I’m quite a big music lover myself. I go to gigs a couple of times a month, mostly in Belgium’s best rock venue AB. In my leisure time, I’m a proud board member of that iconic rock and pop temple in Brussels. I try to keep awake for 4 consecutive days and nights at summer music festivals like Rock Werchter each year. And of course I listen to music lovers’ first choice station Studio Brussels and spend sky-high amounts of money on the latest hot tracks on iTunes just to keep up with those Gen Yers…. So, I always enjoy the latest Gen Y marketing and branding insights from researchers and psychologists analyzing pop songs .
In our book, we have illustrated many topics with examples from the pop music industry like brand authenticity and the Milli Vanilli case, uniqueness and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk or Lady Gaga’s product placement in her videoclips. In the chapter on self-identification we discussed how hip-hop songs are full of prestige and status brands and how this confirmed our own tribal mapping and lifestyle analysis of Generation Y.
Some weeks ago, social psychologist Nathan DeWall, working at the University of Kentucky, published his results of a deep dive into the song lyrics of the Billboard Hot 100 charts between 1980 and 2007 while controlling for genre to avoid this skewness in urban music styles we mentioned above. He found that the song lyrics in the 1980s were more likely to stress happy togetherness and harmony. Just think of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder singing “Ebony and Ivory”, Kool & The Gang’s “Let’s all celebrate and have a good time” or Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie bringing “Two hearts that beat as one”. If you compare that to the linguistic analysis of today’s songs, for instance Fergie dedicating an entire Black Eyed Peas song to her ‘humps’, Justin Timberlake’s “I’m bringing sexy back”, or Lady Gaga’s latest hit that is basically about nothing else than her hair, it’s clear that these are more about one person, in most cases the artist him or herself.
DeWall concludes that pop songs are reflecting the growing narcissism in society, specifically among the Gen Yers, also being dubbed the “ME generation”. The way Gen Y is sculpting and crafting storyboards of their lives in social networks can be seen as a campaign to present themselves to the outside world. Jean M. Twenge, a colleague of DeWall, is convinced that narcissism is much more common in our recent generation. When she compared her research results from 1987 with 2006, she concluded that the number of college students with a high narcissism score has risen by two-thirds. The professor mainly blames our education systems that are raising self-esteem of youth. In her latest book she even suggests treatments for what she deems a narcissism epidemic.
I personally think these authors might be exaggerating the phenomenon a bit. Although I do acknowledge that the Y generation has a higher self-esteem, I think they rather suffer from a much higher need for self-realization than former generations. But who’s to blame? The combination of unseen media coverage of wealthy CEOs in their twenties (that includes Zuckerberg), Babyboomer parents stimulating their children to turn their life into a success story and continuous peer benchmarks and ‘status’ updates on their social networks have resulted in an incredible self-imposed pressure to achieve. Those Gen Yers that put so much emphasis on work-life balance in their jobs and are coping with demanding employers are at the same time risking an early burn out by never finding a peaceful moment because their friends seem to be achieving more and having more fun too…
And hey, “Running Scared”, the winning Eurovison song of 2011, brought to you by Ell & Nikki from Azerbaijan, states: “Come to me, come to me a bit more, oh God I need you, cause I adore you”. So finally some old romantic love song overwins the self-adoration trend in lyrics, right!
By the way, who are we, Gen Xers, to comment on the narcissism of youth. Especially when we are writing books or blogs with a dominant picture of ourselves and starting posts like these with a whole paragraph about ourselves…