Quantcast

Songs for the End of the World: Pop Music and Climate Change

Climate
Lana Del Rey: "call her Doris Doomsday." Darren Gerrish / BFC / Getty Images Entertainment

By Emer McHugh

Popular music has, and always will be, informed by the political and social contexts from which it emerges.


The struggles of the American civil rights movement, white supremacy, and institutional racism reflected in the likes of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet," Sly and the Family Stone's "There's a Riot Goin' On" and Beyoncé's "Lemonade." Bands like Dixie Chicks, The Clash, Rage Against the Machine and Sleater-Kinney have railed against misogyny, war and conservative politics in their work. Joni Mitchell famously sang about how "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot." Pixies warned that "and if the ground's not cold/Everything is gonna burn/We'll all take turns/I'll get mine too."

Pixies "Monkey Gone To Heaven"

Very late into her latest album "Titanic Rising," Natalie Mering AKA Weyes Blood sings "don't cry, it's a wild time to be alive" and I am not sure if I have found any other lyric this year that encapsulates so perfectly what it is to live in 2019. We are halfway through the Trump administration, and global right-wing politics continues to be on the rise with the election of Boris Johnson. Brexit is looming, with no clear plan as of writing.

More pertinently for what I am writing today, we are in the middle of a climate emergency. Greta Thunberg has become the face of a worldwide movement to save the planet before it is too late. Jair Bolsonaro's fascist regime has refused funding to save the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. The U.S. withdrew from the Paris Agreement two years ago (and remember the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the CEO of ExxonMobil).

Online and in real life, people are talking about how to reduce their carbon footprint, and how to put pressure on corporations to do the same. The fear that the earth might not be what it is now in 12 years' time is all too real. To paraphrase a more-than-30-year-old song, it could be the end of the world as we know it. Do we feel fine? Probably not.

It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Mering has made it clear that "Titanic Rising" as a title references the oncoming impact of climate change and the cover of the album depicts her in a bedroom submerged under water. Speaking to Stereogum, she argued that "the waters have risen over this bedroom which to me is symbolic of kind of a subconscious altar that all young people in western culture create for themselves. I'm not drowning in it. I'm alive."

However, the uncanny sight of Mering nonchalantly floating around her bedroom arguably shows adjusting to irreversible change. In the same interview, Mering asserted that "at the expense of the third class, we'd been kind of fucking with people, and industrialization hasn't really conquered nature in any real way. Nature is about to conquer our ass, and industrialization is not gonna be able to keep up with that."

As such, songs such as "Wild Time" conjure up images of industrialization and nature juxtaposed with one another. Mering sings of the planet as "beauty, a machine that's broken/Running on a million people trying," she swaps "trying" for the more troubling image of "a million people burning" in the second verse. Time is running out, or, to borrow the title of the song that opens the album, "A Lot's Gonna Change." "Falling trees, get off your knees/No one can keep you down," Mering sings, "if your friends and your family/Sadly don't stick around/It's by time you'll learn to get by."

Titanic Rising

Other releases this year have also addressed similar concerns. The electronic group Matmos, who experiment with creating music with raw materials, created "Plastic Anniversary" using solely plastic objects. The band highlighted "the world's relationship to plastic – a material whose durability, portability and longevity, while heralded by its makers, are the very qualities that make it a force of environmental devastation."

This summer, The 1975 released a self-titled single featuring a speech by Thunberg, as she intoned "everything needs to change. And it has to start today. So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel." Conversely, Grimes announced the upcoming concept album "Miss Anthropocene," which will personify climate change as a supervillain, stating that "climate change sucks and no one wants to read about it because the only time you hear about it is when you're getting guilted. I wanted to make climate change fun."

Lana Del Rey - Fuck It I Love You & The Greatest (Official Video)

This all-too-contemporary apocalyptic anxiety crystallises in Lana Del Rey's "The Greatest" in comparison to Mering, Del Rey seems resigned to things continuing as they are towards destruction. The refrain of "the culture is lit, and if this is it, I had a ball" is characteristically deadpan, but "lit" functions with an obvious double purpose here too.

Towards its muted conclusion, Del Rey softly sings a coda that seems like a news report from the end of the world: "Hawaii just missed a fireball/L.A. is in flames, it's getting hot/Kanye West is blond and gone/'Life on Mars' ain't just a song/Oh, the livestream's almost on." As Jenn Pelly remarked in a recent Pitchfork review, call her Doris Doomsday. It is a wild time to be alive, and contemporary music knows it. Expect more of the same in the next six to twelve months.

This story originally appeared in RTÉ . It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A. Battenburg / Technical University of Munich

By Sarah Kennedy

Algae in a pond may look flimsy. But scientists are using algae to develop industrial-strength material that's as hard as steel but only a fraction of the weight.



Read More Show Less
Variety of fermented food korean traditional kimchi cabbage and radish salad. white and red sauerkraut in ceramic plates over grey spotted background. Natasha Breen / REDA&CO / Universal Images Group / Getty Image

By Anne Danahy, MS, RDN

Even if you've never taken probiotics, you've probably heard of them.

These supplements provide numerous benefits because they contain live microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, which support the healthy bacteria in your gut (1, 2, 3, 4).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

Singapore will become the first country in the world to place a ban on advertisements for carbonated drinks and juices with high sugar contents, its health ministry announced last week. The law is intended to curb sugar consumption since the country has some of the world's highest diabetes rates per capita, as Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less

A typical adult takes around 20,000 breaths per day. If you live in a megacity like Beijing, with many of those lungfuls you're likely to inhale a noxious mixture of chemicals and pollutants.

Read More Show Less
Fred Stone holds his brown swiss cow Lida Rose at his Arundel dairy farm on March 18 after a press conference where he spoke about PFAS chemical contamination in his fields. Gregory Rec / Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

By Susan Cosier

First there was Fred Stone, the third-generation dairy farmer in Maine who discovered that the milk from his cows contained harmful chemicals. Then came Art Schaap, a second-generation dairy farmer in New Mexico, who had to dump 15,000 gallons of contaminated milk a day.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Protesters attend the 32nd annual Fur-Free Friday demonstration on Nov. 23, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. Ella DeGea / Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that that bans the sale and manufacture of fur products in the state. The fur ban, which he signed into law on Saturday, prohibits Californians from selling or making clothing, shoes or handbags with fur starting in 2023, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
Watchfield Solar Park in England. RTPeat / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Simon Evans

During the three months of July, August and September, renewables generated an estimated total of 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh), compared with just 29.1TWh from fossil fuels, the analysis shows.

Read More Show Less
A demonstrator waves an Ecuadorian flag during protests against the end of subsidies to gasoline and diesel on Oct. 9 in Quito, Ecuador. Jorge Ivan Castaneira Jaramillo / Getty Images

The night before Indigenous Peoples' Day, an Indigenous-led movement in Ecuador won a major victory.

Read More Show Less