Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Destiny's Child "Independent Women Pt. II"

Sharon George, Kelsey Allen, Nicole Markey

     The song Independent Women was released by the R&B girl group Destiny’s Child in 2000. It was released as part of the Charlie’s Angels movie soundtrack, and gained popularity first when it was played in the movie trailer. It was also released on the group’s third and most popular album, Survivor in 2001. The song exhibits R&B as well as dance-pop influences through its use of a strong beat and harmonious choruses. It remained at the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 11 consecutive weeks and was nominated for a Grammy in 2001. The song features a strong female empowerment message. Destiny’s Child has been compared to The Supremes, a girl-group of the 1960s, but seem to focus more on this female empowerment message throughout their body of work. The song was named #18 of the top 100 songs of the 2000s by Billboard’s Hot 100s of the Decade.
     Independent Women fit the popular genre of music of the early 2000s. That time period has once been described as a Golden Age for contemporary R&B. The early 2000s also celebrated the female artists with women such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Pink, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and girl group, TLC, all experiencing success on the charts. A common theme for women to sing about was men, however, Destiny’s Child took a slightly different approach and wrote a song about women, specifically about women who don’t need a man. The group appealed to a wide range audience and this was shown by becoming the most successful female R& B group of all time selling over 50 million records worldwide during the 2000s. Independent Women is often referred to as a women empowerment anthem and it fit with the roles of women in society at this point in time. In 2000, 24 percent of women over the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 28 percent of men. The college degree attainment gap between the sexes had not completely closed but was well on its way to closing. Further, women at this time held a large number of professional and high ranking managerial positions as this was not common a couple of decades prior. Independent women captured the success of women in education and employment in the song and emphasized the woman as reliant on herself instead of a man.
     “Independent Women” did not create controversy as it was created to be on the soundtrack of the major blockbuster of Charlie’s Angels. It also fell into the trend of hip-hop/R&B that was gaining mainstream traction in the early 1990s. Destiny’s Child was also not alone in their rise as a girl group, bands like TLC, SWV, XSCAPE were all capitalizing on the popularity of the trend. Male R&B groups were also very popular during this era too, such as Jodeci and Boyz II Men. The high production value of the single—as well as the rest of the Destiny’s Child discography—shows the cultural divergent from the grassroots, bottom-up style of music as seen last week with Nirvana. Themes of girl-power, female sexuality and independence were popular among female musicians, and Destiny’s Child could be viewed as the black version of women like Joni Mitchel and Carly Simon. The massive radio play as well as the success of Charlie’s Angels is what solidified “Independent Women” a place in modern music history. The song is upbeat, catchy, and has a very positive message giving it cultural relevance over a decade later. The themes of financial independence, flaunting of wealth, and feminism have all carried into the later 2000s and can even be seen in both Michelle Williams and BeyoncĂ© Knowles’s solo work.
       In a happy turn of events, the class was willing to answer the question! We asked the class “Do you think this song has affected the dialog of feminism within mainstream pop culture?  What about it’s potential effects on the music industry as a whole?”. The class responded saying that yes, they do think “Independent Women” helped bring in a trend of mainstream “girl power” anthems. They said that the work of Destiny’s Child helped popularize these type of “feminist anthems” all while staying in the realm of mass culture by including themes of capitalism, and heterosexual relationships.


Friday, April 10, 2015

"Smells like Teen Spirit"

"Smells like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana

Victoria Scott, Nikki Burnett, Kristen Zulli

Video Link

The song we chose is “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This song is the lead single from Nirvana’s second album entitled Nervermind released in 1991. This album was a major debut for Nirvana with DGC record company. The band members of Nirvana, who perform the song, include Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl. Kurt Cobain wrote the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” A band in which he looked up to, named The Pixies, inspired his lyrics. The success of this song was not expected to be huge. In 1992 however, it reached the top of the charts. At this point in time alternative rock, the style of this song started to reach the mainstream. This song was written with the idea to be a teen revolution anthem, as noted by the title. Cobain said he wrote this song because he was feeling "disgusted with my generation's apathy.” It started to gain its popularity as rock stations and many college campuses released it on the radio. The song was appealing to many, reaching all the major rock radio stations including modern, hard, and album rock.  Its popularity also was connected to the music video released. The music video launched its world premiere on MTV's late-night rock program. The video is meant to portray a concept of a pep rally from hell, which ends in a riot.
        As watched, the music video helps portray the "grunge" craze during this time period, which was characterized by things such as loud guitars, angsty lyrics, and flannel, making teens feel almost power ridden and more interested. All and all “Smells like Teen Spirit” was wildly successful. To name only a few successful moments,  it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of "The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll" in 1997, and MTV ranked the song's music video at number three on its "100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made" list in 1999. It is still covered often, and I personally love to jam out to it playing the hit video game, Guitar Hero.
Nirvana was part of an innovative trend of its time, called “grunge”. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was one of the first really popular grunge songs to make it on the radio, MTV, and other national mediums, as the trend mainly started in Seattle and in small enclaves. It was also part of a larger “alternative rock” movement. It combined pop and heavy rock, with its both slow and fast, heavy parts.
The most controversial thing about “Smells like Teen Spirit” was Kurt Cobain’s grumbled and nonsensical lyrics, which led some radio stations to refuse to play it sometimes. It also led some fans to overanalyze the lyrics, but band members have straight out said in interviews that the lyrics were just meant to be fun and nonsensical. Also, while audiences took the song to be an anthem, the band started to hate that it was the one song that they were really known for. Kurt noted that he thought they had written much better songs, and so when they played concerts they liked to refuse to play the song or purposely play it poorly or differently than the audience expected.
The song was listened to mostly by young people and teenagers, especially through college radio stations, concerts, and the growing popularity of MTV. Generation X took the song to be one of apathy and social destruction, and Nirvana made this socially acceptable and even “cool”. This is exemplified with the sound of the song, how it is both slow and very heavy. The video also inspired this mix of apathy and anarchy, with an originally overwhelmingly bored high school concert with real destruction at the end by the extras who were forced to sit still for hours.
As previously mentioned, Nirvana was one of the first grunge bands to reach the mainstream. “Smells like Teen Spirit” provides an example of how popular culture can be spread from the bottom-up. Nirvana and other alternative rock bands originally had a strong following from a subset of people far from the mainstream. However, Kurt Cobain set out to “write the ultimate pop song” allowing the heavily grunge influenced song to enter popular culture, especially through facets like MTV. As the grunge movement became more widespread, “Smells like Teen Spirit” gained popularity, eventually becoming one of the defining songs of the generation. The purpose of the alternative rock movement was to be so radical that it stays on the outskirts of popular culture. In order to do so, many bands took on a postmodern approach. “Smells like Teen Spirit” utilizes this trend both lyrically and musically.  Throughout the whole song, the lyrics are sung in such a way that makes them difficult to understand, which adds to the anarchy and chaos of both the song and the genre. Additionally, the lyrics of the song don’t seem to really have much of a solid meaning. The chorus says,
“With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us”
The lyrics don’t seem to suggest deeper meaning, there’s just a focus on letting loose and having fun. This focusing on just the surface meaning combined with the chaotic nature of the song contributes to its postmodern aspects. Another factor that we discussed in class about postmodernism is its breaking down of the distinction between high and low culture. As mentioned earlier, although Kurt Cobain intended for “Smells like Teen Spirit” to be “the ultimate pop song”, no one knew how popular it would become. It completely broke down the barrier between interest groups. Its popularity among all types of people is why the song is often noted as one of the most important songs of the generation, inspiring countless artists afterward.
Question: Why do you think a grunge song, intended to be the antithesis of mainstream music, gained so much popularity throughout the ‘90s?

Like with “Video Killed the Radio Star”, its music video on MTV allowed the song to spread to a more mainstream audience. Its catchy beat appeals to the pop genre but its grunge undertones and rebellious feel stays true to its alternative rock roots. Also, the younger generation at the time probably wanted to break away from the typical pop songs of their parent’s generation, making the rebelliousness of grunge even more appealing. “Smells like Teen Spirit” and the grunge genre as a whole also seem to criticize the commercialization of the pop genre. This can be seen simply in the name of the song, which is shared by a popular deodorant.


“Achieving Nirvana: Grunge Band’s ‘Teen Spirit’ is Top Song of Past Two Decades.” ABC News. 27 Nov 2006. Web 6 April 2015.

Davidson, Helen. “Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit: How an Era-Defining Moment Was Sold Short.” N.p., 26 Aug. 2011. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.

Horner, Al. "NME Blogs | Why Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' Is The Greatest Song Of All Time." NME Blogs. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2015. <>.

Lewry, Fraser. “17 Facts About Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Metal Hammer. 10 Sep 2014. Web 6 April 2015.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit." Smells Like Teen Spirit. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2015. <>.

“The Story Behind Smells like Teen Spirit.” UpVenue. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.

Reynolds, Simon. “Recording View; Boredom + Claustrophobia + Sex = Punk Nirvana.” The New York Times 24 November 1991. Web 6 April 2015.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stayin' Alive - The Bee Gees - "Free To Be You and Me"

Stayin' Alive - The Bee Gees - 1977 by Kaitlyn Evangelista and Sydney Newman

“Stayin’ Alive” was written and performed by the Bee Gees for the opening credits of the film Saturday Night Fever: released in 1977. The film characterized their song as disco even though the Bee Gees said they were not disco. The film helped its popularity because it was in the trailer for the film so it became popular and familiar to people before the film even came out. Since Saturday Night Fever did so well, a sequel was created called Staying Alive. Staying Alive did not do as well as Saturday Night. Since the song was originally from the trailer, many people were requesting the song to radio stations after hearing it from the trailer. The song went on to win a Grammy for Best arrangement for Voices and was the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1978, where it stayed there for four weeks. The song is now used for its beat to perform chest compressions on someone during CPR. The ideal amount of beats are 100-120 per minute and this song has 103 per minute. Other songs have similar beats, but the lyrics to this song are more relevant than other songs. The song is meant to be upbeat, as its lyrics literally encourage you to stay alive.

Stayin’ Alive is similar to Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are A-Changin” (1964). In his song he says that the times are changing and you have to swim or you will sink like a stone. And in “Stayin’ Alive” the Bee Gees say they are staying alive and getting through life as they can “feel the city breakin’” and “everybody shakin’.” “Stayin’ Alive” is about getting by when the times are hard, similar to Bob Dylan who says in the song there is a battle outside because of the change coming that will soon shake the windows.
For most people, the genre of music most associated with the 1970s was disco. Disco first appeared in dance clubs in the early 70s and many singers like Donna Summer and Anita Ward helped popularize the sound. When Saturday Night Fever came out in 1977, it helped further breathe life into the trend and expand it into commercialization. For this reason Stayin’ Alive really fits well into music trends of the time but was innovative in the sense of its popularity and revitalizing of the trend.

         Disco as a genre was a reaction against the dominance of rock music and can be considered a counterculture movement of the period. Disco’s initial audience was African American, Italian American, and Latin club-goers. Disco thrived for much of the 70s but then towards the early 80s many disco artists, like the Bee Gees, struggled trying to get their music played on mainstream radio. An “anti-disco” movement popped up and soon popular songs like Stayin’ Alive and Disco Inferno became unfashionable.
         The popularity of Stayin Alive, a song about survival in a big city, tells us that 70s Americas wanted and needed an upbeat sound. The song is quite literally called Stayin’ Alive and its no coincidence the 120 beats per minute coincides with the heartbeat of your heart when you’re excited. Dance clubs and dance movements reached their peak in the 70s and songs like Stayin’ Alive catered to that attitude. This song served the purpose of helping Americans “loosen up” and “relax” on the floor after the stress of the day. By keeping its lyrics and rhythms upbeat, Stayin’ Alive helped rise disco’s popularity and became a soundtrack and radio icon for the 70s. 

The movement of disco was more than just a style of music but a culture. A counter-culture to the rock sound and heavy social and political unrest of the 60s. Stayin’ Alive’s upbeat sound and positive message was a direct response to this era and expressed that the mainstream audience was ready for something happier and uplifting. Disco provided an environment where many cultures could come together and interact. People were free to be themselves and express so with whatever moves they wanted on the dance floor judgment free. This free-to-be attitude was the attitude of the 70s and illuminates how this decade highlighted different cultures and movements of people through song.

Question: Why do you think the song was popular during the time of its release, other than since it was in a popular film?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Values of the Counterculture

In the late 1960s and early 1970s a counterculture of hippies emerged in our society. This group of people attended music festivals such as Be-Ins and Woodstock in order to express their counterculture. The posters and advertisements very clearly outline the values of this culture. For example, for the Be-In posters, they list to bring flowers, incense, family, friends, candles, banners and flags. This shows their devotion to community and peace. Woodstock posters advertise art shows, a craft bazaar, music, and most importantly “hundreds of acres to roam on without seeing a skyscraper or traffic light”. It even says, “breathe your own unspoiled air”. This displays the counterculture’s value in nature and preserving the environment. Essentially, their counterculture values everything one would associate with a hippie today. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Video Killed the Radio Star" The Buggles

"Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles

The song we chose for our music presentation was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. It was a song that appeared on their Age of Plastic Album in 1979 featuring Linda Jardim and Debi Doss. Originally the song was written by Trevor Horn, Bruce Wooley, and Geoff Downes, but only Horn and Downes actually performed it as members of the band. The style of music is called Synthpop, which became very popular during this time period because the synthesizer became the main musical instrument that was used. This song became extremely popular internationally. It was at the top of sixteen international music charts, such as the UK, Australia, Austria, France, Italy, etc. and it was ranked number forty on VH1’s 100 greatest one-hit wonders of the 80s. However, what really made it popular is how it was distributed. This song is known as the first music video to appear on MTV. The video was directed, written and edited by Russell Mulcahy, and it truly showed the power of MTV as a music distributor due to the overwhelming popularity the video, and thus the song, received. Before this people could only see their favorite artists at concerts or hear them on the radio, but now they could watch them out of the comfort of their own homes. The invention of the music video was radical for this time period.

Synthpop shares some rhythmic characteristics with disco, which had occurred just a few years before this song was released. The synthesizer was the main instrument in synthpop; it had been used here and there in the ‘60s and ‘70s but really became popular in the ‘80s with bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Devo and the Buggles. The song was well received upon its release. “Video Killed the Radio Star” is considered an ironic song. The lyrics lament the decline of radio to the rise of video and new music technology. Meanwhile, this song made use of the new technology and its music video was the first to play on the new MTV and helped to usher in the “MTV generation” of videos. The video did receive some criticism for what was deemed “unnecessary violence” at the beginning of the video with the exploding radio. Music videos were still relatively new and this was the first time they were placed in heavy rotation for a mass audience--there had been no guidelines to what could and could not be in the videos. The audience for “Video Killed the Radio Star” was young adults. This was the target demographic for MTV and was typically also the audience for most synthpop acts. Aside from being entertaining, the song also serves as a commentary of the changing climate of the music industry. Different from the other songs from around this time that we listened to in class which had strong social and political critiques accompanied by heavy music, “Video Killed the Radio Star” had a message but hid it underneath upbeat danceable music and a chorus that played as a catchy jingle. This song was the perfect description of what was going on in pop culture at the time that would make it what we know today. So many important music videos came out of this decade and the fact that we can call them “important music videos” just goes to show how right the song was when it predicted that video would triumph over the radio.

The 80s was a decade for progression. With “Video Killed the Radio Star” the main type of progression we analyzed was technological. Music videos offered a new way for music to be distributed and for artists to connect with the fans. Because MTV popularized music videos, they were easily seen by anyone, and they were for everyone. In the music video industry, we see a breakdown of high and low culture – one did not have to go to a concert to see their favorite artists, they could now see them in the comfort of their own home. With this music video in particular, there are also postmodern touches in the video. In the beginning when we are shown images on top of images. Here, copies on copies on copies are emphasized. Along with the copies of copies example, this video had a little bit of traditional pieces (i.e. the piano, radio) and newer pieces (i.e. synthesizer, the sci-fi theme). The video is a combination of different things which really projects a postmodern view on culture. Overall, this video helped to pave the road for continuous technological and musical advances for popular culture.

Works Cited

Buskin, Richard (December 2011). "The Buggles 'Video Killed The Radio Star'". Sound on Sound(SOS Publications Group). 02 Apr. 2015
"Video Killed The Radio Star by Buggles Songfacts." Songfacts. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2015.
Young, Alex. "Rock History 101: The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star"" Consequence of

Sound. N.p., 11 July 2009. Web. 02 Apr. 2015.

Link to video:


Top-down vs. bottom-up, Round 2

Historians talk often of “top-down” change (an agenda carried out by elites) vs. “bottom-up” change (a groundswell of ideas from everyday people.)  Where do you see examples of each kind?  Can there be such a thing as a purely “top-down” or “bottom-up” piece of popular culture?  Explain.