Soundtrack for the Next Collapse

Call me late to the party, but I heard what has apparently become the song of the summer, Billionaire,” for the first time this past weekend. Actually, I heard it three times this weekend, including twice in situations where I had no choice but to actually sit and listen to all the lyrics.

The Travie McCoy single, currently number five on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, is a paean to the type of high-flying, me-first greed that brought us such classics as The Economic Collapse of 2008 and The $3 Billion and Counting BP Oil Spill That Could Have Been Prevented by a $500,000 Acoustic Trigger. And, in this crucial moment, with our economy on a tipping point between continued, albeit slow, recovery, and slipping back into recession, this catchy ditty promotes the precise values we DON’T need.

To be fair, McCoy’s song does include a few vague suggestions that he would use his new found wealth for something other than pure selfishness and hedonism—the admittedly clever lyric, “I’d probably visit where Katrina hit, and damn sure do a lot more than FEMA did,” stand out—but, in context of the entire song, it rings decidedly hollow. And, even that lyric, slightly less offensive than the entirety of the song, advances the notion that unaccountable, ultra-wealthy individuals should supplant the role of government in providing basic security for Americans.

Now, it would be easy to write “Billionaire” off as a pop song, and leave it at that, but the reality is that artists, and pop culture particularly, have a powerful role in moving hearts and minds and defining the public dialogue. Songs like Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes,” and Bob Marley’s “Small Axe,” are just three examples of pop songs that maintain their relevance, and their ability to evoke powerful feelings, even today. They prompt a reconsideration of deeply held assumptions, providing an individual with a map to better understanding their own life as well as the lives of others. If “Billionaire” can be included alongside these classics, and I believe, unfortunately, that it must be, then the song is downright dangerous. By helping to prioritize excess over values like community and compassion, it is laying the groundwork for the financial collapse of 2038.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.

Tags: Opportunity, pop music, McCoy, BP, Economy, billionaire (all tags)

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