I was born in ’83, so I have a soft spot for 80s pop, especially the kind of stuff they played on 94.7 in Columbus, Ohio, “Sunny 95” (a rounding up that always confused me), which my mom listened to non-stop at the pool and in her ’86 Honda LX-I. (“Playing the 70s, 80s, and today!”)
A pop pinnacle of those days, for me, is Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” a song that’s so perky (and also a steal from Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”) but also has this tinge of sadness beneath it — a bit of lyrical dissonance — which, when you think about it, pop music has always been full of, but there were lots of my favorite cases from that era: Prince’s “1999” (nuclear war), Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” (about Vietnam vets) and “Dancing in the Dark” (a song about writer’s block!), Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” (teenage runaways), etc. Those are the kinds of songs I really love: sad songs with a beat.
Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion is like Sunny 95 in a blender, and her song, “When I Needed You,” pulls off that 80s blend of lyrical dissonance really well. “The song sounds really happy now,” she says in an episode of Song Exploder, “but it’s a really sad demo.” She said it was nice to hide to the original emotion (inspired by a messy break-up) underneath a dance track, so it wasn’t so “all out there.”
I’ve been listening to so much Jepsen lately, but nobody else in my house wants to hear her. I’m reminded, again, of Whitney Houston, but for another reason: I once read a New York Times article from 1994 about her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which chronicled how sick everyone was of the song, so much so that it had inspired various criminal acts, like when a mother of two threw her upstairs neighbors’ stereo out the window:
“It was driving us all up the wall,” Ms. Hall told a local newspaper at the time. “I had just had enough.” The incident, in fact, became one in a series of several — all, oddly enough, in England — at the height of the song’s popularity. In October, a 20-year-old woman from Middlebrough County was reportedly sentenced to seven days in jail after she played “I Will Always Love You” so loudly and so often that her neighbors complained of psychological torture and the police charged her with noise pollution.
We all want to dance with somebody, but, it seems, sometimes we must dance alone… with headphones.
“I can’t be a pessimist,” James Baldwin said, “because I am alive.”