The Pop Metaphor: Part 2



The paradoxical entrapment in an accelerating metaphor is no better expressed than in the lyrics of the heavy-hitting hit-maker, Sia.


I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose

Fire away, fire away

Ricochet, you take your aim

Fire away, fire away

You shoot me down but I won’t fall

I am titanium

You shoot me down but I won’t fall

I am titanium


I wonder what it feels like to make art that doesn’t drift off-point. Contemporary pop is not a flaneur form – I feel like the people that either create or consume pop would like to think of themselves as diligent, hard workers. People you can count on to get the job done. Of course, successful singer-songwriters like Sia are not just workhorses. They’re also, and mainly, incredibly gifted, and there’s a lovely predestined aspect to Sia’s songs that make the lyrical choices seem obvious, nearly facile; it’s as if the songs have always existed. There’s making it look easy, and there’s making it look like you didn’t even do anything at all – the sprezzatura ease that comes to very few. True knack for metaphor – abstraction with clarity and reach – is incredibly rare.


‘Titanium’ exemplifies the privileged place that themes of resilience and survival take in contemporary pop songs. Why do metaphors to do with survival resonate with the collective consciousness? What are we surviving? Survival itself (and the scene of destruction the word implies) is not a trope unique to our times (see ‘I Will Survive’) but it’s certainly a trope that dominates current music that arguably no other trope does. From the media judo of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ (written in response to a journalist’s likening of the ever-changing membership of the pop outfit to an episode of Survivor) to recent number ones including ‘Titanium,’ ‘Roar’ and ‘Chandelier,’ survival has grown to occupy much space in the global soundscape. Everywhere: a sonic stamp of aural affirmation. In spite of everything, we are going to make it through this slog. But what is this slog? What is the vague, unmentioned force, which is apparently putting us all through hell? Often, because the conveyers of the message of survival are generally women, female audience members seem emboldened by the music, to take away something in the spirit of personal and sisterly empowerment.


I sometimes feel pop’s a little bit like opera, where the soprano always dies. Pop is a little like how Marilyn Monroe must die. She kind of did have to – I can’t really think of how else her story could have ended. As much as her death is the height of something truly awful, as much as it saddens me to think of, – well, that’s narrative logic. The beautiful soprano, the magical starlet, the female icon can’t survive the narrative. To die beautifully in Puccini is to have succeeded . If you are Mimi or Ciocio-san, you have achieved the height of beauty – and at the height of this beauty you face and embrace ultimate destruction. Is feminine destruction the ultimate patriarchal success story? What’s so awful about being in a success story? Laterally, in pop young women are constantly renewed – the older stars blow out in Vegas, the younger ones morph out of Disney confection – fixing a blurred, eternal image of fecundity and desire somehow emptied of any specific icon.


What does pop music’s voicing of survival have to do with this narrative of destruction? Telling the world ‘I’m a survivor,’ or ‘you’re gonna hear me roar,’ or ‘you shoot me down, but I won’t fall,’ certainly draws attention to a plight. These women are under attack. Really! Listen to them! You don’t even need to listen to the words – listen to the music. The rhythm splits into smaller and smaller subdivisions. Filter sweeps. Pumping synths. Forceful kick drums. Compressed vocals. No human stands a chance. I have no trouble being convinced that this music, while not quite a cry for help, is absolutely a drawing attention to a scene of destruction. An Act 3 scene – the woman is on the edge. I’m not sure that the announcement of triumph in ‘I got the eye of the tiger’ should be taken at literally. Well, of course I don’t mean literally literally – unless Katy Perry gouges feline eyeballs in her free time. But at face value, the representation that these pop figures are actually surviving anything doesn’t convince me.


(The opposite of a crash landing is a smooth take off.)

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