Pop’s Outlook on Fame
It’s always ironic when you watch a live performance of an incredibly successful pop artist, and realise that what they are singing about is in fact about regretting the luxurious life they have, all while the audience cheers them on and sings the lyrics with them. Yet, so many pop artists choose that route – choosing to talk about the influence of fame in their life through the medium that gave it to them.
Most of the pop songs about fame which I have come across have been surprisingly full of bitterness, trying to convey the emotional stress the artist is facing underneath their glorious image. Taylor Swift’s The Lucky One describes the life of an unnamed celebrity, who is unhappy in the spotlight, despite everyone believing she could have all that she ever wanted, and who finally leaves her life of fame behind. Her lyrics such as, “your secrets end up splashed on the news front page” and “all the young things line up to take your place” encapsulate struggles faced by many celebrities, and her use of first person in the last stanza with lines like “Now my name is up in lights / But I think you got it right” clearly highlights that Swift is facing these problems herself. Eraser by Ed Sheeran is the most recent example of a track suggesting success in the music industry is not as rosy as it seems. In the song Sheeran aggressively paints an image of his bittersweet success, emphasising how it has negatively affected various aspects of his life, including causing him to engage more with alcohol and creating complications in his relationships. He goes on to sing, “I used to think that nothing could be better than touring the world with my songs / I chased the picture perfect life, I think they painted it wrong”, emphasising the contrast between his immense success and his feelings towards it. He even brings out the issue further with the lyrics, “And ain’t nobody wanna see you down in the dumps / because you’re living your dream, man, and this should be fun”, highlighting how people are often sceptical towards the idea that such successful artists can feel unhappy about their lives.
Songs which describe fame from a more positive angle are rare, but a few exist. Usually, however, the purpose of these tracks is less to glorify fame, and more to give out a message to the audience about the personality of the artist themselves. Lady Gaga’s Applause describes how much she relishes her success, and enjoys hearing praise for her work and approval from her fans. Sam Smith’s Money On My Mind focuses on how, despite pressure from the people he works with, he performs “for the love”, and enjoys what he does without thinking about money. It’s interesting that while these songs do focus on getting a message across with the lyrics, they are often pretty fast-paced and uplifting, meant to make the audience feel good about what the artist is trying to convey. On the other hand, the melodies in the first sub-category often have a weaker link to the subject of the song. Depressing as the topic might be, the tunes aren’t as melancholy as, say the average Adele track: they tend to have a strange, uplifting quality to them, which makes them pleasant, and occasionally a little disorientating to listen to. Maybe it reflects how the artists themselves feel about their mixed feelings towards success.
While pop artists seem to feel that their struggle with fame is something that needs to be sung about, sadly, some listeners might not want to hear it – certain fans find it disheartening that the icons whose successes they rejoice in are themselves in a more conflicted state about it; some might even feel annoyed and wonder how pop stars in such positions could possibly feel this way. I, personally really enjoy these tracks. If pop is to be treated like other forms of art, it should also be a means to know the person who creates it, unlike a machine that just keeps spouting what people “want” to hear. Besides, isn’t it reassuring to know that the people who seem to have it all, are in fact human and have problems too?