I have a fair amount of cloying, vapid pop on my iPod, and I’m not ashamed of it. Most of the time.
I like trashy pop because the stuff demands little of me. Often enough, I don’t even notice the lyrics. I’ll hum or sing along mindlessly, without paying mind to what’s being said. The beat is much more important—especially when there’s an early-morning treadmill involved.
But sometimes, particularly when vacuous lyrics bore into my brain uninvited, trashy pop gets more demanding. “Moves Like Jagger” came and went in mere hours, but “Love You Like A Love Song” pitched a tent in my subconscious for the longest week of my life. You’ve been there too, haven’t you?
Another recent long-term guest was “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus. Need a refresher? Here’s a favorite version of the song in ASL—be sure and turn on the captions.
Now anyone who has ever met me—or perhaps just read my posts?—knows this is deliciously ironic. “Party in the U.S.A.” describes neither my general demeanor nor my general outlook on the universe. W.B. Yeats came closer when he said “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” But no matter—still the song was stuck. Even L.A.-native Brendan Busse’s assurance that its geography was all wrong couldn’t pry it out of my cranium (“The ‘Hollywood’ sign would not be on her right coming from LAX.”). I kept nodding my head like yeah.
Probably because it was my companion for so long, I have come to think that the song has some (okay, at least one) spiritual lessons to share. Miley is no Palestrina, and the words “cloying” and “vapid” could hardly be more appropriate (“movin’ your hips like yeah”? Huh?).
But poor Ms. Cyrus is new to the city, friendless, homesick, and nervous. To borrow a phrase, she’s trapped in a “hopeless place” of self-consciousness and its affiliated trinity: self-doubt, self-judgment, and self-rejection. In the song, music is the only thing that can break into the dark bunker of her fear.
Granted, for me this takes a little more than Jay-Z or Britney. But my week(s) with Miley made clear how my own self-consciousness can leave me deaf to familiar Gospel refrains like “do not be afraid,” or better still, “love one another.” We all encounter that kind of noise, don’t we? In this instance, though, trashy pop sharpened my gratitude for two things that can usually yank me out of the mire of self-consciousness: prayer and genuine, loving relationships.