The Year In: Underdog Anthems

28 Dec

Losers Like Them: GaGa, P!nk, Taylor and Glee.

If there were ever a year to be an outcast, 2011 was that year. I’m not being cynical about it because society can be pretty isolating and if people can find support through music, so be it. Of the year’s biggest themes in popular music (dubstep and underdogs), the anthems that heralded the misfits and anyone that the majority deems different were surprisingly heartening. There are far worse trends (homophobia, misogyny) that artists have exploited in the past. At least this one spreads a freakin’ good message. So we’ve rounded up the top 5 most notable examples of artists singing, ‘hey, just because you think stamp-collecting while drinking hedgehog blood is the bee’s knees doesn’t mean you’re weird. In fact, you’re all the better for it.’ Unsurprisingly, every single choice on this list has been featured on Glee (Edit: Taylor’s Mean totally hasn’t). That may make people roll their eyes, but it makes me want to give the show a massive hug and make it cookies. There is however, a problem with these anthems as they tend to convey a broadbrush message completely devoid of subtlety. But that’s another post entirely. Please also note that I am currently tired from an excess of eating, unwrapping and sellotape-induced injuries. I have already misspelt ‘underdog’ as ‘undergod’ twice which would give this article a much different, more worrying undercurrent. Bear with me:

1. Loser Like Me – Glee Cast

Who said Glee’s second season was terrible? Oh wait, everyone. Well, I rather liked it. We got Gwyneth Paltrow as a fill-in (which seemed like a good idea anyway), the birth of Brittana (glorious) and Loser Like Me (completely fine.) Actually, it wasn’t. My opinion on this song vasicillates faster than you can say ‘teenage.’ I like its theme of losers being okay. I don’t like its hypocritical implication that washing cars is somehow an inferior career. I like its punchy intro and stomping chorus. I don’t like some of the more basic and cliche lyric choices (‘hate on me,’ and ‘all the dirt you’ve been throwing’- although in fairness, I seem to remember that the latter was based on an actual experience in the show.) But hey, I’m still thinking about it six months later and can sing along to it easily enough which is more than I can say about any of Glee’s other original songs (I think one was called Get It Right?) or any other song in the last year really.

2. Perfect – P!nk

This is rather a favourite of mine. However many writers that P!nk has on her team, she never fails to sound authentic. It’s never more evident than in the grittiness of Perfect, form the confessional introduction to the affirmative choruses. It breathed new life into P!nk’s career and along with Raise Your Glass is probably one of her most recognizable songs. She’s had a truly diverse career but seems to have found her target audience and let’s hope she continues to create such heartfelt pop singles. One of the problems with these underdog anthems is that they tend to be slightly confused (and confusing.) Having the t-shirts in Glee that were supposed to represent things they don’t like about themselves plastered with ‘LIKES BOYS’ for example. Perfect works so well because it doesn’t really aim to be an underdog anthem, just an honest little number.

3. Hair – Lady GaGa

OMG, I know right. I didn’t pick that one that has that thing about ‘him’ or capital H-I-M.’ That’s because Born This Way was clunky, brash and we had heard it 20 years ago anyway. I’ve already written a piece on this in reference to the death of Jamey Rodermeyer but this song just keeps growing on me (like hair, really. Sorry.) every time I hear it. Beginning’s great, too.

4. Firework – Katy Perry

Chances are, if you have ears, you will have heard this song over the last year. It’s the one where Katy Perry has the audacity to rhyme sky-y-y with oh-oh-oh. It’s dumb but undeniably brilliant. When I heard this pre-video, pre-It Gets Better, I just thought it was a little firecracker about overcoming self-doubt and not necessarily a harbinger of acceptance. Well, I guess I was wrong as KP herself has said that she feels like ‘she’s doing something right with (Firework).’ And if you looked at any one of a few thousand Tumblrs with lyrics from the song on, you wouldn’t doubt her. And if Katy Perry wants to think she’s doing something important with this single, then fine. I’m not going to stand in her record-breaking way.

5. Mean – Taylor Swift

My opinion on Taylor Swift is similar to my opinion of Loser Like Me. On one hand, I think she’s a hugely talented and expressive song-writer who packs more emotion into 3 minutes than most people can in an album. On the other, she’s a reactionary force who reinforces shallow stereotypes about girls and boys. I don’t know and can’t really gauge my feelings towards Mean. Like lots of Taylor’s songs, I preferred it much more before I saw the video. You Belong With Me is equally guilty. Nice girls are blonde and mean girls are brunettes who show skin at dances. Nerds wear glasses and cheerleaders are bitches. If you didn’t enforce these stereotypes then there wouldn’t be a frakking problem, Taylor. Likewise, Mean shows that gay kids wear bowties and purple and want to be fashion designers. You can’t moan about society mistreating the downtrodden when you openly reinforce these stereotypes. However (and this is a big however), I doubt that Taylor has much artistic direction over her videos and about the only prejudice in Mean’s lyrics is the presumption that city-dwellers are somehow more successful. And in fairness, this is cleared up in the video where it seems to be sung with the wide-eyed naivete of someone living in the country (similarly a young girl puts her dollars into a cup with COLLEGE sharpie-d all over it.) Should you aim to reflect life or break down the rules that surround us? I don’t know but my brain is not in a place that is suited to a crumb of intellectual thought. And should we even trying to deconstruc tthis song? It’s called Mean and the main refrain is ‘Why you gotta be so mean?’ Is that purposefully childish? Is Taylor secretly giggling at me somewhere, laughing about how confusing I find her music?WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME TAYLOR?! In conclusion: I like her a lot. But perhaps not what she, or more accurately her record company has decided, she represents. I will say one thing for her, she sure is compelling. Whether it’s the subtle intonations in her singing voice to her kooky (and there’s no other word for it) facial expressions, you can’t help but watch her being Taylor Swift.

2 Responses to “The Year In: Underdog Anthems”

  1. Metafortae December 29, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    Taylor still does her thing the label always has thier hands in what artist are trying to just to make sure they make money.

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