We Must Be Superstars

We Must Be Superstars

Pop Culture November 11, 2011 / By Nitsuh Abebe
We Must Be Superstars
SYNOPSIS

In defense of pop (and maybe narcissism, too).

So far, I’m not quite old enough to entertain any worries about the youth of the nation or the deficiencies of their character. Plenty of today’s young adults actually strike me as irritatingly great: Growing up with the Internet means they knew by age 10 what I learned last week, and a lot of them seem awfully bold and brave about asserting themselves all over everyone.

My opinion might be in the minority. Lately, the conventional wisdom is that young people think far too much of themselves—they’re coddled little zeppelins of ego in desperate need of shooting down. The cover of July’s Atlantic is emblazoned with the headline how THE CULT OF SELF-ESTEEM IS RUINING OUR KIDS; inside, quotes from psychologist Jean M. Twenge explain how we’re producing generations of feckless narcissists. Earlier this year, the online equivalent of applause greeted a study of pop lyrics from 1980 to 2007 in which a whole team of psychologists, Twenge included, claimed there’s been a rise in narcissism, self-regard, and antisocial hostility at the top of the Billboard charts: Songs have moved from we and us to me and I, and come over all ornery in the process. Surprised? New York Times columnist David Brooks, for one, already saw that as self-evident: “It’s nice,” he wrote, “to have somebody rigorously confirm an impression many of us have formed.”

“Rigorously” is a stretch. The study consists of little more than running ten lyrics per year through a word-counting computer program, which I can’t imagine taking longer than an afternoon. The study’s authors aren’t much interested in music, either: They’re merely using it as collateral evidence of some decades-long cultural slide into self-­absorption. Books to their names include The Narcissism Epidemic and Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before. As that subtitle suggests, these academics fret about a tidal wave of narcissism because they’re convinced it’s bad for the narcissists, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with the world. “They come off as confident,” the study’s co-author, C. Nathan DeWall, told NPR, “but if you insult or provoke them in any way, it sort of breaks their bubble, and they’re very fragile people.” That same week, bubble enthusiast Lady Gaga—who once said, “I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be”—burst into tears when a journalist asked her about her recent single’s resemblance to a Madonna song.

Read more at NY Mag

(Photo: Neil Lupin/Getty Images (Perry); Kevin Winter/Getty Images (Brown); C. Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images (Ke$ha); Patrick McMullan (Lady Gaga); Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images (Hilson); Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images (Rihanna).)

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