Monday, August 25, 2008

Pop Isn't Always Bad



Basically, it’s like this: if you have any kind of taste or discrimination at all, you are not supposed to like pop music. Pop is generic, rote, and plebian. Intelligent or cool people do not like pop; they like jazz or fusion or indie. Now, if it’s called “rock” that’s a little better. (As far as I’m concerned, Kelly Clarkson is just as much pop as she is rock, but it sounds so much better to call it rock.) I have always enjoyed pop music, although I do consider myself an intelligent person and I do have a college degree. After several years of being with my husband, who is a classically trained theory-perfect musical critic, I figured out that it’s just that I like melodies. Pop produces melodies. There it is.


However, I spent some time learning about the music industry, and I was taught to be (at least somewhat) discriminating. I do not love all pop music, and especially with R&B, I hate when it all sounds the same and I sometimes make sweepingly critical statements about the state of creativity across the musical board. I have made my share of derisive comments about the Xerox-bubble-gum Christina Aguilera-Britney Spears-Avril Lavigne-Lindsay Lohan situation that raged in the first part of the decade. Not that I thought it was all talentless trash, but that whole scene isn’t something you put up as a monument to musical or social brilliance.


Be that as it may, a couple weeks ago I felt a strong need to find angry, expressive girl songs, and stumbled upon Avril Lavigne’s music, which I haven’t really listened to in years. It hit the spot. It wasn’t a good spot, but the thing that was great was that it hit the spot. Country music will often do this, however much people don’t want to admit it, but there are times the twang will not sufficiently address the depth of feeling that pop will.


I’ve often wondered what it is about the honesty of human emotions that is acceptable to us in the lyrics of a song, but is just too raw if they’re only words. The vulnerability, the kind of emotional desperation that we too-often despise in others and almost always in ourselves suddenly seems alright in the words of the Angry Pop Princess.


…I tried to belong

It didn't seem wrong

My head aches

It’s been so long

I'll write this song

If that's what it takes…

(Avril Lavigne, Unwanted)


…When you walk away I count the steps that you take,

do you see how much I need you right now…

(Avril Lavigne, When You’re Gone)


Or, when the person whose steps were counted did not respond—the song is called Unwanted:

You don't know me, don't ignore me

You don't want me there, you just shut me out

You don't know me, don't ignore me

If you had your way, you'd just shut me up

Make me go away


(so unwanted)

No, I just don't understand why

You won't talk to me

It hurts; I'm so unwanted for nothing

Don't talk words against me

I wanted to know you

I wanted to show you

(Avril Lavigne, Unwanted)


There are few things that hurt worse than reaching out for help and either being rejected or feeling rejected. And when you are hurting that badly, it hardly matters whether the rejection is real or perceived. It doesn’t matter whether it is a lover or a friend—it’s just the fact that the tenderness of your heart was damaged. Something that is precious when it is accepted and celebrated is doubly piercing and shameful when it is pushed aside as if it doesn’t matter, as if perhaps, it wasn’t even seen.


Are you aware of what you make me feel, baby?

Right now I feel invisible to you, like I'm not real

Didn't you feel me lock my arms around you?

Why'd you turn away?


I was left to cry there, waiting outside there

Why should I care?

'Cause you weren't there when I was scared

I was so alone...

You, you need to listen!

I'm startin' to trip,

I'm losin' my grip

And I'm in this thing alone...


Cryin' out loud

I'm cryin' out loud

(Avril Lavigne, Losing Grip)


Some of the pop princesses aren’t terribly angry. I randomly came across a song relatively new to the charts, and whether or not the song is about good or bad blood flow, the chorus struck me:

I keep bleeding keep keep bleeding love

I keep bleeding I keep keep bleeding love

Keep bleeding keep keep bleedin love

You cut me open

(Leona Lewis, Bleeding Love)

The seemingly trite repetition of the words is nevertheless how you feel when you’re bleeding emotionally.


And that’s the point. When your heart, for whatever reason, is just so battered that all you are aware of, moment by moment throughout the day, is the constant, aching, bloody gush of pain, you feel. That is what pop talks about—our feelings. In stronger moments we may dismiss our feelings in lieu of “reality,” in better moments we balance our feelings with right actions. But there are times in all of our lives when all we can do is feel; there are days when getting from morning til night is a monumental task of posing, and when no one understands or seems to care, the only reality that counts is in those moments when you are finally alone and are fully embraced in the crush of your own agony.


I have always been thankful that God put the Psalms in the Bible. Not just the ones that remind us of His sovereignty, or that we must remind our souls to praise Him despite the sorrow of life, but the ones that match the days we sometimes have. Not the bad days, the really bad days, or even the terrible days. The days—mercifully rare—when you just cannot seem to rise above your pain. The days you look for songs filled with anguish and frustration that do not have answers, because your day does not have answers. The days you go home alone and get on the floor because that is how low you really are, and you ball your fists and sob and ask God “WHY!?” if He loves you can He let you hurt so badly. For days like that, I am thankful that He gave us Psalm 38. It is one of the few Psalms that does not end with praise or a remembrance of good. It merely says “Do not forsake me, O LORD;
O my God, do not be far from me! Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!” On our worst days we still acknowledge God as our Savior, but a broken and desperate plea for help is all we can manage.


And the wish for someone to see, to understand, to offer just a little comfort, a little validation of the feelings that hurt so deeply and carry shame for their very depth—I think this is what somehow makes a song acceptable when to actually voice a cry for help would be unthinkably risky.


I'm looking for a place

I'm searching for a face

Is anybody here I know


Cause nothing's going right

And everything’s a mess

And no one likes to be alone


Isn't anyone trying to find me?

Won't somebody come take me home?

(Avril Lavigne, I’m With You)


What’s hardest on the hurting heart is the very reaction that’s actually pretty normal to someone who isn’t hurting or doesn’t remember their own times of emotional suffering: a song like Nobody’s Home, when you’re not hurting, seems so superlative that it’s easy to dismiss, because this kind of emotion seems melodramatic unless you’re living it.  


And maybe it is melodramatic. Thank God that most of us don’t live in this kind of pain all the time, or even most of the time. I don’t think we could handle it if we did.  But whether or not the pain seems trumped up or circumstantially disproportionate to someone else, there are days and seasons that we all experience the pain, the loneliness, the searing solitude of our own darkness. And we know how real, how desperately wrenching it is. 


On days like that I don’t care if the song is cool or intelligent, or that the fact I like it makes me lame. I’m already lame, I’m hurting, and the only comfort I may have that day is that somebody out there knows how it feels to be me.



"Nobody's Home"


I couldn't tell you why she felt that way,

She felt it everyday.

And I couldn't help her,

I just watched her make the same mistakes again.


What's wrong, what's wrong now?

Too many, too many problems.

Don't know where she belongs, where she belongs.

She wants to go home, but nobody's home.

It's where she lies, broken inside.

With no place to go, no place to go to dry her eyes.

Broken inside.


Open your eyes and look outside, find the reasons why.

You've been rejected, and now you can't find what you left behind.

Be strong, be strong now.

Too many, too many problems.

Don't know where she belongs, where she belongs.

She wants to go home, but nobody's home.

It's where she lies, broken inside.

With no place to go, no place to go to dry her eyes.

Broken inside.


Her feelings she hides.

Her dreams she can't find.

She's losing her mind.

She's fallen behind.

She can't find her place.

She's losing her faith.

She's fallen from grace.

She's all over the place.

Yeah, oh


She wants to go home, but nobody's home.

It's where she lies, broken inside.

With no place to go, no place to go to dry her eyes.

Broken inside.


She's lost inside, lost inside...oh oh yeah

She's lost inside, lost inside...oh oh yeah

(Avril Lavigne, Nobody’s Home)



Faith said...

Darling, you know you can call me. I don't think you're lame. But I do think I love you!

Laura said...

Haha, I agree with Faith, you always say you're lame, but you're really not. I think that this semester, your blog is going to be my devotion. I agree with everything you're saying, and I really love the way you explain things. I'm not much of an expert critiquer, so forgive me if this comment doesn't sound as amazing as your blog does ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, I just stumbled onto your blog, and when you talked about curling up in a ball, and talking God, I could totally relate. But, the song that got me through it all, was from Kelly Clarkson, from her last cd "My December" from what I've been told, she wrote it at the lowest point in her life, when she was so emotionally drained and worn out after a concert, she went in the bathroom, locked herself in, and talked to God. She then wrote this song, from that prayer. You can listen to it at youtube here:


Ceidra said...

Thanks so much for your comment. It's good to know what you write is relevant to what people are going through. What song was it, tho? When I tried to watch the link was broken. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

The link isn't broken, just copy and paste the whole link, even all those letters under the word youtube.

If it doesn't work, just go to and search Kelly Clarkson Irvine

enjoy, and write back what you thought of it, and relating to your situation


Ceidra said...

Wow, that's a beautiful song. She sure got the feeling, didn't she? It's funny, sometimes when you think you're most alone and let it out you discover that you're not the only one. May I ask how you found my blog?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, she's got feeling in that song. She only sang it the one time to record it, says it's too sad to ever sing again LIVE.

I just stumbled on your blog, I was googling something about Avril, and came across it. Sorry I invaded your comments. I just thought you might enjoy hearing that song, seeing as though it helped me to know, hey, I'm not the only one that feels like this, Kelly did at some point too.


Ceidra said...

Don't feel bad about commenting. I'm glad you shared :-) It's nice to know you're not the only one, huh? I guess that's part of the reason these songs become hits.