We’ve all heard the message since we were little kids: “It’s OK to be different!” But anyone who’s walked the halls of junior high for three years would probably disagree. However, the media might finally be delivering on this after school special cliché.
Looking at Billboard’s current top ten pop songs, it’s seems the message of embracing your differences and loving yourself is becoming quite a pattern: Katy Perry’s “Firework” is #2, Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” is #4, and P!ink’s “Raise Your Glass” and “F***ing Perfect” are #7 and #10, respectively. Lady Gaga’s new single “Born this Way,” released this past Friday, was the fastest selling song in iTunes history.
The omnipresent Gaga is known for her outrageous fashion, open sexuality and general eccentricities. She was Billboard’s 2010 artist of the year and her extreme popularity is evidence itself that odd is in. Her fans, referred to as “Little Monsters,” have awaited her latest single with great anticipation. The chorus of the song reads like a mission statement for her brand: “I’m beautiful in my own way/’Cause God makes no mistakes/I’m on the right track, baby/I was born this way.” Billboard describes the lyrics as “in-your-face…about race and sexuality.”
Katy Perry, who also has a distinct look (a mix of 1950s pinup girl and a cartoon), is less outrageous but has had her share of controversy with her break-out song, “I Kissed a Girl,” her Mormon upbringing and her marriage to colorful British comedian Russell Brand. Her new song, “Firework,” preaches, “You don’t have to feel like a waste of space/You’re original, cannot be replaced/If you only knew what the future holds/After a hurricane comes a rainbow.”
Newcomer Ke$ha is known for her gutsy wild child image and for literally looking dirty. She describes her look as a “cross between Keith Richards and a hobo.” Most of her songs are about partying but her new single sounds like a rally call for the hipster youth: “Tonight we’re going hard/Just like the world is ours/We’re tearin’ it apart/You know we’re superstars/We are who we are!”
P!nk has capitalized on being different since she first entered the music scene in the early 2000s with a pink pixie cut. She has stayed true to her message over the years, and two songs off her most recent album invite misfits to “Raise your glass if you are wrong/In all the right ways/All the underdogs,” and asks them to “Pretty pretty Please don’t you ever ever feel/Like your less than, f***ing perfect.”
Pop stars wearing outrageous outfits for attention is nothing new, but it seems like the look and message of today’s artists are most successful when they are relevant, powerfully emotional and differentiated, just like any other brand. The recent media attention brought to anti-gay bullying and teen suicide may have catalyzed the outpouring of the message of self-acceptance.
Of course, it is a wonderful thing that the music industry has embraced this cause, but it is ironic that embracing difference has been turned into a commodity.