The last year has been hard. Ask anyone you know and they will not only agree, but offer several examples as to why this is true. Some have faced economic struggles or concerns over the current political climate, while others continue to be worried about the literal climate and what is, or is not, being done in response. Then you have personal struggles, which we can all agree strike whenever they please with no concern for the rest of your life. It’s all too much to bare, and as we all pour our concerns into social media, we consume one another’s anxiety to the point that it’s hard to believe so many still get out of bed each day. We have collectively, albeit inadvertently, brought one another down, and not everyone was up to begin with.
This is not the first or the last time in history that the perfect cocktail of internal and external factors brought mankind to a sense of rarely acknowledged, but always present, communal dread. The same thing has taken many forms over the course of history, and it will continue to do so. What matters is most is how we react, both as individuals and as a global community. Throughout time, humans have rarely known the right thing to say to one another in times of crisis, but the one thing we’ve always had is art. It is art that has allowed us to express ourselves, connect with others, and heal together since the dawn of humans. Art has inspired revolutions and paid tribute to those who died so that we could live. Art has captured our collective fears in their many forms and put them on display so others could see and relate, thus making us more empathetic as a society.
Today, we have more art than ever and more ways to consume it than were even thought possible as recently as 50 years ago. No one saw the digital age coming, but it’s here, and in many ways, we are learning to communicate all over again. The pioneers of this time have been those who have worked to connect us, to build a kind of global community, all while maintaining a since of individuality. For example: 700 million people now use Instagram, but every single one of them uses it in their own way for their own intentions. People like Instagram, but it hasn’t perfected bringing us all together. No social media platform has, to be honest. Everything eventually breaks into extremely niche circles of friends, family, and people you met one time at a college party a lifetime ago whose life you continue to follow for reasons you don’t fully understand and would rather discuss with a psychiatrist.
Art doesn’t have this problem. Great art always has and always will find a way to cut through all the noise and fragmented communities. Many mediums have had the pleasure of being the one best suited to this task over the generations, but right now the best possible form of expression is music. Genre does not matter. Music is everywhere all the time, whether you are curating your own soundtrack to life through subscription streaming services or walking through practically any business anywhere on this planet. We are exposed to music so often that we take 99.9% of it for granted. We hear it once, and we never think of it again unless shuffle demands it.
But great songs still find a way. Great artists still cut through the chaos, and so far in 2017, we as a global community have really needed someone, anyone to give voice to the feelings we all knowingly or unknowingly share.
Then just last week our wish was granted. If you’re a person of faith, you could even say our prayers were answered. Paramore, a band who had not released music in over four years, broke their silence with a track fittingly entitled “Hard Times.” It’s a song written not to address the world at large, but rather to deal with internal struggles the band was facing last year and the very real fact everyone eventually has to grow up. As vocalist Hayley Williams told The New York Times recently, “You can run on the fumes of being a teenager for as long as you want, but eventually life hits you really hard.”
Ms. Williams is right, and in many ways, it seems the generation that is just old enough to remember what Y2K was all about has recently found themselves – as a whole – in a world where they are still very much figuring things out at a time much later than most expected. Our culture has spent a decade promoting the idea of individualism only to realize that communities are the glue that keeps us from tearing ourselves apart. We’ve tried to give everyone a voice and in the process learned that we first need to ensure everyone knows how to speak. We’ve demanded we do things our own way, and it has gotten us pretty far, but now this generation is facing the next 50 years and wondering whether or not our way was the best way after all. We’re feeling the crushing pressure of reality setting in, and it’s enough to make anyone sick.
But then, there is this song. This fun, undeniably infectious song.
“Hard Times” manages to do what all great works of art do, and that is provide a brief moment of escapism that connects with something that lies in the core of every human being. It plucks that string in the soul that has been tied to music from the beginning of time and fills you with a brief moment of sweet, sweet relief. You can dance to it, cry to it, drink to it, sing karaoke to it, or mix all four – it’s recommended by this author – and the feeling is always the same.
Better still, “Hard Times” manages to feel incredibly personal while serving as a near-perfect allegory for our collective existential dread. The first verse could summarize wanting to avoid personal challenges in the day ahead as easily as wishing you could wake up without feeling like you need to check the news in order to ensure World War III hasn’t begun:
All that I want is to wake up fine
To tell me that I’m alright, that I ain’t gonna die
All that I want is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s alright for me to come out
The whole song works like this with each line feeling brazenly personal and unquestionably relatable.
Whether she intended to or not, Hayley Williams penned the anthem that the world needs right now sometime in 2016, and it’s unclear if she and the rest of Paramore could have chosen a more fitting time to share that anthem. The industry will watch to see if the song outperforms “Ain’t It Fun,” the group’s biggest hit to date, but what many industry players have yet to realize is that the culture surrounding music today barely concerns itself with what is hot at radio or on the Billboard charts. If those things inform them of songs they learn to love, that’s great, but they are no longer the gatekeepers to what is hot or important in the moment. That is determined by countless voices empowered by the digital age, and it does not take long to find people all over the world feeling empowered and even joyful for having experienced “Hard Times” in recent days.
We’ll have to wait and see to understand just how far “Hard Times” goes from a commercial standpoint, but again it doesn’t really matter. Fans already know what kind of magic now exists in this world because Paramore decided to bare their souls once more, and everyone else will understand soon enough. “Hard Times” is the song to beat in 2017, not just because it’s the catchiest thing next to the common cold, but because it manages to unite us with a sense of positivity we desperately need. “Hard Times” is our medicine. Listen twice, then repeat as needed until you feel compelled to tell others of the treasure you have found.