Boom boom boom boom.
I want you in my room.
The loneliness is crushing me.
The sound of my heart, deafening.
Boom boom boom boom.
[“Boom Boom Boom Boom!!” (original pre-studio cut), Vengaboys (1999)]
It’s all too easy to judge pop music celebrities. Day after day, year after year, we are subjected to their songs, seemingly little more than vacuous refuse pumped out of a corporate machine. But it’s important to realise there’s more going on underneath their one surface. It’s not all money, glory and sexy. They, too, are people, and suffer just as much as we do, just that they do it in much bigger houses.
Think about it: who were these oversaturated puppets before they hit the big-time? Huh? That’s right. Just your average human person with the same old worries and desires as the ones you’ve got. Kylie Minogue was petrified of the dentist. Harry Styles stayed up nights because he couldn’t really get multiplication. Rihanna hated parsley. Do you think that stops as soon as they achieve worldwide fame and begin to live in the bubble of stardom? No chance. The existential terror never leaves. If anything, it grows larger the more disconnected they are from the rest of the world. And, of course, as their isolation increases, so too does their need to channel it into art.
True, the final product you hear – on the radio, in shopping centres and supermarkets, at cafes, parties, fairgrounds, office waiting rooms, when someone on the train doesn’t realise their headphones are turned up way too loud, and at the gym – may sound like empty, brain-bashing twaddle. True. That, at least, is not up for dispute. But – and this is of utmost significance – each of these final products once had an original, untouched version, brimming with angst and soul before the industry ripped away all meaning to leave an easily sellable skeleton.
Take, for example, this extract from the full first draft of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre [sic]”:
It’s getting hot in herre [sic]
So take off all your clothes.
I am getting so hot,
I wanna take my clothes off.
I’m intimidated by crowds,
And use nudity as a sort of coping mechanism.
It rarely works.
Or this, from the unedited lyrics of the dance classic “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred:
Too sexy for my car,
Too sexy for my car;
If I look in the rear-view mirror,
I see the abyss,
And the abyss is my face,
And it stares straight back.
Right said, Fred. Right said.
Next time you hear “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night etc” by The Black-Eyed Peas, remember that it’s not simply a glorified jingle designed to drown out ideas and emotions, but in actual fact a clinically-developed mantra designed to combat crippling social anxiety. It will be a good night, will.i.am asserts in his darkened room before yet another penthouse party. It will be a good, good night.
So don’t be so quick to dismiss pop music as ephemeral trash; even pop stars get alienated and psychologically afflicted. Behind every meaningless lyric is a meaningful subtext. Behind every ego is an id. Behind every inane commercial single is a fragile human voice with a bitter, yearning cry for help.
And we will all be forced to hear it.