Two weeks ago, I was in the studio working on my new record. I’ve decided to put a poem about rape on this record. It is graphic and a trigger warning will be needed and it is beautiful and so completely necessary. We were talking about the Nigerian girls, the UCSB shooting, and the multitude of tragedies that seem to be happening more frequently. That day I asked my friend Benny his opinion on why people were shooting each other, raping each other, and operating in disturbingly apathetic ways. I really appreciated his answer.
Benny roughly said this: Our society, in general, operates in a dog-eat-dog mentality. If you lose your job, if you can’t afford medical insurance, if you are homeless, the resources to aid are terrifyingly limited. It is a systemic problem that is hungry for real legislative solutions.
This is part of the problem.
I started realizing that because some members of our culture do not feel safe or valued by their government institutions or communities, they are looking to other avenues to find an equivalent of security in other ways. Hopefully we have awesome families or communities that provide that sense of security, safety, and value. Hopefully we are all able to foster healthy, meaningful relationships with those around us. But what if some of us don’t? What if some of us never feel safe or feel like we belong or that we aren’t worthy of love and friendship?
I’ve been thinking really critically about what it means to be in my position (quasi-celebritydom as I often refer to it). When I read of tragedies, I try to ask myself: How can I help? Is there anything I can contribute to make this situation better?
I have a couple thoughts about these questions. The first is that we are lacking legislature in the world that prevents and adequately serves justice to violence, rape, and just plain, awful crimes. Additionally, we are living in a society that doesn’t like to talk about uncomfortable things.
But what I believe to be one of the sole contributors to the pandemic is pop culture and media saturation of a certain ideal (whether you feel valued in your life or not- but if you don’t, I imagine this gap widens massively and popular culture becomes a sole means of personal calibration). I believe that we are fed an ideal that is exclusive to a certain few, and they appear as such:
WE ARE BEAUTIFUL. THIS IS YOUR STANDARD OF BEAUTY AND ALL THINGS GOOD. WE ARE FUN AND YOUNG AND SKINNY AND WHITE. WE ALWAYS LOOK FLAWLESS. WE HAVE A DISPOSABLE INCOME. WE DO NOT HAVE PANTY LINES OR ACNE. WE KNOW HOW TO PARTY AND WE HAVE FRIENDS AND BOYFRIENDS AND GIRLFRIENDS THAT ARE ALSO ALL OF THESE THINGS. WE GUYS HAVE A LOT OF SEX. WE GIRLS DON’T SLEEP AROUND BUT EVERYONE ALWAYS WANTS TO HAVE SEX WITH US. WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT SERIOUS THINGS BECA– USE WE ARE HAVING TOO MUCH FUN AND YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE AMIRITE.
Often, the celebrity that is shoved down our throats, also have: A REALLY COOL TALENT INVOLVING ENTERTAINMENT WHERE WE SING ABOUT DOING AND BEING THOSE THINGS. SOME OF US ACT IN FILM AND TV AND VERY OFTEN WE PORTRAY THE AFOREMENTIONED STANDARD OF BEAUTY AND GOOD.
Which begs to ask, what about the rest of us? And there are a lot of us. Like, 99% of us. The funny thing is- the idea of being unattainable is just that- it doesn’t actually exist. The notion of celebrity flawlessness is a total lie.
I just finished shooting the music video for my upcoming single and asked a lot of people on set about post-editing. Basically, some of your favorite music videos and singers have varying amounts of post-editing- not to fix prop issues or anything technical- but to change actual BODIES. Make stomachs smaller, add abs (YOU CAN SERIOUSLY MAKE ABS), add more butt mass, shave a chin down, make whiter.
When this- the unattainable- is the standard (Again, IS COMPUTER GENERATED PERFECTION), it’s impossible to fit in. There is little or inaccurate representation of every day bodies in pop culture, it’s almost as if we don’t exist. There is another large component in all this: As we become more disconnected to each other (often because of technology or a desire to distract), a lack of empathy settles in. These two components: living in a society where we are alienated or invisible or not good or beautiful (and constantly reminded of it) paired with a lack of empathy causes a massive human disconnect. I believe both of these things have come to an extreme in our culture.
What are the effects of this saturation? The effect of not fitting the standard of good and beauty, is crippling. The result is the desire to not feel; No one wants to fucking feel bad all the time. I believe it causes people to implement a myriad of debilitating coping mechanisms, some of which:
1. We cease feeling. The sadness and alienation that is caused by the unattainable is the absolute worst, so we shut off our sensory. We distract. We play with our phones. We drink to forget. We watch The Bachelor (I can’t help it. That show is everything). Feeling nothing feels so much better than feeling bad, right?
2. We punish ourselves. We throw up. We physically harm. We overeat. We live recklessly. I believe to be the most dangerous of all of these is actually mental punishment. Listening to the mean people inside our heads that say we are not worthy because that standard of beauty and goodness is something we’ll never measure up to.
3. We punish each other. Because we don’t fit the standard, then Andrea wearing a crop top when she most def is not skinny enough to pull it off and just because they are called skinny jeans doesn’t make you skinny sweetheart, shouldn’t be allowed to either.
Lastly, We re-traumatize by reinforcing the media’s messages. We talk about and listen to and watch and read about the people we will never be, the bodies that are not ours, the lives we do not live.
I’m currently on the verge of an even larger platform than I could have ever imagined. The single I wrote two months ago has caught the attention of some of the most powerful people in the music industry. These people control the industry, thus your very consumption of media. They control your radio, your TV, and what you see in stores. That is a crazy amount of power and money. There is a belief that says the execs want to control our minds and force us to consume shallow things to make us stupid. Here’s the thing: They don’t want you to not feel. That’s not their intention. They don’t want you to punish each other. And they aren’t a part of a government conspiracy to make you mindless drones.
They want to make money. And in 1999, Brittany Spears sold 10 million copies of one song: “Baby One More Time”. One of my favorites. That formula worked. And it has continued to work. And although CD’s are becoming increasingly obsolete, there is still a lot of money to be made in the record industry, and that model is tried and true. They know you are going to consume the shit out of a pop singer’s Summer party song that tells you how fun and young and sexy it is to get wasted (seriously, I hope someone makes that song, because I want to listen to it right this second). The industry says, you are consuming.
They are merely filling a demand. You may also consume a cute, plus-size femme lesbian singing about gay rights, but it’s a total gamble. Because listeners are unpredictable and will like what they like, and this is a risk-averse business, why would you fix something that isn’t broken?
It’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions and I believe wholeheartedly there are a few heroes in popular culture that feel similarly about deconstructing this as well. There are a lot of songs coming out with empowering messages, campaigns about not touching-up photos, it’s okay to be yourself songs, television writers being more inclusive, gay rights anthems (sorry I couldn’t help myself), and a whole host of other folks in pop culture shifting the dialogue simply by existing. But what if:
What if the entertainers and the industry heads didn’t spend $40,000 on post-editing a music video to make a singer’s arms or stomach look smaller, didn’t touch up photos to remove wrinkles, didn’t post photos of themselves objectifying women, didn’t write vapid songs solely about their own vanity, but instead asked us to feel. Demanded us to think. To feel valued. What if their images were more…human? Accessible? Is it possible to create pop music that is present in feeling and thoughtfulness and vulnerability without sacrificing fun elements and is catchy?
Or maybe it is the honest-to-god truth:
Do we really enjoy idolatry? Do we prefer the idea of the unattainable? Did we just feel shitty before, and the idolatry and shallow content is a symptom of distraction?
I don’t know. I like to think that we are just a little lost. I think humanity is moving and brilliant and kind and the standard of unattainable beauty and goodness is destroying us from within. There are so many lovely things to see, kind things to say, bodies to hold with our eyes, words to make us think, songs to excite us, and art to hungrily eat. Let’s create and consume them together.