I’m worried that the integrity of the media content we enjoy is beginning to slip. That the art we so regularly subscribe to is lacking in meaning. But mostly I am worried that we are stuck with some pretty shitty music, film and television.
Presently, the political climate of America is both hostile and foggy. The right and the left share leagues in stretch between their viewpoints and personal partisanship is nearly expected. Policy reform has sent some into panic, but today I offer a crisis of a different breed. There is a possibility that artists and content creators are selling out by the masses in a big way.
In early 2017, Katy Perry dropped her long-awaited single “Chained to the Rhythm”– a dancehall pop track that seemed divergent from her previous bubblegum #1’s. This song was hyped up in a number of ways, namely being that this was a comeback of sorts for Katy Perry. But this comeback, as she described herself, would be an era of “Purposeful Pop”– music with meaning.
“Chained to the Rhythm” tells the story of a gullible generation. The song is a critique of culture and its addiction to media use, implying we are oblivious to a bigger picture. And for reasons other than its obnoxious lyrics, this did not sit well with me.
This is not to say that critical subject matter shouldn’t be welcomed in music. It 110% should be. However, Katy Perry has 90 million followers on Twitter and soaring popularity on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Her new single was promoted relentlessly on these platforms. It can be assumed that her career depends on and thrives off of the general public’s social media use. Furthermore, this 9-time Billboard #1 singer knows a thing or two about profiting off of generic radio records. This considered, the music video she released that depicted bands of sheeple in Oblivia — a theme park for the ignorant– seems condescending.
Perry has not given up on the concept of this upcoming album era, performing the single at major award shows with visuals indicative of the music video. The themes of conformity, oblivion and oppression are pretty obvious. Which is why it is curious Katy seems so stuck on so-called subtext.
In two separate interviews, Katy Perry has labeled herself as the “Queen of Subtext”… out loud. It’s this type of boastful pseudo-intellect that makes me think we’re in trouble. “Chained to the Rhythm” is consumed the same way other Top 40 hits are, the only difference is it’s falsely branded as profound. Thinly veiling content with purpose will ultimately not bring about any change.
This issue is not specific to just Katy Perry. In 2013, Lady Gaga was promoting her album Artpop— a record that she claimed would conglomerate music, technology and art. Marketed as ultra-forward thinking, Gaga sold an app alongside her album to somehow enhance the music-listening experience and completely elevate fans’ minds artistically. I remember watching her SXSW festival press-tour interview clearly. Unprompted, she mentioned how “crazy” it was that people spent their lives on their phones; that people didn’t live in the moment anymore.
There she was, trying to sell us all a poorly-designed album app and simultaneously ridiculing smartphone users. Once I realized her contradiction, there was no other way to describe what I was feeling except for pissed. My favorite artist was making disingenuous music and I was eating it up unknowingly.
Since that time, I think Lady Gaga in particular has admitted the pretentious tendencies she exhibited early in her career. I don’t mean to attack Lady Gaga’s work, because her activism has spoken for itself in recent years. But this particular instance mirrors a greater trend with content creators. Merely plopping meaning onto a work is not the way to earn your artistry. Excellent entertainment begins with a creative vision that is genuine and genius.
Increasingly, I feel bombarded with entertainment that lacks integrity. Not all things we enjoy require political or social agenda, but the heart of artistic work should speak for itself and create its own meaning. We favor the entertainment we favor because it resonates with us, not because we were convinced of doing so.
Earlier in the week, it was announced that internet conservative supervillian Tomi Lahren would be permanently suspended from TheBlaze for admitting her pro-choice stance on the issue of abortion. This contradicted, of course, an explosive pro-life rant she spewed in an episode of On Point with Tomi Lahren. To think, the innumerable outrageous alt-right comments Lahren has been making are nothing more than fallacious clickbait. Even the antagonists of the media contrive their work for recognition and viewership. And that news is most alarming of all.
Thinking briefly back on society overtime, the most brilliant work has manifested from pain, strength, passion, growth and revolution. I fear that this rapid slowing of creative honesty can only be explained in one way: we have enlightened ourselves to the point of impediment. The world we live in is automatic and all-knowing. If we have all the answers, there is nothing to be inspired by. We are left with pseudo-intellectual content that distracts us into confirming its higher meaning.
This sort of content-crisis shows glimpses of hope with artists like Chance the Rapper. In a world of reductive artistry, thank God for Chance. The Grammy-winning independent artist provides his music to listeners completely free-of-charge on streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud. The core of his music is soulful, energetic and most importantly honest. As he shares in his song “Blessings”, he doesn’t make songs for free, he makes them for freedom– the freedom of storytelling, proclamation and truth.
The artistic virtue does not end there with Chance the Rapper. Outraged by the current regard for public education in America, specifically Governor Bruce Rauner of Illinois, Chance donated $1 million to Chicago public school systems. His incredible act of generosity was covered by all mainstream media sources. Many were in disbelief that this industry underdog had enough compassion to help his community. But to those who listened, Chance’s heart for community, family and the city of Chicago was there all along. His records tell his story with the most seamless authenticity. Instead of slinging the raw themes of life around, he acts on them. The sooner artists put their content where their mouth is, the sooner they will make a difference.