This summer's pop music scene — often the dominion of mindless dittys about drinking and vague summer love — is full of folks airing out their dirty laundry, singing about real-life love drama, cheating partners and relationship issues. You know, light-hearted fare.
While many of the songs in the Top 10 right now are cheerful party tunes — Iggy Azalea's "Fancy," Calvin Harris's "Summer," Pharrell's "Happy" — a bunch of tunes on the rise are right out of a tear-stained diary. These stars are singing it out instead of (in addition to?) going to marriage counseling.
Culprit number 1: Robin Thicke
Whether or not his album is an elaborately plotted marketing ploy is beside the point; he wants us to believe that he's not just singing about some random "good girl" who wants it, but about his estranged wife, Paula. Hence the new album title: Paula. It's unclear whether or not Robin Thicke actually wrote all of these songs after the breakup or if it's just genius timing; it's also unclear whether or not it's all real or if Paula Patton is in on the stunt. But. Drawing on the public perception that his marriage is a mess, the songs — with titles like "Get Her Back" and "Too Little Too Late" — are not just generic moon/spoon/June tunes — it's couples therapy sung aloud. (More about his lyrics here and here.)
Culprit number 2: Ed Sheeran
Ed's newest album, X (pronounced "multiply") includes the single "Don't," which he sang on Saturday Night Live in TK and will sing on Today on Friday. This song is about dating Ellie Goulding, with whom he was on tour last year, and it is fucking harsh. The lyrics refer to how Ellie cheated on him with Niall from One Direction, and one headline about the track reads, "Ed Sheeran Admits Don't Is The Celebrity Breakup Song So Harsh It Even Shocked Taylor Swift." And that girl has been singing her diary for years now. There's no question that it's Goudling; the lyrics include lines like "me and her make money the same way — four cities, two planes the same day" and he refers to them staying in the same hotel. The chorus of "Don't" is literally "don't fuck with my love," and Sheeran sings stuff like "that heart is so cold" and "I never saw him as a threat — until you disappeared with him to have sex, of course." The whole thing is a big "OUCH" — in addition to being super catchy.
Culprit number 3: Beyoncé
King Bey has been changing the lines to "Resentment" in concert, sparking hundreds of headlines, like "Beyonce: Did She Diss Jay Z in Concert For Cheating?" "Did Beyoncé Confirm That Jay Z Is Cheating On Her… With Mya?" and "Letting The Music Do The Talking! Beyoncé Hints At Maritan Problems With Telling Lyrics Change On Tour… As Husband Jay Z Is Linked With Singer Mya." Singing about your husband cheating while on tour with your husband is some next level shit. Not only do you make the gossip pages after every concert — upping your profile and possibly generating additional ticket sales — but folks get hooked on the narrative, on the idea that every day there could be a new development. Like a real-life soap opera.
Doing "ripped from the headlines" messy relationship songs isn't a new concept, by any means, and we've seen other high-profile pop stars dabble in pseudo-autobiographical love-lost lyrics: Justin Timberlake created buzz by singing "Cry Me A River" in the wake of accusations about Britney cheating; Usher's "Confessions" just happened to sync up with his
marriage implosion break up with Chilli, and the aforementioned Taylor Swift warbled winking "Dear John" songs after media reports breathlessly detailed her breakups. But, you know, three's a trend, and it's all happening at the same time, and it looks like this summer, there's very little difference between lyrics from earworms and lines from the therapist's office.
Unbelievably good gif by the inimitable Jim Cooke.