweedy asks the obvious question: Why do all of these singers look so angry?

Whether it’s Beyonce’s now-infamous Super Bowl halftime performance or Miley Cyrus’ descent into “Wrecking Ball” wrath, these performers “prove that rage is very much all the rage for pop stars.”

But it’s probably Taylor Swift, the 25-year-old country singer who took the pop scene by storm a few years back, who best illustrates how angry modern music has actually become. Swift started out a few years ago writing songs about unrequited love and teardrops on guitars. But in more recent hits like “Blank Space,” “Shake it Off,” and “I Knew You Were Trouble,” the music icon tells haters and potential heartbreakers to back off. “Boys only want love if it’s torture,” she complains, and warns would-be suitors that she’s “got a blank space” on her “long list of ex-lovers,” and would be glad to write in their names.

And then there’s her biggest new hit, “Bad Blood,” a breakup number accompanied by an especially warlike music video that won the VMA’s top honor last year. It features guns, explosions, rocket-launchers, even mixed martial arts. I’m not kidding. Swift herself looks every bit as angry as the Amazon that she plays.

“So why does white hot anger seem to be such a big feature for today’s stars when they’re on stage?” asks Tweedy. One London pop choreographer answered: “…the anger is simply a way of getting noticed,” a way of “trying to stand out,” she said. “[It’s a way of] saying, ‘…you will book me for that next job.’”

So, no surprise, a lot of it comes back to marketing and publicity. We saw this with the release of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” that sexy has taken a sadomasochistic turn in order to sell more books and movies.

But what if there’s more to it than just marketing? In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis’ professorial devil offers advice on how to get humans, especially men, to confuse aggression for beauty.

“…the felt evil is what [the patient] wants,” he explains. “It is the visible animality or sulkiness, or craft, or cruelty which he likes,” and which “play[s] on the raw nerve of his private obsession.”

And I can’t help wondering if on another level all this bad blood is due to the sexual revolution itself. Could it be that some pop stars—especially women—really do resent the way the industry has objectified and turned them into sex symbols? Attempting to tether human dignity to sexual freedom leaves many feeling as if they must be sexually aggressive to be known, and others as if their value is secondary to other’s desires. Either way, it helps explain why pop culture seems to be popping a gasket lately.

Further Reading and Information

Bad Blood: Why Is Pop Music So Angry?
“Stage rage” may just be pop culture’s latest performance trend. But there is a cautionary note in this song: don’t take for granted the unspoken messages often conveyed in today’s music that discourage the elevation of truth and beauty and instead glorify anger and angst.

Resources

Why DO Little Mix always look so angry? Rise of the grimacing girl group… and how it’s become pop’s most popular look
Jo Tweedy | dailymail.co.uk | July 2015

The Screwtape Letters
C. S. Lewis | HarperOne | March 2001


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