The Power of Pop in an Age of Instability

Tom Matsuda

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has sucked the joy out of our lives. Before, the daily trod of my life with its combination of studying and working used to be glittered with nights outs with friends. Sometimes we danced the night away. Sometime we tucked into sumptuous meals out. Most importantly, we forgot whatever was on our mind before all this chaos. We cherished our relationships with each other with nights that we never wanted to end. Only now do I realise what seemed so simple at the time was in fact a hallmark of a life being well lived out.

Now in a time where we are confined to our rooms, we are left with the silent hum of monotony. For those of us who are not on the frontlines of the corona pandemic, we know we have it good. But recognising this privilege doesn’t take away from the fact that is not how life should be lived. Many of us are miserable in our homes, some of us would rather be anywhere but confined to our houses. For those with unstable family situations, a home can also feel like literal hell.

Moreover, alongside an epidemic reverberating across the world, let us not forget that we will most likely have an upcoming recession, whilst still grappling with the repercussions from the last one. In the Global North, the elections of Trump, Boris and the results of the EU Referendum have made many vulnerable groups fear for their financial security, safety and general wellbeing.

However, we all deserve to forget about all this sometimes. Especially in an era where the news feels like an endless cycle of death, decay and doubt.

It often felt like this before our current crisis too. As a British person, watching the UK self-consciously fall into the bottomless pit of Brexit was heartbreaking. As the current government continue to botch the countermeasures to the epidemic, resulting in the country’s highest death tolls yet, the need to escape becomes even more palpable.

It’s not that I don’t care. In actual fact, it’s far from it. I actually care so much that I often forget the need to pace myself. There’s only so much bad news an individual can take.

In a time marred with confusion and isolation, we should all be doing what is best for our sense of wellbeing.

So when Dua Lipa dropped her album “Future Nostalgia” in the midst of our world falling apart, I was sceptical. Was it really an appropriate time to release music? Is this a sick marketing technique to get us all listening while we’re stuck at home? How can we dance and sing whilst thousand die a day?

In truth, all of those things are definitely questions worth asking.

However, during the announcement that she would release her new album amid the coronavirus pandemic, she was emotional. Speaking to her fans on Instagram Live, Lipa said of the album “I hope it brings you some happiness, and I hope it makes you smile, and I hope it makes you dance.”

It turns out that’s what we all needed. With the release, the internet erupted. Amidst the darkness of the forest we all find ourselves lost in, we found a place where we can still have love and joy in a time bereft of that otherwise. It’s a place decorated with lanterns guiding our way to a world with people dancing and enjoying life. Albeit, with dancers each separated six feet apart.

In a strange way, the album also managed to soundtrack the narratives surrounding social distancing. In the glistening seventies funk of “Don’t Start Now” Lipa unwittingly begs her fans to “Don’t show up / don’t come out”. Moreover, in “Break My Heart” she concludes that she “should’ve stayed at home” with disco bravado vocals over slinky guitars.

Unwittingly, the world found the music to their isolation. Music that was intended for clubs and parties, suddenly became our escape route out of our new lives in our bedrooms. We danced and danced all alone as the world raged on outside; the pure pop confection allowing us just a moment of respite.

Pop music offers a quick and easy three minute thirty second escape. We don’t need alcohol or any kind of substance to enjoy it. Although it can sometimes help. In fact, pop music is scientifically proven to tap into our pleasure principle with its deft mix of uncertainty and surprise. In other words, it’s a perfectly pleasing antidote for times of instability.

In times of personal stress, I’ve often gone to pop music to run away. There’s a reason why I stayed up until late the other night watching Britney and Madonna performances from the early 2000s. These performers are adept at making you forget about your life as you watch them prancing about onstage. For once, it’s not about you and your problems but it’s about those performers and their music.

In a time marred with confusion and isolation, we should all be doing what is best for our sense of wellbeing. Pop music, along with other forms of media, can help us maintain joy and kindness in what seems like a ruthlessly cruel world. Its unadulterated glee is something instinctually human yet currently missing from our consciousness. Our key to surviving this time is making sure that we don’t let slip of this.

Whilst death and destruction are both aspects of our humanity, so is love and happiness. In other words, the power of pop in a pandemic is its capacity for us to remember how joyful it is to be human.

And if we forget this, then the virus has truly won in its bid to upend our lives.

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British-Japanese writer from London. Words in OneZero, Human Parts.


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