Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Is "Shut Up and Dance" Popular?

Summer has come early in my little corner of Steubenville; a long and tiresome winter has made us all want to skip through Spring and jump to the good stuff. Amid the limitless energy and trendiness of the quasi-hipster FUS drama department, it seems there is one song on everyone’s lips: Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon. Released last fall, this earworm is bound to be a Summer hit of 2015. Since I’m in the (for me) rare position of being around people who know where it’s at, I have the privilege of witnessing a bit of pop-culture history in the making, seeing what may well be an upcoming legend in the days before it becomes mainstream.

Image taken from the comment section of the official "Shut Up and Dance" music video.

This phenomenon has got me thinking about what makes a song popular, particularly this one. Sure, it has an infectious power-pop melody, a hilariously fun chorus, and, of course, it’s about love. But is that all there is to the song? My powers of overanalysis don’t think so (If you haven’t heard the song, and you’re the kind of person who likes to experience art before any criticism of it, I encourage you to scroll down and listen to it now).

The first thing to notice is the effective songwriting which does well in describing the innocent euphoria of falling in love. But this isn't any love, it's sweeping, epic, sexy love at first sight. When the protagonist of the song encounters the woman in question on the dance floor, there is a helpless internal reaction in both of them, one which causes them to see the other as the most important person in the room.

We were victims of the night,
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and the fading light

For those who have a romantic connection to someone, whatever form it may take, it is easy to put yourself and whoever is in your heart directly into this song. The characters are acting out exactly what you long for: an effortless and purposeful connection.

Taking this theme further, the song makes clear that this isn't just an isolated instance of passion, a thrill that will eventually die down and pass, but something permanent.

This woman is my destiny
I knew we were born to be together

These lyrics are just what we want to say about our own love with confidence. Everyone dreams of someone they were destined to be with, someone whose existence completes their own. This is where the song hits you, right in the fundamental desire for eternal love.

These lofty ideas may seem out-of-place against the pop rock context of the song, but this is exactly what makes the song, and many songs like it, so powerful. The song is set on a dance floor, an environment that is easy to refer to derisively and disparagingly. It's an environment that has several connotations, one being that of the "cool party life": the fun, energetic, highly-sexed arena of youth and music. Also, that of the love-struck; falling in love on the dance floor is not a new idea by any means. This environment is obviously one that carries a cultural significance; this is a place where people want to meet "the other." By setting this love story in this environment, and linking it to an eternal value (which countless songs fail to do), Shut Up and Dance is affirming our desire, telling us that true love is attainable exactly where we seek it out.

The song includes imagery that suggests that this woman is the romantic ideal of the speaker, an archetype he has recognized for years before. He can tell that this woman fulfills a desire in him that he has felt for his whole life.

A backless dress and some beat up sneaks
My discothèque Juliet teenage dream

While we all may or may not find a romantic partner, I think these themes can be applied to a more infinite point of view. The desire for love that we all feel can be traced back to the desire for God, and we partially satisfy this desire in our encounters with Christ. These encounters aren't simply abstract, spiritual incidents, but incarnate interactions with other people; we meet Christ "on the dance floor" so to speak. If it was only possible to encounter Christ through intense sessions of isolated meditation, it would be a dry faith indeed, but we are given the gift of Christ in every person, in every event we participate in. Consider the words of the chorus:

"Oh, don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me."
I said, "You're holding back,"
She said, "Shut up and dance with me!"

They seem very forceful for coming from a stranger at a club, don't they? It's because they aren't from a stranger; these words come from someone who knows you, who loves you. They are so appealing because on some level we recognize that we either have met, or want to meet this amazing reality in someone, indeed, in everyone we know. The words are telling us to forget about impressions and artifice and to celebrate the point-of-view-transforming joy that Christ reveals in all things. Deep down, we all want to look past appearances and see the Truth that lies underneath.

So what do you think? Are these resonances the root of the song's appeal, or do people just like saying "Shut up and dance with me!"?

Note: Details of lyrics are rendered as accurately as possible given the limitations of the consensus-hating internet.