“Baby, You’re No Firework”: Pop Music and The Alienated Soul

This essay is included in Andy Nowicki’s Ruminations of a Low Status Male, Volume 1The release of Volume 2 is imminent…

Andy Nowicki

In the echoing cadences of popular music, the alienated soul finds both the temporary buzz of entrancement and the all-too-familiar drone of his own spiraling hollowness. Hungering and thirsting for a sense of connection, for the comforting if illusory sensation that he is in fact, not alone, he instead most often detects sure affirmation of his utter isolation. Yet the hope always remains as insistent as the hooks of the songs which at first inexplicably captivate and compel his jaded heart. He may just be a thoroughgoing hopeless romantic beneath it all, but that doesn’t stop him from perpetually detecting the bullshit of romance.

Such a one has heard so many “Girl, you’re so beautiful” songs that his heart has turned to stone. He has been subjected to such a plethora of “Man, you’re such a man and oooh you sure know how to love me right” tunes that he’s been afflicted with a permanent case of the dry heaves. That men and women are suckers and fools, each in his or her own way vulnerable to blatantly vacuous praise if it flatters their egos, never ceases to fill him with revulsion. Yet he is even more possessed by bouts of self-loathing when he considers his own occasional weakness for the very same lines. After all, as They Might Be Giants once observed, “A woman’s voice on the radio can convince you you’re in love.” And this is certainly true, for, to quote Buddy Holly, “It’s so easy to fall in love”… and if you think you’re in love, then you pretty much are, sucker.

But much as he may detest the endless iterations on the standard “inane love song” which in one way or another has long dominated the radio airwaves, these are not what truly makes the alienated soul grind his teeth with rage and mutter fiercely fearsome oaths to himself under his breath. Rather, what really chafes his sensibility is not the phony love song, but the phony “encouragement song.”

Let’s face it: there are a lot of sad, lonely, desperate people in our world. The alienated soul knows this well enough, for he is one such person. But being one of the lonely ought never be confused with claiming solidarity with the lonely. The alienated soul is too proud to associate himself with any group, though he isn’t too proud to own his patheticism. He knows that he is despised and forgotten, an underground man, of little significance or regard, more an amusement to others than a legitimate force with which to be reckoned, a minor threat at best. But at the same time, he’ll take no psychological handouts, thank you very much. He knows that he’s on his own, and much as he may wish it were different, he’ll stay the course for the duration, serving out his time as a dutiful, purposeful prisoner, cultivating his garden and honing his craft all the while, shunning overt bitterness. If life is disappointing, complaining about it does no good; best to cultivate a stoical outlook and resolvedly accept your meager portion.

Yet how the pop singers of the world appear to fret over his lot in life! “All the lonely people, where do they all come from…./Where do they all belong?” wondered Paul McCartney a half-century ago. Sir McCartney may have earnestly cared about the plight of the spiritually homeless, but it is clear that he had no proper empathy for them; rather, as is clear from his lyrics, the very existence of lonely people plainly bewildered him; poor Paul just didn’t know what to do with such folk, could neither grapple with their obscure origins nor figure out where to put them. While Eleanor Rigby is a song possessed of a certain forlorn power, this is largely due to the sheer brutality of the speaker’s candid observations of despair and futility concerning the destitute Eleanor and her well-meaning but hapless would-be rehabilitator Father McKenzie: “No one comes near… What does he care?… No one was saved.”

Most singers, however, aren’t simply content to reflect on what sad cases we lonely people are. Instead, they intend to give us sorry losers a pep talk, by assuring us that we’re not really losers… we’re winners who just don’t know it yet! Their assertions would be laughable—after all, they don’t know the people for whom they’re ostensibly so concerned—were it not for the grating effrontery at the heart of their absurd gesture of effusive compassion. They don’t want to “help”; they merely want to give the appearance of wanting to help, in order to score PR points in showing what caring, down-to-earth celebrities they truly are. “Everybody hurts sometimes, but hold on,” REM instructed us. (Yeah, thanks, you whiney-voiced faux-eccentric Micheal Stipe; now please shove off, faggot.)

Don’t you ever say you don’t like the way you are/ When you learn to love yourself, you’re better off by far,” aging New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre gushed to legions of gullible retards a few years ago. (Go choke on some “right stuff,” you prancing ponce.) Then there was the Whitney Houston abomination The Greatest Love of All, aptly covered elsewhere. (No rude words will be dispensed for Whitney, as verily, she has her reward.)

Most recently came Katy Perry’s “Firework,” a song in which the doe-eyed Christian girl-gone-bad breathily assures the listener of his infinite worth. Feeling down? Chin up, chap: all you have to do is “ignite the light and let it shine,” and you’ll “own the night like the Fourth of July, ’cause baby, you’re a firework!

What makes it infuriating, of course, is that we find ourselves wanting to believe her. Our quest to attain self-possessed stoical resolve founders for a second, for a minute, or for even longer, just because some pretty girl with a pretty voice tells us that things can be better if we only “believe in ourselves,” and “go for it.” The effort made to achieve dignity and balance is thus disrupted by the most exceedingly banal of platitudes, packaged in such a way as to appeal to our propensity to yearn for joy. We are undone by our hopefulness, and rendered abject schmucks. Our undying, seemingly un-killable hope fuels our rage, and in turn, somewhat paradoxically, enhances our despair.

Andy Nowicki, assistant editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the NihilThe Columbine PilgrimConsidering Suicide, and Beauty and the Least. Visit his YouTube channel and his Soundcloud page. His author page is Alt Right Novelist.com


  • Now compare this the Hitler’s rousing speeches, his schrill voice and constant screaming – worked then why not now? Humans are conditioned to listen and follow “loud mouths”, can’t help it might as well go along with it and use it, you sure ain’t going nowhere with logic and arguments people want “fireworks”, you might as well give it to them.


  • I guess I count as an “underground man” but I find it hard to relate to being seduced by pop love songs. To me this a good song about loneliness: