published Thursday, January 9th, 2014

In Tune: Trojan horses of the pop music world

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    Robin Thicke's song "Blurred Lines" belied violent messages, some argued.

Bubble gum. Sugary. Popcorn. Danceable.

There are many words people use to describe pop music, but every once in a while, a song climbs the charts whose underlying message belies its upbeat trappings.

These are the music world’s will-o’-the-wisps and Delilahs, tracks whose catchy melodies and rhythms get our blood pumping, while their lyrics lead us down deceptively dark paths and secretly snip away at our moral locks.

For example, Robin Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell Williams hit a Billboard grand slam last year with “Blurred Lines,” which spent so long atop the Hot 100 chart after its March 26 release that Billboard dubbed it the “Song of the Summer.”

While “Blurred Lines” was riding a tidal wave of popularity, however, an increasingly vocal group alleged that the sexually charged song also promotes rape with lines such as “You know you want it” and “Do it like it hurt / What you don’t like work?” In response, about 20 British student unions banned the song at on-campus functions, including those at the universities of Edinburgh, Leeds and several colleges at Oxford.

After bebopping along to “Blurred Lines” for months, I caught wind of these critics, and upon reading the lyrics more carefully, I found myself agreeing with those speaking out against it. Now, when “Blurred Lines” comes on my Pandora station, I skip past it.

I’ve had similar reactions to “Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster The People’s hit 2010 anthem about a school shooting rampage, and Elton John’s “I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself,” a toe-tapping number that, as the title implies, is about teenage suicide.

I don’t hate these songs because they’re poorly written or produced and especially not because I think their subject matter should be censored. Rather, I dislike them because I tend to feel duped by them once I decipher their lyrics.

Then again, there’s a lesson to be learned from “Blurred Lines” and its ilk. By juxtaposing hook-filled melodies with darker, challenging lyrics, artists can deliver a kind of shock to the senses that reminds us never to accept art at face value but to consider what message it’s actually communicating.

Some might find these songs distasteful or even reprehensible, but reaching that point requires one to stop simply hearing music and begin listening to it. If the occasional trip into the dark makes us appreciate the light a little more, then I think that means these songs are doing at least something right.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Help him become a Twitter celebrity by following @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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