The Power of Pop
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
“I put my hands up, they’re playing my song
The butterflies fly away…
I’m nodding my head like yeah
Moving my hips like yeah
I put my hands up, they’re playing my song
I know I’m going to be okay…”
It’s been 13 years since Miley Cyrus' party anthem was blasting from the speakers of my car; my kids and their friends lighting up from the inside out, even if they were in a ‘bad’ mood. Over a short period of time, the exact same song would lose its sparkly luster, replaced by looks of disgust and annoyance, until the song was switched or over. Saturday night, at my friends’ wedding reception in Wisconsin, I watched that process come full circle in real time. Party in the USA came on and everybody hit the dance floor with purpose. I stood back and watched a familiar joy spread through the room like wildfire, but by the end of the song, the initial thrill had peaked and faded - quickly. Several people who had sprung to movement moments earlier became visibly ‘over it’ and ready for the next song. Anticipation of that next wave of “I know I’m going to be okay” feelings filled the room, and the DJ moved us to another selection, giving rise to a fresh wave of tones and reflections on the dance floor. The ‘life’ of a pop song is a fine example of how one thing can (and will) affect people in so many different ways. Socially, this reflects how truly fickle we have become as we each endeavor to feel comfortably at ease in this ego-challenging, soul-inspiring human race.
Back in my car, with my kids and my musical memories from those years, my head spins as I recall how many different songs have held the spot of THE song, and how easy it can be to blink and miss it. By the time I learned the words and meaning to the current THE song, there was another to take its place, and any attempts to ‘keep up’ were not only futile, but received as ‘obviously desperate’ by my kids. Fact is, if it had reached me, its coolness was already beginning to wane as a direct result of that fact. I’m pretty sure the word cool is also unwelcome right here, further ‘proving’ their often-expressed point.
Here, I could insert the story of practically any Pop Star’s ‘rise to fame’ in order to support my claim, but I’ve chosen Miley’s because so many parts of her journey have marked/sparked many vocalized feelings from within my daughters along the way. Love, excitement, connection, acceptance, creative spark, hope, jealousy, misunderstanding, disillusionment, disappointment, and even injury have all been expressed in reaction to Miley’s varied choices, over a number of years. From the early days of Hannah Montana to the chemically enhanced ramblings of her more rebellious ‘acts’, Miley Cyrus has unwittingly taken both her fans and detractors into her own complicated, inner landscape. Her honest sharing of both ‘ugly’ and ‘pretty’, have become fundamentally entwined as her words and actions are all at once appreciated, judged, and recorded – allowing future generations the same opportunities to ‘weigh in’ with their own reactions, completely removed from context and further distorting the essence of what she intended.
Our Pop Stars will probably always suffer the unfair ‘measure’ that is born from everyone else’s inherent differences, insecurities and fears. Though each of them ‘understands’ these dysfunctional parameters going in, they often buckle under the pressure of continuing to remain in public favor. Churning out song after song and revealing emotional depths to their audiences while their private lives become blurred with their onstage presence, puts them on a fast track toward ‘losing’ their inner guidance, assuming they ever knew they had it.
Thanks in part to advances in social media, we have watched Taylor, Selena, Demi, Justin, Cardi, and Lizzo, along with many other artists who currently create pop songs for our listening pleasure, struggle to maintain their own equilibrium while pouring their hearts into their work. Online, they receive hoards of unwelcome feedback not only about the work itself, but ripping into things like their personal appearances, choices and opinions– things that would ‘land’ a lot better if treated with the same type of respect we’d hope for ourselves and the people we love.
At the top of the charts, they must all ‘share’ the same spotlight, vying for our affection and attention every week. Underneath it, they are hoping to put something into the world that not only resonates, but also lasts a little longer than pop songs usually do, and therein lies the issue… By design, our internal, emotional charges inform our ‘cycles of popularity’, based on our own inability to remain engaged and interested. Unfortunately, this method sets us up to feel ‘inadequate’ at best, and deeply alone at worst. How would a person ever keep up with the ever-changing trends?
Moments like these help me remember how much influence music has had – and continues to have – in my own life. Looking back on the pop songs that lingered with me, I can see the roots of many of my choices. At first glance, they are embarrassing because my insecurities are glaringly obvious in hindsight. As I lean harder into ‘what I’ve learned since’ instead of ‘what I didn’t know then’, I can find forgiveness and even meaning in the choices I wouldn’t wish to repeat. Music helps keep us in a constant state of monitoring our emotions, even when we think we have them safely bottled away. What once pumped us up, will eventually breed a level of indifference on top of the original joy. Our unchecked, unfelt ‘negative’ feelings can build here, leading us away from feeling connected and toward developing disdain for the ‘uncomfortable’ people and things that surround us.
My own teenage years are still a big jumble of musical roots and an ongoing resource for sorting my ‘overlooked’ feelings and experiences. It’s generally much easier to observe these consistent threads when they come through our kids or the people closest to us. Our own inner environments are ripe with emotional triggers that distract us from the benefits of healthy reflection. As we learn to breathe through our triggers, the open space becomes increasingly available for receiving the universal input and support we dream of. The more time we spend there, the more we find this to be true, and the more ‘in tune’ we become with the music and artists that have remained ‘popular’ in our minds and memories.
Collectively, we have trained our egos to be ‘looking ahead’ to such a degree that we become ‘easily detached’ from the simple joy available in every moment. We find ourselves ‘judging’ our previous choices based on our future experiences, bypassing the ideal spaces originally filled with curiosity and wonder.
Until we become actively responsible for the direction and support of our feelings, music is one of the channels the universe ‘uses’ to move our feelings through our bodies, rather than having them stick around, creating energetic debris in our otherwise clear spaces. The feelings of being left out or left behind linger underneath our ever-changing taste as each song falls in and out of favor with its audience like the changing of the tides.
Watching a group of people react to a favorite song is still one of my favorite things in the entire world. Paying attention to how quickly that song fades and another moves in, however, gives us a lot of clues into the organic rhythms of our own emotions, reminding us at the most intimate levels that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves and that our passion and purpose remain ready to receive our inspirations, as soon as we identify what they really feel like.