Until recently, rug-cutting party anthems would summon us to the dancefloor with the promise of it being like 1999, or some party rock in the house, or a few hoochie mamas showing their nanas. Now, step forward Ke$ha. Her contribution to the clubbing canon, new single Die Young, exhorts us to party as if we’re going to end up mangled in some horrible car crash on the way home.
Ke$ha has played with this biting-the-dust shtick for some time. We R Who We R centred on the gloriously gloomy refrain, “Our bodies going numb/ We’ll be forever young”. Lately, though, she’s been joined by other chart femme fatales keen to address death with all the gusto of a Slayer album. Words such as “kill”, “die” and “getting my head in the guillotine” are creeping into the pop lexicon like never before.
This year we’ve seen Rita Ora top the charts with RIP, Kelly Clarkson get all Nietzschean on Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) and Lady Gaga (no snuff stranger: she’s simulated suicide onstage before) debut a song entitled Princess Die. No prizes for guessing the doe-eyed protagonist in this instance. Squeaky-clean Leona Lewis has covered Trent Reznor’s hara-kiri-themed treatise Hurt, Beyoncé pre-empted Ke$ha on last year’s Rather Die Young, and the Lynchian pretend-we’re-dead poise of Lana “Born To Die” Del Rey couldn’t be more cadaver chic if she started shaking with rigor mortis, maggots spilling from her eyeballs.
Not since the teen tragedy songs of the 1960s has mainstream pop been so obsessed with mortality. However, while the Shangri-Las and Twinkle turned harrowing tales of teen crushes tumbling from motorbikes into Top 10 classics, now we have anime-eyed Justin Bieber dribbling, “If I could die in your arms, I wouldn’t mind” (Die In Your Arms) and pretending to drown in the teaser for his Boyfriend video. One Direction, meanwhile, smother their forearms in skull tattoos, and even rap’s biggest mummy’s boy, Tinie Tempah, has issued a single called Love Suicide.
What’s to blame for pop’s current necro-love? Fear of the forthcoming Mayan apocalypse? A zeitgeisty mirror reflecting socio-economic woes? Record companies grumbling, “Why can’t you be a bit more like Florence Welch?” For today’s pop star, singing about the grim reaper has become par for the course, and here’s the real reason: it’s because their fans want it that way. If they’re not posting fan fiction about Harry Styles being diagnosed with cancer (yes, really), then the little trolls are tweeting nasty death threats to One Direction’s girlfriends or Cher Lloyd. What’s more, for a generation raised on Twilight, Harry Potter and their older siblings’ My Chemical Romance MP3s, songs about death probably seem normal.
There’s always been a romantic connection between youth and premature death – see Thomas Chatterton, James Dean and Pete Doherty (nearly) – it’s just that popettes such as Ke$ha have never weaved the subject into bubblegum brat-pop before. However, when Olly Murs releases cheeky-chappy ska-lite single, Hooray! I’m Gonna Be Pushing Up Daisies! or Little Mix base their new video on Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, that’s when we’ll know that innocent pop really has breathed its last.
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