Arts & Entertainment Music Review

Addressing the Privilege of Pop Music.

Written by Innocent Owuor

I’ve always debated whether the music industry needs censorship. We deserve a music industry that unites us all, acknowledges each of our experiences, and provides fodder for the difficult conversations we need to have: if not, at least an industry that serves some escape from the existential battle that is life.

With that in mind, I’d like to draw attention to two culprits: The Chainsmokers and Taylor Swift, the beloved minstrels of the privileged. Many have spoken on the topic and criticized the utility of their music.

Every genre’s utility gives insight into the importance of the music and the underlying beliefs of the musician making it.

For example, I deeply enjoy the song “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar; it is a reminder that despite being at an institutional disadvantage as a black immigrant, everything will be alright. From Kendrick’s perspective, despite continuously falling victim to institutional racism, everything will be alright.

Now, if we were to extend that similar framework to The Chainsmokers and Taylor Swift, what would we find?

Why would you listen to these two artists?

Maybe they sound good and the songs have that feel good sensation, but that is not what matters. Cigarettes do the same; it’s the mechanism behind the sensation that matters. With cigarettes, nicotine mimics acetylcholine and increases the dopamine efflux in the reward pathway of the brain.

At face value, Taylor Swift offers white feminism that resonates with white women who are marginalized and discriminated against. So, if you need a drug to cure your hatred for the patriarchy, but don’t want to consider other forms of discrimination facing your fellow women of colour, blast that Taylor Swift till the walls fall apart.

Taylor Swift departed from the emotionally intimate songs she wrote in her early albums and arrived at meaningless balderdash. She reintroduces her sorority fan base to a colonial dream in Africa with an appalling video for “Wildest Dreams.” The video has only white people, beautiful landscapes, and a disturbing lack of black Africans in her song.

Taylor has created other pieces of detritus: “Shake it Off,” also known as women of color can really twerk. Moreover, Swift’s video for “Blank Space” trivializes dating violence, with Taylor Swift screaming, yelling, and threatening a man with a knife to prevent him from leaving.  Nicotine fulfills that craving for a cigarette; Swift’s music sates that need to enjoy oneself, but at the same time screens out the hardships of fellow women who are not white.

The Chainsmokers also offer some numbing nicotine for ignorant cravings. In a world where suffering besets the privileged, a Chainsmokers song validates their experiences of being young, rich, male, and heterosexual. Anyone with these characteristics has the right to express their hardships. However, ignoring intersectionality and creating a hierarchy where their suffering is at the top is abhorring.  Throughout most Chainsmoker songs, the glorification of wealth, wallowing in privileged excess, and boredom with an easy life cannot be ignored by those who lack such things.

You don’t believe me? Look at the lyrics for their song “Young.”

“We both know I go too far like when I wrecked your car / And almost fought your father when he pushed me in the yard / And all those nights we snuck out, like to meet up at the bar / Don’t worry, my love, we’re learning to love / But it’s hard when you’re young” – “Young,” The Chainsmokers.

So, it’s hard when you have a car to wreck, a father to push, a yard to play in, and a home to sneak out of? Maybe.

After listening to this, what was disturbing was not the lack of acknowledgment that there are far worse situations, it’s the audacity of the Chainsmokers.

As all musicians do, The Chainsmokers know what they are doing. They are simply supplying the fodder needed to sustain the ignorant beasts who are being raised in the United States today. With every song, the duo insults and laughs at the ignorance of their fan base. The duo pumps out tunes that lack the depth needed to develop their fan base into empathetic and educated humans. The Chainsmokers don’t care about their fans enough to teach them better. They have a platform to educate, unify, and challenge, but they’d rather milk their listeners, keep them dumb, and segregate them from the suffering of their peers.

It’s sad that young artists today are purposefully engaging in ignorance as well as halting the progress that many musicians, past and present, have strived to achieve.

Pop still has utility today; pop has power; pop shapes norms. This is the reason why artists who use it creatively and positively should be celebrated. Pop should indulge in fantasy the way Carly Rae Jepsen does or create waves of emotion, in the same way Adele’s voice batters your soul from song to song. Both Taylor Swift and Chainsmokers want to do this, but all they can offer is a jaded reflection of their comforts.

One favorite pop band of mine is Years and Years. Somehow Olly Alexander finds a way to fill his songs with the lush yearning for love, theatrics and fantasy. His music is human and doesn’t leave you with that “who gives a fuck feeling?”

So, throw out your privilege pop and pop your comfort bubble

About the author

Innocent Owuor