Is "Die Young" Really the Most Controversial Hit Song Right Now?
December was supposed to be Ke$ha's big month. She was releasing a new album, critics were starting to see her as a serious artist, and "Die Young" was on the verge of becoming her third Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single.
But it was not to be.
After the shootings in Newtown, some people didn't want the words "Die" and "Young" near each other. Radio responded, pulling the song from the airwaves. This was not a mass culling of tracks like the great Clear Channel Memo of 2001; it was the targeted removal of one track by some stations.
"Die Young" isn't the only song to mention death on the radio, it just happens to be the only one that was trying hard to be provocative. Did Ke$ha get a raw deal because of this? To find out, we compared it to four other songs that, with the right cherry-picked lyrics, seem a bit weird in a post-Newtown world.
Round 1: Swedish House Mafia "Don't You Worry Child" Choice Quote: "Don't you worry, child/ See heaven's got a plan for you."
Like "Die Young," "Don't You Worry Child" is a song that is supposed to lift your spirits. While the former is all about the party the latter is about the promise of a better tomorrow. Still, talking about kids and heaven so close together seems a bit dicey.
They may be getting a pass because no one takes dance lyrics seriously. More likely it's because "heaven" sounds hopeful and "die" seems pretty final.
Verdict: The potential is there to bring a tear to the eye, but it seems generally harmless.
Round 2: fun. "Some Nights" Choice Quote: "But I still wake up, I still see your ghost."
It was interesting to watch Ke$ha distance herself from the offending hook in "Die Young." If she didn't write the controversial line in question, then it's safe to say it belongs to the song's cowriter and fun. front man Nate Ruess. Does that bit of info make the reference to a ghost in this song seem less cheeky? Not really. The music video with the war imagery does seem pretty suspect though.
Verdict: "Some Nights" has been on the charts for 44 weeks. Whatever feelings people have for it are already set in stone.
Round 3: 2 Chainz, "Birthday Song" Choice Quote: "When I die, bury me inside the booty club."
For something so large, final, and often devastating, songwriters are pretty flippant when it comes to referencing death in their songs. You can reference dying young because chances are you won't, and you can talk about ludicrous burial suggestions because they make you sound awesome. In a song about bad-bitch contests and the burden of getting a sweater as a gift you're not likely to give any reference to death a serious thought.
Verdict: Although he also mentions an extended clip at one point, few people who don't already hate hip-hop are going to complain about this.
Round 4: The Band Perry, "Better Dig Two" Choice Quote: "If you go before I do/ I'm gonna tell the gravedigger that he better dig two."
Now this one is pretty interesting to discuss. On one hand the sentiment it's going for, while corny and juvenile, is a nice one; it's taking "I'd die without you" to its logical conclusion. It's cute.
On the other hand, it spends the bulk of its running time straight-up talking about death. Sure it's not young death but at least it's talking about it as a concept instead of it being a motivation to party hard. Seems like talking about graves, even those with the best intentions, would be a sure no-go right now.
Verdict: It's a good thing this is the group's current single instead of "If I Die Young," but they should back off the death songs for a bit.
Conclusion: "Die Young" was the easy target, the Rage Against the Machine to Newtown's 9/11. That said, the controversy really hasn't hurt the song that much; we are talking about a song that's still a Top 10 single after all.
As long as there is pop music, there will be songs about youth and death, and sometimes both at the same time. Sometimes these songs will be less fashionable because of the events of the world.
So maybe Ke$ha got a raw deal and maybe she didn't. She's going to keep having a career. It could be worse: Great Bloomers have a great song called "I Wanna Die Young," whose chances of making a dent in radio were slim to begin with and are now basically nil.
These are the risks you run when you go with a provocative hook.
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