There's a scene in Penelope Spheeris's excellent documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Part 2: The Metal Years where she interviews a number of struggling musicians about their career prospects and their fallback options should they fail. Almost to a man* (and woman), these hopefuls respond with fierce conviction that they absolutely will make it, doubtless because it was hammered into them from a young age that as long as they worked hard enough and, sigh, believed in themselves, success was inevitable.
It's equal measures poignant and pathetic, because their sincerity is unfortunately counterbalanced by their mediocre music. And yet they still plugged away, practicing for hours on end and tirelessly putting up flyers in the hopes fame might one day be theirs.
If only they'd waited around another 20 years, they'd have realized stardom isn't something to strive for, it's actually ours by right. At least, that seems to be the lesson of today's pop music.
First let's hear from Ke$ha:
We're dancing like we're dumb, dumb, du-du-du-dumb
Our bodies going numb, numb, nu-nu-nu-numb
We'll be forever young, young, y-y-y-young
You know we're superstars
We R who we R
Leaving aside the questionable lyrical tactic of rhyming "numb" and "young," the obvious inference here is the natural state of "superstardom" one can achieve by merely listening to Ke(Dollar Sign)ha. And then there's Katy Perry:
'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, oh
As you shoot across the sky
Feeling down? Looking for a new start? Who better to motivate you than a couple of Autotuned dingbats who champion female empowerment by making their breasts the focus of every music video or singing about "the dudes lining up?" You go, girls.
Pink and Lady Gaga are a little more discriminating. The former's "Raise Your Glass" singles out the "underdogs," while Gaga has carved a niche for herself by championing gay and lesbian causes. This is all well and good, but describing yourself as a "dirty freak" or "little monster" probably won't go very far in that job interview.
Now, I understand children need to be nurtured and encouraged so that they develop healthy self-esteem. I'm also pretty sure Perry and Ke$ha, with their Reddi Wip brassieres and lyrics about brushing teeth with whiskey, aren't for the booster seat set. That leaves adolescents and young adults, which makes even less sense, because these are the people most in need of a slap in the face about today's economic realities.
Kids, the sad truth of it is that almost all of you are going to end up like most of the "next big things" in Decline II: manning the receiving desk at a mid-level manufacturing company, or working in home health care, or jockeying a desk, and the thing of it is...there's nothing wrong with that. This is how the world operates: The vast majority of us make a living and raise our families while a few others, deservedly or not, get all the glory.
You see, the very word "superstar" denotes superlative fame and recognition, and only a handful of people can claim the title at any given time. Everyone can't be one ("Born This Way" notwithstanding), otherwise the word loses all meaning and can essentially be swapped out with "dude" or "hey you."
Who cares if you're not "special," especially if that means little more than aping your favorite singer's fashion sense and mouthing their platitudes? We can't all be #1 singers, or Academy Award winners, or writers who actually make a living at their craft (*cough*). That doesn't mean you should give up on your dreams, but try to have a little perspective. There are far worse things than never winning a Grammy.
Now that I think about it, most things are better than winning a Grammy.
* Amusingly enough, London -- the only band evincing any resignation at their fate -- are still active. Though hilariously named lead vocalist Nadir D'Priest is the only member remaining from their Decline lineup.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.