The theme of a pop song tends to be quite specific – there’s a constant focus either on a particular setting, or a feeling, that tends to dominate the song. Some artists, however, break out of this mould and try to create something a little more introspective, which doesn’t just look at one aspect of life in one situation, but at life and growing up overall.
Of course, most songs look at childhood as the best phase of life, and most artists sing about how they’d prefer to return to such “simpler” times in a wistful and melancholy manner. Taylor Swift, in particular, has made several songs on the subject – probably because her target audience are mostly in their teen years, crossing over from childhood to adulthood, and she herself is a young artist. Her songs like Innocent and Never Grow Up portray adulthood with a strong pessimism, probably to create empathetic material for her conflicted young fans, with lyrics like, “Wasn’t it easier when you believed in everything / and everybody believed in you?”, or “I wish I’d never grown up”. One of the most well-known examples in this category of pop is probably Five for Fighting’s 100 Years, which describes six different points in a 100-year life in one line each. However, the song’s chorus always brings the listener back to start with the line, “Fifteen, there’s still time for you / time to win and time to lose”. This, coupled with the increasingly gloomy descriptions of each age older than the last implies that being fifteen is the best time of one’s life.
Of course, there are many pop songs about “living in the moment”, and enjoying being where you are. It’s always interesting to see how certain artists overlay this sentiment while also describing their past in a positive, nostalgic light. There’s no ‘contrast’ as seen in the previously mentioned songs; these tracks are simply stating how the artist was happy earlier, and how they continue to be so. In some ways, this can even be disorienting: don’t most people want to return to what they clearly portray as a time of innocence and happiness? However, in spite of the carefree nature of these songs, these tracks often create a strong impression on the listener, because they tend to find other ways to mix in a bittersweet note into the track. Lukas Graham’s 7 Years starts off describing his childhood without any sign of sadness, following which in the largest portion of the song he describes the success of his band and how his “story got told” in an uplifting way. However, the end of the song takes on a more serious tone, as he talks about him reaching old age, and wonders if he’ll “think the world is cold” or “have a lot of children who can warm me”. What began as light-hearted song ends up as a slightly more pensive listen, and makes the track more memorable. Similarly, Ed Sheeran’s Castle on The Hill focuses on his childhood memories and the strong friendships he had. However, more than missing those times, the track describes him returning to his hometown, looking forward to being home after a while. The lyrics are accompanied by an upbeat melody, which makes it sound even more optimistic. However, the song takes a less cheery turn in the bridge, when Sheeran describes the mixed fate of his old friends with lines like, “One’s brother overdosed” and “One’s just barely getting by”, emphasising upon how they have all had to face struggles with age.
Personally, I really do enjoy these kinds of tracks, even though most of them are a bit dispiriting, and will probably sound even more so, the older I get. That probably indicates that pop does reflect life after all…